This season, we have one of the closest MVP debates in NBA history, with four legitimate candidates; Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James. Today, we’ll be examining each player’s respective resumé and their case for the MVP trophy.
The thing that separates Kawhi from the other candidates is his defense. Harden and Westbrook are both poor defenders and LeBron’s defense has not been great as he tries to preserve himself for the playoffs. But every night, Kahwi Leonard will match up with the opponent’s best perimeter player and lock them up. Kawhi Leonard is the only all star on a Spurs team that is once again going to win over 60 games. On top of all that, he is having an excellent offensive season. It may not match up with the offensive numbers of the other candidates, but an efficient 26 points per game combined with Kawhi’s defense gives him as good a chance as anyone to walk away with the MVP trophy.
Every year he’s in the conversation and this year is no different. LeBron is averaging career highs in rebounds and assists in his fourteenth season. No player in NBA history has ever had career highs so late in their careers. With LeBron off the court, the Cavaliers’ offensive rating drops by nearly 18 points per 100 possessions, illustrating how important LeBron is to the team’s success. However, the second half of the season has been a struggle for the Cavs and LeBron is not without fault in their inconsistent play. After their victory over the Celtics, the Cavaliers have an 88% chance to get the one seed in the East according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections. Once again, we take for granted the greatness of LeBron James as he tries to capture his fifth MVP.
Before the season began, the Rockets were projected as a team fighting for the eighth seed in the West, with a win total somewhere in the mid-40s. Currently, the Rockets are approaching 60 wins and some would argue they are the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference. Harden, although a poor-to-average defender, has been fantastic on the offensive end, helping the Houston Rockets to the second best offense in the NBA. Harden is leading the league in assists, with 11 per game, and is scoring just over 29 points per game. He is the first player in NBA history to score at least 25 points per game and assist on at least 25 points per game in a single season, pretty remarkable. As the catalyst for one of the season’s best surprises and a championship contender, James Harden has a very compelling case for MVP.
The guy is a running, jumping, dunking triple-double machine. Russell Westbrook is having an all-time great season. He is about to complete a feat that many people thought would never be accomplished again, averaging a triple-double. The reason that Westbrook can win MVP is not merely because of the numbers he puts up (which are staggering), but rather his impact on his team. With Westbrook on the bench, the Thunder’s offensive rating falls off a cliff, they flat-out cannot score. The Thunder have also been one of the most clutch teams in the NBA this season according to NBA.com’s advanced statistics, clutch being defined as games within five points and under five minutes remaining. Westbrook has been at the heart of those comebacks, hitting multiple game-winners throughout the season and going on scoring tears such as when he scored twelve straight points to come back on the Mavericks and win. The knock on Westbrook is that his team is going to finish in the bottom half of Western Conference playoffs and haven’t exceeded their projected win total. Whether he wins MVP or not, Russell Westbrook has put together a season for the ages.
Honorable Mentions: Isaiah Thomas, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Giannis Antetokounmpo