The MVP Race: Who's Playing for Second Place?
At this point it is virtually inevitable that James Harden will win this season’s Most Valuable Player award. Even if he sat out the remainder of the season it would seem as though he has done enough to finally secure the honor that has alluded him for some time.
So with first place penciled in, who is still in the conversation for runner-up?
LeBron has been right there with Harden from the opening tip of the season, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have been a mess for much of the season. While James continually destroys the stat-sheet, the team found itself facing one problem after another. First it was the Kyrie trade, which had the Cavs starting the season with a very different looking squad. From there, big losses to bad teams, chemistry issues with Isiah Thomas, team meetings and ultimately a roster upheaval have all contributed to the Cavs facing a very steep uphill battle heading into the playoffs. LeBron has been great, but his team has not.
In Golden State, the MVP candidates have a very different problem. Both Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have played at an MVP-level all year long, however, that is precisely the problem. The Warriors know that even if one of their best 3 or 4 players were to go down with an injury, they still have the talent to win a championship. Even Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have had MVP-like games throughout the season.
Anthony Davis’ problem is quite simple – he turned the gas up a little too late in the season. There is no doubt that had the Pelicans won at this rate all year long and if Davis had been posting these monster stat-lines from the opening tip-off, he’d be right there with James Harden in the MVP conversation. Unfortunately, the Pelicans started off slow and it took a season-ending injury to teammate DeMarcus Cousins for Davis to go on this tear.
The players mentioned above have all been sensational this season – there is no denying that. Unfortunately, there has been one player this season that has been beard and shoulders better than the field.
James Harden (31.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 8.7 APG, 30.5 PER) Houston Rockets (56 – 14) Anything short of James Harden winning the MVP award this season would be a complete shock, so much so that there is the slight possibility that he becomes the second unanimous MVP in NBA history. Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Harden’s individual performance this season has been the play of the Houston Rockets that are now 36-2 with a healthy Paul, Harden and Capela in the lineup.
LeBron James (27.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 9.0 APG, 28.2 PER) Cleveland Cavaliers (40 – 29) LeBron James continues to put forth one outstanding performance after another, but unfortunately it hasn’t led to many wins for the Cavaliers. Cleveland is still figuring things out with their new cast, and with the latest news that head coach Tyrone Lue will be taking a leave of absence due to health concerns, LeBron’s responsibilities are greater than ever.
Anthony Davis (28.0 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 28.6 PER) New Orleans Pelicans (40 – 30) Davis has been a monster as of late and had the NBA season started in January, ‘The Brow’ would perhaps be leading the pack when it comes to the MVP race. Unfortunately, the season started in November and the Pelicans did have a slow start. Nonetheless, Davis has been phenomenal and the Pelicans have racked up the wins going 12-4 over their last 16 games.
DeMar DeRozan (23.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 5.1 APG, 21.7 PER) Toronto Raptors (52 – 18) The 2017/18 season has been a magical one of the Raptors, and with how poor the Cavaliers and Celtics have looked in recent weeks, this may be the year that Toronto make their debut appearance in the NBA Finals. Fun fact, the NBA is the only major sports league that a Toronto team has not won a championship (not including the NFL since Toronto doesn’t have a team). Whether they win a championship or not, DeMar DeRozan is slowly building a case as the greatest Raptor in franchise history.
Kevin Durant (26.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.4 APG, 25.8 PER) Golden State Warriors (53 – 17) It seems as though disaster has struck for the Warriors, and not at a good time either. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and now Kevin Durant are all struggling with nagging injuries as we head into the NBA playoffs. Luckily, none of the injuries seem severe. Durant has had a great season and has done well to carry the team with Steph spending plenty of time on the shelf.
Damian Lillard (26.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 6.5 APG, 24.9 PER) Portland Trail Blazers (44 – 26) Just as other teams starting to slow as the season is winding down, Damian Lillard and the Trailblazers are just starting the rev things up. The Blazers have won 13 straight games and Lillard has been exceptional during the streak averaging 30 PTS and 6 AST. The streak has catapulted Portland into the number 3 seed, something that could prove very valuable come playoff time.
Kyrie Irving (24.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.1 APG, 25.0 PER) Boston Celtics (47 – 23) Since their white hot start, Kyrie and the Celtics continue to wallow in mediocrity. They’re still virtually a lock for the number 2 seed, but I’m sure they would have liked to have held onto that top spot. Kyrie has been sensational in his first season as a Celtic though, and has proven anyone who doubted his leadership ability to be wrong.
Russell Westbrook (25.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 10.2 APG, 24.8 PER) Oklahoma City Thunder (43 – 29) This season has been a bumpy road for the Thunder, but they’re starting to look a little more steady as the season comes to a close. They’ve won 8 of their last 10 games and team is starting to look a lot better offensively than they did to start the season. Westbrook has been up to his old tricks as well, putting up a triple double in each of OKC’s previous 5 games.
Victor Oladipo (23.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.2 APG, 22.6 PER) Indiana Pacers (40 – 30) Victor Oladipo may very well end up being this year’s Most Improved Player, but he definitely deserves recognition as an MVP candidate as well. When Paul George was traded to OKC, most assumed this would be a rough year for Indiana, but somehow Oladipo has put the Pacers in a more competitive position than they were last season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, 27.8 PER) Milwaukee Bucks (37 – 32) There is really no way of getting around the fact that this season has been a disappointment for the Milwaukee Bucks. Luckily, Giannis has taken a big step in the right direction and is showing the world that he is the real deal. The Bucks have had to deal with a lot of roster changes and injuries, but I think everyone had higher expectations for this team than barely scraping into the playoff picture.