By Danny Dunn
The 2016-2017 NBA regular season has been full of interesting storylines. Everything from players getting more and more rest time to the “Shaqtin A Fool” beef between Shaquille O’Neal and JaVale McGee. Currently, one story stands above all the rest and that is who will be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player?
Last season the MVP race was not nearly as exciting due to the fact that Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry was the first ever unanimous MVP, collecting all 130 votes. Consider also that it was also his second consecutive MVP award.
When Kevin Durant, who is one of the best players in the league, signed with the Golden State Warriors last summer, it essentially eliminated all Warriors from the MVP discussion, including Curry. So that leaves the award up for grabs this season and it seems that four players all have a legit claim to the MVP award. These players are Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. Check out how I rank their chances.
Ranking and Description of each MVP candidate:
- Kawhi Leonard. Small forward, San Antonio Spurs.
Leonard is averaging over 25 points per game while adding just under six rebounds and three assists per game. On top of this, Leonard is a lock for first team all defense once again and has taken his offensive game to another level. If there is one thing working against him it is that the Spurs are only about a one-point difference when he is not on the court, and they have a winning record even when he does not play. But that speaks more to coaching than it does to Leonard, and Leonard has been the best player on 60-win teams back-to-back years.
- LeBron James. Small forward, Cleveland Cavaliers.
LBJ is the man, the myth, the legend. What else is there to say about how great he is? After bringing home a championship to Cleveland for the first time ever, he is having one of the best offensive seasons of his career. James is averaging 26 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists per game. The only issue is his team has completely underachieved this season. The Cavaliers have not played a lick of defense since the start of the calendar year. They should have wrapped up the number one seed in the Eastern Conference a month ago. Yes, a month ago, but in their last 40 games they are hovering around .500 which is awful for this squad. Without LeBron, this team would be competing with the Brooklyn Nets for the worst record in the league.
- James Harden. Point guard, Houston Rockets.
“Fear the Beard,” is a slogan I never associated with Harden because I always linked it to former San Francisco Giants closing pitcher, Brian Wilson. But this season Harden has earned the right to it by averaging 29 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds. If not for Russell Westbrook’s dominating play, Harden would be the closest to averaging a triple double in some time. Under new coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden has moved from shooting guard to point guard and man, has it paid dividends? Harden leads the league in assists and has the Rockets third in the Western Conference behind the Spurs and Warriors. He is still a bit of a liability on the court, but he has noticeably improved this season. A downside is that he is one of the leaders in turnovers, but that is bound to happen since he has the ball in his hands most of the time.
- Russell Westbrook. Point guard, Oklahoma City Thunder.
Double doubles are a dime-a-dozen, but triple doubles are somewhat rare in the NBA. For instance, Westbrook has more triple doubles this season than the rest of the NBA combined. He now has the single season record for triple doubles in a season (42), and joins Oscar Robertson as the only two players to ever average a triple double. Westbrook is averaging over 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists per game, and is leading the Thunder to the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a subpar supporting cast after losing Durant last summer. His triple doubles are not empty, as his squad’s record is far better when Westbrook has a triple double than when he does not. He plays as hard as he can night-in and night-out with historic results and so I think Westbrook will win the 2016-17 NBA MVP award.