The NBA announced the finalists for the 2016-17 NBA MVP award. This announcement has once again sparked the debate of who’s going to win. The award won’t be given out until June 26th, leaving us over a month to debate the MVP winner. Now that we have an official list of MVP finalists, let’s take a look at the case for and against each candidate.
Russell Westbrook became just the second player in NBA History to average a triple-double over the course of the season, averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists. He joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to do so. Not only did Westbrook join Robertson on that list, but he broke Robertson’s record for most triple-doubles in a single season. Westbrook finished with 42 triple-doubles, one more than Robertson’s record.
After the departure of Kevin Durant, some questioned whether Westbrook would be able to carry the load for the Thunder. Not only did he carry that load, he carried more than any of us ever expected from him. He did everything for his team. In the 42 games Westbrook had a triple-double, the Thunder had a record of 33-9. In games when Westbrook didn’t have a triple-double, their record was 14 -26. The Thunder needed Westbrook to get a triple-double for them to consistently win games. If there’s one thing you can’t knock Westbrook for, it’s his effort. He gave it everything he had every game.
Westbrook’s 31.6 points per game led the league in scoring, which is 2.5 more points than James Harden. His 10.7 rebounds ranked 10th, while his assists were good enough for 3rd. It’s hard to not want to give Westbrook the MVP after what he accomplished this season and how much he meant to his team’s success.
The overall record of the Thunder this season was 47-35. That record was only good enough for the 6th seed in the Western Conference. If you put the Thunder in the Eastern Conference, which many believe to be considered weak, the Thunder would have only been the 5th seed. In the past 30 years, the lowest seeded team of an MVP winner was 3rd. That MVP was Michael Jordan in 1988.
If history has anything to say about who’s going to win MVP, it won’t be Russell Westbrook. Another piece of history working against Westbrook is how Oscar Robertson finished in the MVP race when he recorded 41 triple-doubles in a season. Robertson finished 3rd in MVP voting that year, behind Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
The biggest thing most will point out against Westbrook, is that his team lost in the first round of the playoffs. While that is true, it shouldn’t be a factor in who wins MVP because the award is for the regular season.
Unlike Russell Westbrook, Harden led his team to a top 3 seed, meaning history isn’t against him. He led the Rockets to a 55-27 record. Put the Rockets in the Eastern Conference and they’re the one seed.
We’re all focused on the history made by Russell Westbrook with his 42 triple-doubles, but Harden made some history of his own this season. Harden became the first player in NBA history to score 2,000 points and assist on 2,000 points in a season. He created 56.2 points per game. He led the league in total assists per game with 11.2, while averaging 29.1 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Harden seemed to be a different player this season after being moved to point guard. This move allowed him to be more involved in the offense. He scored the highest points per game (29.1) and recorded the highest amount of assists (11.2) of his career.
People will give the same knock to Harden that they give to Westbrook, he couldn’t win enough in the playoffs. Many were saying Harden seemed to quit in game 6 against the Spurs. Once again, the MVP is awarded to the most valuable player of the regular season.
Harden may have made a case against himself as MVP this year. Amid all the talk of Westbrook’s triple-doubles, Harden said, “I thought winning was the most important thing. If you set your team up in a position to have a chance, at the ultimate goal, that’s the most important thing.”
Harden made a case for himself to win MVP when he compared his win total to Westbrook’s, but he may have forgotten about Kawhi. Leonard led the Spurs to the 2nd seed in the Western Conference, while winning 6 more games than Harden. If the award is just about winning, then Leonard is the easy choice.
Kawhi Leonard was the only player in the NBA this season to be in the top ten for points (ninth), steals (seventh), and deflections (eighth). You can’t deny the defensive presence Kawhi brings to the Spurs. His stat line of 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists doesn’t look as flashy as Westbrook’s or Harden’s, but he makes up for it on the defensive side of the ball.
Leonard is also up for the defensive player of the year award. If he wins that award this year, he’ll join Dwight Howard as the only players to win the award three years in a row. Here’s a special defensive stat about Kawhi: He allowed just 40 points on isolation plays this season. Playing in 74 games and only allowing 40 isolation points is incredible.
The playoffs have shown us how important Kawhi Leonard is to the Spurs. The Spurs had a lead of 23 points on the Warriors in game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. As soon as he went out with an injury, the Warriors went on an 18-0 run. Read the post “The Spurs Will Live With Kawhi or Die Without Him” to learn more about the game 1 disaster after Leonard left the game.
Although Kawhi Leonard led his team to more wins than the other two MVP candidates, people want to see those flashy numbers. Those numbers get people excited to watch basketball. Outside of Spurs fans, I’m not so sure Kawhi gets people excited to watch. You don’t often hear the talk about Kawhi that you hear with Westbrook or Harden.
For most of the season, the MVP debate has been between Harden and Westbrook. Leonard seems like he’s just the other guy in this situation. I’m not saying Leonard has no chance to win, but he hasn’t been talked about for the award like his fellow candidates.
Westbrook, Harden, and Leonard are all worthy of winning the MVP award. Kawhi is still in the playoffs, but his team is down 3-0 and he hasn’t been playing. None of these candidates can really do anything else to show us why they should or shouldn’t be the MVP. The talk has all been focused on Westbrook and Harden, but could Kawhi come in and quietly take it from them? Comment below with your MVP prediction!