By: Isaac Gillen, KCOU Sports
It’s coming down to the wire of the NBA season. Spring has begun and the sweet smell of the playoffs is in the air. Teams are making last minute pushes to jockey for position in the playoffs or to accumulate ping pong balls. The Final Four brought an exciting finish to a somewhat dull college basketball season, and now players are declaring for the draft left and right. NBA teams are looking forward to the battles that will take place in the coming weeks and some players make closing arguments on their MVP candidacy.
Until a couple of weeks ago, Russell Westbrook was one of these candidates. The man put on a superhuman effort for six weeks. We should consider ourselves blessed to be considered scientifically the same species as this maniac. But alas, Russ ran himself into the ground trying to carry this mediocre Thunder team into the playoffs.
So then there were two. One, a baby-faced assassin, but the elder of the two. The second, a cold-bearded slayer, but the youngest of the pair. Stephen Curry, who only a few years ago was carded at a movie theater, recently broke his own NBA-record for 3pt FG’s in a season. His counterpart was probably getting the senior discount at the same film while on his way to being the NBA’s inaugural member of the (250/800) club. That’s 250 3’s and 800 FT’s, also, insane. James Harden is second in the league in points per game, right behind the aforementioned Westbrook. But in actual points scored Harden has 250 more than the next man, Curry. Curry is currently fourth in assists with Harden 55 behind in sixth.
There is no denying that these two men are the deadliest in the NBA with the ball. All of their offensive numbers are relatively close. But the award is not for Most Valuable Offensive Player, which is why we need to take a look at the defensive end. One where both have been mocked in the past few years for a lack of skill or effort. Both have improved immensely since last year on this end of the floor. Harden was the poster child for backdoor cuts and lackadaisical play, while Curry was seen far too often getting blown by after reaching and being bullied around with his slender frame. Both Harden and Curry are in the top 15 in both Defensive Win Shares. Harden really has just improved his effort on that end whereas Curry appears to be a product of playing alongside 2 of the 10 best defensive players in the game. But Curry isn’t just a product of Steve Kerr’s defensive schemes. He is making the most of it by leading the league in steals at 153. But who’s that nipping at his heels? Why, it’s fellow marauder James Harden. Harden and Chris Paul, often lauded as the best PG defender in the game, are tied at 151 steals.
Now that we’ve seen a few numbers to back up their amazing individual performances, let’s talk about what the award is about. Most valuable if you look it up in the dictionary, which you can’t because it is a phrase, you’d find a mashup of these two faces at the moment. The statistics have these two in a deadlock for 1 and 2. What does history say though? More often than not the best player on the best team is considered the Most Valuable Player. Or wait, is it that the player who is the most valuable to his own team deserves it? The Golden State Warriors are far and away the best team in the NBA. The Atlanta Hawks have the second best record and the Spurs might be the second best team coming down the stretch, but the Warriors have torn through a ridiculously difficult Western Conference. Harden has been the super glue and duct tape that held the Rockets machine together. But they could finish as far back as sixth in the west, although this year that is no slight at all. Rockets fans argue that without Harden to prop the team up in Dwight Howard’s absence, he is deserving of the MVP. Warriors fans claim you can’t take away the fact that Curry often doesn’t suit up for fourth quarters since his team is usually pummeling the opponent by then. There are two schools of thought on this issue. You can either take Curry’s team’s success as a reason for his success or him as the reason for their success. To watch Golden State and say that Curry is a byproduct of their success would be ignorant. Sure, Harden has less to work with and make his teammates better, but to say Curry wouldn’t do the same would be a major disservice to eyes and the game of basketball. ESPN’s Bill Simmons usually uses the argument, what would happen if they were replaced with a league average player at their position, and thankfully there is a stat for that. Value Over Replacement Player gives Curry a slight edge at 7.7 versus 7.5 for Harden.
It’s time to settle this once and for all. The award is titled, NBA MVP, not Houston Rockets MVP, and not NBA Offensive Player of the Year. Which is why in the debate of “Chef” versus “Beard” I am giving my (imaginary and useless, but hopefully influential) MVP vote to a one, Wardell Stephen Curry as opposed to James Edward Harden, Jr.
My NBA MVP ballot
- Stephen Curry
- James Harden
- Chris Paul
- Russell Westbrook
- Anthony Davis