• Jonathan Ebrahimi

The MVP Race: Is This a Two or Four Horse Race

As is the case each season, the MVP race has slowly narrowed down to only a few players. With that being said, this year’s race is one of the closest in recent history.

As we head into mid-March, only 4 players maintain any real consideration for league MVP. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James have all survived long enough to keep their trophy hopes alive, however, there are still 15 or so games left and by no means is this set in stone. Furthermore, even among the top 4 candidates, there are two distinct categories: the two men who COULD win MVP (Leonard and James) and the two men who will PROBABLY win MVP (Westbrook and Harden).

While Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James have each had tremendous seasons, they each have something holding them back.

For Leonard, his statistics don’t look nearly as impressive as the other 3 candidates and no matter how much we try to explain it away that will impact the number of votes he receives at the end of the year. But even if we look at Kawhi’s in-game statistics per 36 minutes, they still don’t quite measure up to the triple-double averaged by Westbrook or the near triple-doubles averaged by Harden and James.

For James, the main thing holding him back from winning his 5th MVP award is the Cavaliers’ team record. As the defending champs, the Cavaliers had rather lofty expectations this season. However, a good-enough record of 43-22, with the level of talent on that team, just isn’t going to impress voters. In LeBron’s defense, the Cavs have gone 0-5 in games that he sat out. So, going strictly off of the team’s winning percentage when LeBron plays (70.5%), the team would be on pace to win 58 games had he not missed any time.

When it comes to Harden and Westbrook, it will eventually come down to how much the voters’ value winning. History would favor Harden but Westbrook is making the choice extremely difficult with the way he has played all season long. The narrative behind what Westbrook has endured over the offseason and what winning the award would men to him could also help him steal a few first place votes at the end of the year.

Only one thing is certain at this point: the home-stretch of this NBA season is going to be very interesting.

1.James Harden (29.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 11.2 APG, 27.6 PER) At this point in the season it’s hard to see the Rockets moving either up or down in the standings. They are 6.5 games behind San Antonio and Golden State for the 2nd seed and they are 4.5 games ahead of Utah. Barring a huge surge or complete meltdown from any of those teams, it looks like you can pen Houston in as the number 3 seed out West. Considering that they were expected to be a fringe playoff team at best this season, I think you can call that a successful campaign – and they can thank James Harden for that.

2.Russell Westbrook (31.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 10.1 APG, 30.2 PER) Westbrook has been on a one-man mission this entire season. Anything Coach Billy Donovan has asked him to do, he has done it. Score the ball? Check. Be a playmaker? Check. Help on the glass? Check. Defend other elite guards? Check. When it comes to the load carried by a single player, no one can touch Russell Westbrook – but that is perhaps his downfall. Without much help this season the Thunder has been a fringe playoff team. With 16 games left on the calendar, if Westbrook can drag OKC to the 4 or 5 seed by the end of the season, this year’s vote is going to be very interesting.

3.Kawhi Leonard (26.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, 28.4 PER) Kawhi’s concussion couldn’t have come at a worse time. In the four games prior to his injury, Kawhi was averaging 34 PTS, 8.5 REB and 3.3 STL. This year has definitely been a coming out party for Kawhi Leonard and it is likely that he will be an MVP candidate in the years to come. However, with the timing of his concussion, he may not have enough time to close the gap been himself and the two players ahead of him on this list. It also doesn’t help how good the Spurs are when he sits – San Antonio has a 5-1 record in games that Kawhi does not play.

4. LeBron James (26.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 8.8 APG, 26.6 PER) LeBron is probably not going to win the 2017 MVP Award. With 16 games left on their calendar, the Cavs would likely have to win at least 12 more with LeBron averaging super human numbers, by LeBron James standards. It’s not impossible, and certainly not for a player of James’ caliber, but it’s likely he doesn’t have the desire to wear himself out before the playoffs. Nonetheless, in terms of pure value, no one can top LeBron on this list. He has been sensational since the all-star break and is averaging 30 PTS on 54% shooting (40% on threes), 12.5 REB, and 8.7 AST in the month of March.

5. John Wall (23.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 10.8 APG, 23.0 PER) It really has been a season of two halves for the Wizards. While John Wall has been phenomenal all year, the Wizards struggled to win games out of the gate. But with their struggles firmly behind them, Washington has now leap-frogged Boston into the number 2 seed in the Eastern conference and Wall has been the main reason why, averaging 27.6 PTS and 11 AST over his last 5 games.

6. Isaiah Thomas (29.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 6.0 APG, 26.8 PER) A lot of the hysteria surrounding Isaiah Thomas has died down over the last week or so, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has been a revelation this season. Thomas has been a scoring machine all year long, failing to reach 20+ points in only 3 games so far. He is slowly building a reputation as a big-time clutch performer and has led the league in 4th quarter scoring for most of the season. At 28 he is having, by far, the best season of his career. Unfortunately for his MVP chances, he is likely a better candidate for the Most Improved Player Award.

7. Stephen Curry (24.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 23.4 PER) With Durant out of the Warriors’ plans for the rest of the regular season, Curry is going to be the focal point of the league’s best offense. With that being said, in the 5 games since Durant’s injury (not including the DNP-fest in San Antonio), the Warriors have really struggled. Although Curry hasn’t been terrible, he is far from the player that dazzled the league to the tune of back-to-back MVP awards. In those 5 games Curry is averaging 25.4 PTS on 41% shooting, 6 REB and 6 AST but the Warriors are 2-3 over that same stretch.

8. DeMar DeRozan (27.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.7 APG, 23.8 PER) DeMar has done a good job of keeping the Raptors afloat while Kyle Lowry’s wrist is healing. Since Lowry went down, he has averaged 27 PTS and managed to put up a career-high 43-point scoring performance against the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately, the Raptors have slipped even further in the rankings since the all-star break and are now in danger of losing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

9. Gordon Hayward (21.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 22.5 PER) The Jazz have slowly put together one of the league’s best teams in Utah, and they are likely one piece away from being a championship contender. George Hill and Rudy Gobert have been making huge contributions for the Jazz, but it has been the play of Gordon Hayward that has catapulted this team into the Western Conference’s upper echelon. This season has been his best year to date, but don’t be surprised if he takes his game a step further next year.

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo (23.2 PPG, 8.6 APG, 5.5 APG, 26.6 PER) The Bucks are finally putting some separation between themselves and the rest of the East’s 8-seed hopefuls, but with so many games left of the schedule, they could still lose their playoff spot. The fortunate side for Milwaukee is that Giannis is still playing at an incredibly high level late into the season. Over his last 5 games he is averaging 23.2 PTS, 8.6 REB, 5.6 AST, 2.2 STL and 1.8 BLK.

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