By: Ross Weber, KCOU Sports
In recent history, the NBA MVP race has been a forgone conclusion. Since 2009 the winner of the MVP has had at least 109 of the 123 available first place votes all but once, when LeBron James only had 85 in 2012 to win his 3rd trophy. Even then he was far and away above the rest of the competition in terms of voting. This season though seems to be very different.
By this time last season, Kevin Durant had done all he can to etch his name in history, putting up numbers few had seen since Michael Jordan’s prime. No one else came close. This season though, it’s hard to even pinpoint a front-runner and there are still a handful of candidates, which is more than almost any other year I can remember at this point.
So, who are these candidates and which one has the upper hand as the season winds down? Here is my top 5:
5.) Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: 24.3 PTS, 10.4 REB, 2.8 BLK, 54.5% FG
What is there that can’t be said about Anthony Davis? This kid has all the tools. He’s big, athletic, strong, and he’s got tremendous length and a high defensive IQ. He’s an absolute superstar. He has even developed a jump shot, something that was considered a major weakness when he entered the league in 2012.
His MVP case is strong, probably top two or three in any other season, but he sits at five for me for a couple of reasons. As good as his numbers are, they still somehow don’t stack up to the other four candidates on the list. That is how good the rest of this race is this year; that someone of the caliber of Davis is left as an afterthought.
The second reason though is the nail in the coffin for why I wouldn’t vote for him: His team is not in the playoffs. Davis has been great, unreal even, but for me the MVP award combines not just the player’s stats, but also takes into account team performance. If Davis were putting up these numbers on a team that has 40+ wins and solidly in the playoffs, he’d be higher on this list, but the Pelicans are falling behind in the playoff race and time is running out.
4.) LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: 26.1 PTS, 7.3 AST, 5.7 REB, 49% FG
Wait, LeBron? As in four-time NBA MVP LeBron? The greatest player in the world LeBron? IN FOURTH?!
Look, I have nothing against James as a player. Personally I think that people are taking the numbers he is putting up for granted because he’s been able to do so much better in the past (this is his fewest number of points per game in a season since his rookie year).
He’s still the most talented player on the planet and on one of the best teams in the league, but since he is not putting up the numbers he usually puts up, his stock is being downgraded. Fair or not, that’s the way it is. I have him at four because of the performance of the rest of the field. If he can put up bigger numbers and continue to win, he will easily get his name back into the top of this conversation.
3.) Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 27.4 PTS, 8.1 AST, 7.0 REB, 2.1 STL
Westbrook’s all-around numbers compared to the rest of the league are impressive, just the number of games he has played doesn’t put him on the same level as the next two guys on this list. Westbrook has only played 47 games this season, but he has been on an absolute tear since winning All-Star game MVP.
He has put up 34.9 PTS, 10.8 AST and 10.3 REB since the break, and had four consecutive triple-doubles, the first player to do that since Michael Jordan had seven consecutive in 1989. Westbrook has not just been good, he’s been other-worldly. If he can keep up that pace for the rest of the season, he’ll skyrocket up to the top of the MVP race. But the question still remains if he can put up these stats when Kevin Durant returns from his foot injury.
Even so, Russell Westbrook has become a “stop what you’re doing” player. Whenever the Thunder are playing, you stop what you’re doing to watch him play. No one is safe from Russell Westbrook’s path of eminent destruction.
2.) Wardell Stephen Curry II, Golden State Warriors: 23.8 PTS, 7.8 AST, 2.1 STL, 48.4% FG, 41.7% 3PT
Another player who has elevated to “stop what you’re doing” status, Curry has proven himself not only as one of the best shooters in basketball but also as the best point guard in the game. He’s helped lead the Warriors to the best record in the Western Conference and has done it in nothing less than emphatic fashion.
While he may not have the size or athleticism of some of the other elite players in the NBA, Curry is a human highlight reel. His ridiculous handles and beautiful shooting stroke are second to none. Add that onto his IQ and his passing ability and you have an absolute matchup nightmare for anybody and everybody in the league.
Jamie Foxx isn’t exaggerating in Curry’s Under Armor commercial when he calls the baby faced assassin “the league’s most un-guardable player.”
1.) James Harden, Houston Rockets: 27.1 PTS, 7.1 AST, 5.9 REB, 1.9 STL
The “New King James”, as his team recently dubbed him, has been tearing the NBA up since the start of the season, cementing his status as far-and-away the league’s best two guard. Since his trade from Oklahoma City to Houston before the 2012 season he’s blossomed into an absolute superstar and now an MVP candidate putting up MVP numbers.
But all of the guys previously mentioned have been putting up MVP numbers, so what makes Harden so different this season than anyone else? For me, Harden tops this list because of how he has been able to lead his team this season. Houston currently sits at the third best record in the Western conference, and the fourth best record in the association, despite being without the team’s second best player in former All-Star center Dwight Howard since January 25th.
Without Howard this season, the Rockets are 21-10 (counting a loss suffered to the East leading Atlanta Hawks with Harden out for a suspension), and Harden has been unreal; averaging 27.3 points, 7.2 assists, and 6.4 rebounds. He has done nothing but win despite his roster being without a significant player.
Harden has done nothing all year but prove he is the real MVP.