With the 2016-17 NBA regular season coming to a close and the playoffs beginning this weekend, it’s time to take a step back and make your argument for who you feel is this year’s most valuable player. With the performances we’ve seen so far however, that is easier said than done.
The usual suspects seem to be the main players in contention for this year’s MVP award given their successes over the past few years, those being LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. All of these players have put up stellar performances throughout this past season, and could easily be considered the backbones of their respective teams.
It should come as a surprise to no one that LeBron James is being considered when you look at his past successes. James has made an appearance in every NBA championship game since 2011, winning three of those titles, and earning the prestigious Finals MVP award in each of those wins. This year, he has recorded career highs in both rebounds and assists, is averaging a 36.3% three-point shot, and has taken the Cleveland Cavaliers to a top-5 record in the league. While many argue (and most agree) that James is the best player in the NBA today, it’s difficult to ignore Cleveland’s record since the All-Star break.
The Cavaliers have gone 12-14 since February 19th of this year, and the most glaring problem seems to be on the defensive side of the ball. LeBron is arguably one of the best two-way players in the history of the game, but he alone can’t stop an entire team from scoring. With that said, though he may be the best player today, he has not made the biggest impact on his team this past season.
Kawhi Leonard has proven to be a true force on the court within the last few seasons. Many would include him in the same conversation of best defender today along with LeBron, in addition to being one of the most efficient scorers in the league. There’s no denying that the San Antonio Spurs, while very good, are even better when Leonard is on the court. But, that is Kawhi’s downfall in the race for the MVP award.
The Spurs are a great team, and to say that they underperform without him would be an insult. Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, and LaMarcus Aldridge are a truly formidable lineup, and while Leonard does add to their skills, he is not the sole reason for San Antonio’s success this year.
The biggest argument today seems to be whether James Harden or Russell Westbrook is more deserving of the MVP award. The Rockets and Thunder are currently 3rd and 6th respectively in the western conference, largely due to Harden and Westbrook’s performances. Westbrook recently broke the longstanding record of most triple-doubles in a season with an unbelievable 42, of which was previously held by Oscar Robertson for 55 years. In the same game that he reached that milestone, he sank a deep three-pointer as time expired to give Oklahoma City the win over the Denver Nuggets. It seemed like a movie scene.
Throughout this past season, Russell Westbrook led the league in scoring, took his team to a respectable record in arguably the most difficult conference in the NBA, and averaged a triple-double, being only the second player to do so in league history. James Harden was the second leading scorer behind Westbrook, coached the Houston Rockets on the court to what may very well be one of their best seasons ever, and made all of those around him better. It’s extremely difficult to pick between the two, but many people seem to agree that Harden had less to work with, yet still accomplished more.
Though it is a matter of opinion until that title is officially announced, it is said that recognizing one single player as the most valuable is denying the other of their successes. Regardless of who wins this award, both Westbrook and Harden will be talked about for years to come with their remarkable performances in the 2016-17 season.