The MVP Race: The Supporting Cast
As the regular season comes to a close, the MVP race continues to heat up.
At this point, the field has been realistically narrowed down to 2 remaining candidates: Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
One player has carried a team into the championship fold, turning a fringe playoff team into a contender after a roster overhaul and a new head coach. The other has put up a historically great stat line the likes we never thought possible in today’s NBA, while virtually willing his team into the playoff picture.
The race is so close that former Los Angeles Laker, Kobe Bryant, has put forth the idea of co-MVPs – an idea that this race will not even entertain.
In a race this close, how do we ultimately choose a victor?
There are arguments in favor of either man. Those in favor of Harden will argue that his team has the better record and that his stat line, although not quite as great as Westbrook’s, is still great. Those in favor of Westbrook will note that he is performing at a uniquely great statistical level and that the Thunder supporting cast offers Westbrook much less help.
When a race is this tight, it usually helps to do a side-by-side comparison of each player’s contributions during the season:
As you can see, the gap between these players is paper thin (if there is a gap at all). They have been virtually neck and neck all year long and with only 2 weeks of regular season basketball left, it’s quite possible that the MVP race will be decided in the days to come.
1. James Harden (29.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 11.3 APG, 27.8 PER) The Rockets’ win over the Thunder on Sunday helped give Harden the edge in the MVP race for now. With that being said, the game did highlight the fact that Harden definitely has more help from his supporting cast. With 9 games left in the season the MVP trophy is probably Harden’s to lose, but if he can maintain his current level of play through these last games (36 PPG and 12 APG in his last 5 appearances), there’s a good chance he will take home at least one trophy this season.
2. Russell Westbrook (31.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 10.4 APG, 30.3 PER) To quote Westbrook himself, “I’m coming”. He’s been right there with Harden all season long, and thanks to the Thunder’s recent surge (6-2 over their last 8 games), OKC are now only 2.5 games out of the 4th seed in the West. At this point, you have to consider that securing home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs might be all Westbrook needs in order to capture the MVP trophy.
3. LeBron James (26.1 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 8.8 APG, 26.8 PER) It’s hard to believe that LeBron James is averaging a career high in both rebounds and assists, has the first seed in the Eastern conference, and yet isn’t going to win his 5th league MVP. The main reason for this is that the Cavaliers have underperformed all year long. Had they won 60+ games this year, it’s likely that King James would have been right in the thick of the award along with Harden and Westbrook, however, something tell me the MVP trophy isn’t the trophy LeBron is most concerned with.
4. Kawhi Leonard (26.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 27.8 PER) Kawhi has firmly established himself as one of the NBA’s elite talents this year. He has been the driving force behind a Spurs team that, for stretches, has been the best team in the league this season. No player on this list produces on both ends the way Kawhi does and it is that difference that will likely see Leonard become a staple in the MVP race in the years to come.
5. Isaiah Thomas (29.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 26.8 PER) Thomas has somehow managed to lift the Celtics to the point where they are now challenging the Cavs for their number one seed. Whether they claim it or not is beside the point, however, as Thomas has used this season to cement himself as one of the top guards in the NBA. It’s unbelievable that the Phoenix Suns were so eager to trade Thomas 2 years ago when he was the 3rd string point guard behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.
6. John Wall (23.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 10.8 APG, 23.1 PER) John Walls career year has been good enough to catapult the Washington Wizards from the lottery back into the competitive half of the Eastern conference playoff picture. In his seventh NBA season, Wall is producing a career high in points, assists, steals, field goal percent and free throw percent. He is easily one of the most complete guards in the league and if the Wizards can continue to improve, John Wall could add an MVP or two to his already impressive NBA resume.
7. DeMar DeRozan (27.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 24.0 PER) Life without Kyle Lowry has been tough for the Toronto Raptors but they’ve manage to whether the storm thanks to the play of DeMar DeRozan. Since the all-star break, DeRozan has scored 40+ points on 3 separate occasions and he has drastically improved his play making with Lowry on the shelf. The Raptors are currently on a 5 game winning streak and they’re looking to catch the Wizards, or even the Celtics, to round out a fairly successful season.
8. Stephen Curry (24.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 6.5 APG, 23.9 PER) You know you’re an elite talent when you average 25 PTS and 7 AST yet it is considered a ‘down year’; but that is the exact situation in which Curry finds himself. With that being said, a lot of his detractors have been very quiet over the last 2 weeks as the Warriors have gone on a tear, winning 7 straight games by an average margin of 18 points. Over that stretch Steph has been electric, averaging 24 PTS, 8 AST, 2.7 STL and 46% from the 3-point line.
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo (23.1 PPG, 8.5 APG, 5.4 APG, 26.4 PER) Luckily for them, as the Bucks continue to get better, the rest of the East is seemingly getting worse. The Bucks now find themselves in a 3-way tie for the 5th best record in the East. Giannis has been the driving force behind the Bucks’ surprising season, the majority of which was without his front-court partner in crime, Jabari Parker. The rest of the East should be terrified of the Bucks’ front court pairing of Giannis and Jabari, each of whom are only 22 years old.
10. Gordon Hayward (21.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 22.1 PER) Gordon Hayward has been great for the Jazz who have finally clinched a playoff berth for the first time in 5 years. Hayward has been the focal point of their offense and he’s also helped out of the defensive end. He’s having a career year in points, rebounds and free-throw percentage, and at 27 he is still developing into a more complete player. Hopefully his recent leg injury doesn’t keep him from missing any playoff games this year.