Written By: Brad Stonebraker – Staff Writing Intern (@ )
The Most Valuable Player is defined as the player whose overall performance is the best throughout the duration of the NBA’s regular season. The things that I find relevant when determining the MVP are 1) the individual player’s basketball performance and 2) if this performance leads to team success.
We have seen ridiculous numbers this season. With a faster game, plentiful three-pointers, and therefore more available statistics to be recorded, it makes sense that this season is unlike one we’ve ever seen. With this in mind, the MVP could be handed to a plethora of players. Given the crazy numbers we’ve seen, it’s unfortunate that young studs like Giannis Anteokounmpo (23.1ppg, 8.6rpg, 5.5apg, 1.8spg, 1.9bpg) and Karl Anthony-Towns (24.5ppg, 12.3rpg, 2.8apg, 0.7spg, 1.4bpg) will probably not even be considered.
There are others that will be considered, but I just don’t see winning this year (i.e. Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Davis). All things considered, I believe it is truly only possible for four NBA players to win MVP this year. Below I will state the likelihood that each one wins the award and discuss why I think they’re capable of doing so:
(statistics as of 3/15/17)
1. LeBron James
Stats: 25.9ppg, 54.0fg%, 8.4rpg, 8.9apg, 1.3spg, 0.6bpg, 4.2tpg
Likelihood: Not very likely
Why: LeBron James has taken the league by storm since his rookie year, and has the ability to turn any team into a contender. We’ve been witnessing the greatest basketball player in the world show us his talents for years, and he never disappoints when he steps foot on the basketball court that he calls home. My main reason for LeBron most likely not winning it this year simply has to do with the fact that we have been taking him and his talent for granted since 2003, and we expect success and mind-boggling statistics every time he touches a basketball. As of late especially, he’s been even better than usual, racking up triple doubles left and right. He deserves to win MVP every year for one reason or another, but he’s just so good all the time that basketball fans are way too used to it.
2. Russell Wesbtrook
Stats: 31.8ppg, 41.9fg%, 10.6rpg, 10.3apg, 1.6spg, 0.4bpg, 5.4tpg
Likelihood: Very Likely
Why: Many people see these numbers and wonder how anyone else could possibly win MVP when competing against them. They are crazy, and he is on pace to average a triple double and lead his team to the playoffs.
This is all insanely impressive, and you can’t take his hard work ethic and on-court ferocity away from him. In addition, he doesn’t have a whole lot of help; Victor Oladipo has been either injured or disappointing this season, Steven Adams is a decent big man, and Enes Kanter broke his forearm punching a chair at one point in the season. He will get plenty of votes for these reasons alone, as he is single handedly carrying the Thunder to a playoff berth. However, given how much he has the ball, his time of possession, and how much of the offense he controls every night, it makes sense that he’s getting stats like he is.
I’m not in any way trying to take anything away from his basketball talent and work ethic, but with a league-leading and record-breaking 41.5% usage, it kind of just makes sense. He has the ball in his hands a LOT and shoots over twenty-four shorts per game at an inefficient clip. He averages double digit assists but also over five turnovers, meaning he passes pretty well but makes a lot of mistakes along the way. I do think Westbrook has a great chance of winning the MVP award this year, but I also find that he has a lot going against him.
3. James Harden
Stats: 29.1ppg, 44.3fg%, 7.9rpg, 11.2apg, 1.5spg, 0.5bpg, 5.8tpg
Likelihood: Very Likely
Why: James Harden additionally has some things not on his side, but not as many as Westbrook. The turnovers are ridiculous, but keep in mind he is leading the league in both assists and turnovers. His usage rate is only at 33.9%, which is still very high, but much less than Westbrook’s (especially given fairly similar statistical output).
His defense has always been a topic of conversation, but he’s not the only one on the Rockets (or any team) that doesn’t give his ultimate effort on defense every possession. Yes, he has a bit going against him as well, but I do think James Harden has the best chance to win the MVP award this year. This is due not only to his individual stats, but also how great his team is. He has led the Houston Rockets to 44-21, 3rd in the West, and I think a legitimate chance at an NBA title this year.
The likelihood of this happening is low, yes, but I wouldn’t count them out at any point in this year’s playoffs. He facilitates the offense and gets guys open, which explains the crazy 115.1 points and 14.6 threes per game. He drives the ball and either kicks it or gets fouled, and makes his free throws. He truly is the whole package, and with a more superior defensive game it would be safe to hand him the award right his instant.
4. Kawhi Leonard
Stats: 26.3ppg, 48.5fg%, 5.9rpg, 3.4apg, 1.8spg, 0.7bpg, 2.1tpg
Likelihood: Fairly likely
Why: One of my really good friends tried to convince me about three years ago that Kawhi Leonard would be a top-ten player by the end of this career, but I just wasn’t buying it at the time. Fast forward to today, and boy do I owe him an apology. “The Claw” came into the league as an elite defender to guard the opposing team’s biggest threat night in and night out. He excels in this area, and his freakishly giant hands (which give him his nickname, of course) give players a reason to want Kawhi Leonard to guard someone else on their team.
He has retained this defensive presence since entering the league and is only getting better. The scariest part of it all is that, this season, it is fair to argue that his offense has been better than his always stellar defense. Take the best defender in the league, add an ultra-efficient, smart offensive game, and you get Kawhi Leonard, the very clear winner of the race to best two-way player in the league. The season stats above are impressive, but the others definitely have the edge in the majority of the categories.
Stats are important, but it is hard to compute the defensive presence that Kawhi has to a single number that tells you just how good he is in this area. Leonard is so impressive and has entered the MVP race as of recently, all due to the play in the last couple weeks or so. In fact, in the last 14 days, he has improved in every single statistical category with the exclusion of only field goal percentage (a very minor change) all while maintaining his impressively low turnover rate.
Despite the aforementioned lower statistical output than the other contenders, I think Leonard’s defense and offense together make him the most valuable player of the league this year. He has been fantastic and greatly consistent this season, and has been even better recently.
Oh, and the Spurs are championship contenders this year once again. It’s pretty insane to think about how good he is, and his efficiency, humility, and ridiculous basketball skillset define Leonard in a perfect way.
While I do find it very likely that either Westbrook or Harden will win MVP this year, I truly do believe that Kawhi Leonard should. His defense is unlike anything the league has seen, and he makes the game look easy every night. I am intrigued to see how the votes are distributed this season, as it truly has been one for the books in more ways than one.