• Joe Keller

Candidates for MVP

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*Photo via USA Today

The NBA MVP award is one of the greatest honors a player can achieve in the game. It shows a dominance for a single season, and puts you on the pedestal of greatness joining the previous winners. In my mind, and most everyone else’s, the candidates for MVP for the 2014-15 season are Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and the separation between them is slim.

This season is turning out to be one of the closest MVP races in recent memory. It’s so close that two of the candidates, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, are separated by one tenth of a percentage for scoring champion. All of these players are undeniably valuable to their teams and have played outstanding this year. While only one will win the award, all of them deserve praise for what they have accomplished this season.

Anthony Davis has busted onto the scene this year from being a talented young player with great potential to a bona fide star. At 22 years old he is leading the league in Player Efficiency Rating, ranked fourth in the league in scoring with 24.3 points per game while shooting at 53 percent, which is good for eighth in the league. What makes his scoring increase more impressive is that he’s worked on his midrange shooting so he is now scoring away from the basket as well.

Davis is tied for ninth in rebounds with 10.3, leading him to post the sixth most double doubles in the league. While he won’t win the award this season because of the New Orleans Pelicans not being a lock to make the playoffs, he will win the award in the future. He is also in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, leading the league with almost 3 blocks a game as a dominate rim protector.

Russell Westbrook is another candidate that probably won’t win because of the uncertainty of his team and Davis’ fighting it out for the last playoff spot out west, but what he has done this season with last year’s MVP Kevin Durant out for the majority of the season has been historic.

Westbrook is ranked second in the league in three categories this year: scoring, PER, and steals. He is also fourth in the league with 8.6 assists per game. He is practically the whole team out in Oklahoma City, willing the Thunder to victories averaging more than 25 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. His 11 triple-doubles lead the league by a mile, and just to put that into perspective, the rest of the league only has 11 combined.

LeBron James is no stranger to this award. He has had a stranglehold on it in recent years, winning it four of the past six years. He is one of only five players to have won four or more MVPs. If James were to win this year it would tie him with legends Bill Russell and Michael Jordan for second most all time.

While I don’t think he will win another this year because he hasn’t been as dominant as in past years, James has still been outstanding. He is averaging 25 plus points, seven plus assists and six plus rebounds per game, ranked third in scoring and seventh in assists. He is efficient as always, ranking seventh in PER.

What proves his value to this team is that the Cleveland Cavaliers are 49-18 when he plays and 2-9 when he hasn’t played. James is held to a higher standard of greatness, and hasn’t had a great year by his standards, but is with no doubt a candidate.

James Harden has come a long way from being the Sixth Man of the Year in OKC in 2012 to the “Man” for the Houston Rockets. We always knew he could score, even from his days coming off the bench, and he is proving it once again leading the league with 27.6 points per game. He is doing most of his scoring at the free throw line, leading the league in free throws made and attempted, which is saying a lot for his scoring ability being a guard.

We knew Harden was capable of these offensive numbers, but he has also improved his passing and defense. He is tied for ninth in assists, almost averaging seven a game, and accounts for most of the Rockets scoring. His improved defense put him in serious discussion for MVP, as he is ranked fifth in steals this season.

What has really solidified his place in the race is that he has done all this without Dwight Howard for a good part of the season, basically carrying the load by himself, and has given the Rockets a chance to get the number two seed in the highly competitive Western Conference.

In most years the MVP award goes to the best player on the best team, and that player is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have absolutely run away with the league, and Curry is a big reason why. He is third in PER, and ranks sixth in both scoring and assists with 23.6 points and 7.7 assists per game.

Curry is also getting it done at the defensive end, ranking fourth in the association with two steals a game. These are good numbers, but because the Warriors are so good, Curry only plays 32 minutes a game. He hasn’t played in 19 fourth quarters this year, so imagine how much better they could be if he had to play more.

Curry’s real dominance comes from his shooting ability. He is shooting 43 percent from three-point range and 91 percent from the line, and with five more three-pointers he will break his own record he set in 2012-13 for most three-point field goals made in a season.

It has truly been a great season for all of these candidates, and while only one can win they all deserve praise for their efforts. I believe these candidates will have many more opportunities to win this award, and we will have more debates over their greatness in years to come.