The NBA season is finally coming to an end, but with that comes one of the toughest decisions both fans and members of the media who follow the league will have to make: Who is this year’s MVP?
At this point, the race has pretty much been narrowed down to four legitimate candidates; Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Lebron James.
Although all these players do have their flaws, there is still a realistic case to be made that each subsequent player is deserving of the award. To help make a rather complicated and layered NBA debate more simplistic, I figured the best way to evaluate each candidate was to look at the positives and negatives of each player.
The case for Lebron James as the MVP is fairly simple; he’s the consensus best player in the league. If you were drafting players to start a franchise with, Lebron would be everyone’s first pick, whether you were looking for a single year or long-term shot at the title. This has to mean something when looking at who should be the league’s MVP.
Lebron is averaging 26/9/9, a career high in both rebounds and assists. Not to mention the fact he is shooting 56% from the floor, by far the best FG% out of all the candidates. On an individual level, he certainly has the qualifications to earn an MVP vote.
The only reason to really explain why Lebron isn’t gaining more traction late in the season is the fact that the Cleveland Cavilers’ struggles have overshadowed how impressive a season he’s been having.
The Cavs finished the season with 51 wins and the 2 seed in the East, a disappointing season to say the least. Not to mention the fact that instead of ramping it up late in the season, they’ve essentially done the opposite.
Whether or not the Cavs will turn it on late in the season is irrelevant towards determining how valuable Lebron truly is. Do I think that the Cavs are still the clear cut favorite in the east, yes, but it’s very hard to ignore the underwhelming season they’ve had based off that assumption, especially when voting for a regular season award.
If you are someone who is truly looking at the importance of having a two-way star, Leonard is probably your guy to win MVP. Not only is Leonard a 26 point-per-game scorer, shooting an efficient 48% from the floor, but he’s doing it while being an elite defender.
Elite might even be an understatement, as he is looking to snatch his third straight Defensive Player of the Year award, something that has never been done by a wing defender. Having your best offensive player also be the guy that will subsequently guard all of these MVP candidates has to mean something.
On top of this, Kawhi is on a 61 win team, playing alongside no other all-stars. Out of all the candidates, Leonard is not only the best defender, but also plays on the best team, which makes it a hard case to argue against.
So to recap, Kawhi is an all-time great wing defender putting up 26 points per game while being on the second best team in the NBA with no other all-stars playing alongside him. It’s very hard to make a counter to that angle.
If the Spurs were able to steal the one seed from Golden State, that certainly would’ve helped his case, but that was unrealistic even after Kevin Durant injured his leg.
The only knock on Leonard is that the other three candidates have more ‘star-power.’ I know this is a silly realization, but it’s very hard to overlook, especially when this year is almost too close to call. Kawhi is no doubt a superstar, but many fans and voters are likely not sold on his ability to ‘take over’ a game, especially offensively.
Although this argument is BS in my opinion, people have a tendency to assume that Leonard is just a product of the Spurs’ system. The bottom line is that Kawhi’s negatives are limited, but his positives likely won’t resonate with fans and voters.
Harden has had one of the more remarkable offensive seasons in recent memory. Because of Westbrook’s triple-doube explosion, Harden’s 22 triple doubles have been overshadowed.
22 triple doubles in any other season would be a main headline, but because Harden is averaging two less rebounds than Westbrook, his own triple-double MVP argument is pretty much ignored.
The only significant statistical difference between Harden and Westbrook the two-rebound advantage Russell has. In my opinion, that difference is not significant enough to be the difference as it pertains to this award.
Harden, averaging 29/11/8, is the first player in recent memory who will lead the league in assists while also scoring more than 25 points per game. His stats have been comparible to Westbrook’s, while also being more efficient and leading his team to more wins. Harden is also making every player on his team better in the process.
Not to mention the fact that the Rockets won 55 games this year, exceeding most people’s expectations. The Rocket’s roster has also become overrated as a result of their success. If I told you heading into the season that the Rockets would spiral out of control and win 38 games you likely wouldn’t have doubted it. Now that they’ve solidified themselves as a dominant offense force that this isn’t the sole result of Harden’s season.
The main knock on Harden has always been his defense. Additionally, if you are going to really look at offensive value over defense, then at that point many people are going to choose Westbrook by default.
The Rockets have certainly had more success than the Thunder, but many would argue that Harden has a far superior supporting cast. If you look at their roster is largely is built to compliment Harden’s drive and kick style of play. Some would argue that Harden’s season is simply a result of good front-office work by Darryl Morey.
Harden has also seen his efficiency drop the last few weeks of the season. Although they did dominate the Thunder in their last meeting, Harden just isn’t looked at as the true ‘alpha’ that Westbrook is.
Last but not least, there is Russell Westbrook. On paper (and in Vegas), Westbrook is the clear cut favorite to win the MVP, and rightfully so.
Averaging a triple double is significant on a historical level. It’s hard to put this feat into context, considering Robertson last averaged a triple double in an era that barely resembles today’s NBA.
Westbook has put the team on his back this season, dragging them to a gritty 45 win season. Although I think Westbrook’s supporting cast is underrated, losing Kevin Durant in free agency and winning only 7 less games the following season is pretty unbelievable. Not to mention the fact that he’s single handedly won a few of these games by himself essentially.
It’s not only what he’s done, but how he’s done it. Westbrook’s highlight real is the best in the league. He’s hit multiple buzzer beaters, including a 30 footer last Sunday, simultaneously ending Denver’s playoff hopes and giving himself a 50 point triple double. For many, that moment solidified him as the MVP.
For starters, only winning 45 games, despite the Thunder’s obvious weaknesses, is very low for an MVP candidate. Some would argue that this factor alone disqualifies Westbrook from the race.
Westbrook’s efficiency and his usage rates make his statistical success slightly more understandable (just kidding 32-11-10 is absurd). Russ is also averaging 4 more FGA per game than any other player, while also having the highest usage rate in the league by a large margin. Long story short, he’s been the biggest ball hog arguably of all-time.
Some would argue that a lot of Westbrook’s numbers are a result of stat padding, especially when it comes to the rebounding.
All these factors included, you can’t help but acknowledge the fact that Westbrook really doesn’t elevate the play of any of him teammates. There’s not one player on the Thunder you could say, “Russell Westbrook makes … better,” and that’s important.