With the end of every NBA regular season, the MVP discussion is on nearly every daily NBA headline. And that’s very much the case this season. However, it’s more of a question between Russell Westbrook and James Harden rather than a discussion. These two players have been so good, there’s even been mention of the NBA’s first ever co-MVP award being given.
Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the first time since Oscar Robertson famously did so during the 1961-62 season. A record once thought to be unbreakable has now all but cemented Westbrook’s legacy as one of the best of this generation. His final stat line for the season: 31.6 PPG/ 10.7 RPG / 10.4 APG.
His opposition for the MVP trophy, James Harden—once Westbrook’s teammate in OKC—had a phenomenal year for the Houston Rockets. In his first year as the new Head Coach of Houston, veteran Mike D’Antoni changed the role Harden played on the Rockets, electing to place him in a point-guard (or facilitator-type) role. Not only did Harden continue to be the one of the best scorers in the game, the Rockets reaped the benefits of his new role. And ultimately, the Rockets offense became one of the best in the league. Harden averaged a career-high 11.2 assists per game on the season while breaking a few records on the way.
He became the first player in NBA history to have a 50-15-15 triple-double and also the first player to have two 50-point triple-doubles. As a team, the Rockets broke a few NBA records as well:
- Most consecutive games with at least 100 points (48 games).
- Most three-pointers made in a single month (279).
- First team to score 2,000 points in a month since 1992.
- Most consecutive games with 10-plus 3-pointers made (27).
- Most three-pointers shot and made in a game (24 made on 61 shots)
The argument for both players is that Westbrook had the better individual year by achieving one of the most coveted milestones in the history of the game. Yet, his team didn’t even win 50 games—sub-par for an MVP candidate. Harden, on the other hand, was close to averaging a triple-double (29.1 PPG/ 8.1 RPG/ 11.2 APG) as well. However the Rockets, as showcased above, won 10 more games than they were projected to. They went 55-27 and secured the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed by season’s end.
This season has been great for basketball. There has never been more 25-plus point scorers in the league. Moreover, the MVP race is about as tight as can be. Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have all been mentioned, but the winner will definitely be either Westbrook or Harden. The cases for both are tough to argue on both sides, however. And yes, one of those two players deserve to win this season’s MVP award.
Just don’t be fooled: they are not the NBA’s best player. That crown still belongs to LeBron James.
The NBA MVP award typically goes to the best of that single season. Yet it is based on stats and accomplishments—some arbitrary, some not—style of play and the success of that players’ team. What the award doesn’t account for is that certain player’s overall skills in every facet of the game. Unfortunately, like every sport in the world, offense is much more valued than defense. And usually, there’s not much of a debate there. However, if you’re looking at player’s talent, skills and abilities—not just how many points, assists and rebounds they can get in a game—there’s only one King James.
James will be entering his 12th consecutive postseason. And, is once again one of the favorites to take his team to the Finals. The Cavs have the best odds coming out of the East to win the Finals, second in the NBA to their Western Conference foes, the Golden State Warriors. This regular season was not an easy one for James and the Cavs, though. There were arguments on the court and bench, for starters. Inconsistent performances, many injuries and even drama surrounding LeBron with a few people—including Charles Barkley and LaVar Ball—added itself to the mix. The media also had a few cracks at James for “looking for a playmaker” and for sitting out games due to rest, despite him averaging the most minutes per game.
While it may have seemed like LeBron and his beloved Cavs had a down year, this was actually LeBron’s best season in years. His numbers looked like this: 26.4 points per game (most since 2013-14), 8.6 rebounds per game (career-high) and 8.7 assists per game (career-high), all while shooting 55 percent from the field (best mark since ’13-’14). The stat line for his career now sits at 27.1 PPG/ 7.3 RPG/ 7.0 APG/ .501 FG%, which is alone remarkable.
The defending champions went 51-31 after a terrible stretch of games to end the season. They went 21-20 in their last 41 games to close out the season and still managed to win 50 games. Even so, 21-20 is not exactly the way you want your team to stumble into the playoffs. With their 51-31 record, the Cavs held the No. 1 seed for most of the season but are going to enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed against the Indiana Pacers. James has only finished higher than a 2-seed once in his entire career. His team has either been the 1- or 2-seed for the last nine seasons.
But the postseason is where James shines brightest. Since James joined Cleveland two seasons ago, the Cavaliers have gone 30-11 in the postseason. Only the Warriors have more playoff wins in that span (31). Meanwhile, every other NBA team has failed to win more than 12. LeBron has been to six straight finals, winning the NBA Championship and Finals MVP three times, and could very possibly make it to his seventh straight this season.
Aside from problems late in the season, whether it was the friction in the locker room or with the media, James is still performing at the highest level—now 14 years into his historic career. The value that James extends so much farther than most players because there are not many, if any, that are virtual locks to lead their teams on a deep playoff run every year. And not only does LeBron help take his team deep, he dominates.
Last season, James became the only player in NBA Finals history to average more points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals than every other player on either team in the Finals. His seven Finals triple-doubles are second-most behind Magic Johnson’s eight. Many people also argued that he was robbed of another Finals MVP in 2015 when the Cavs lost the Warriors in six games. He averaged 35.8 PPG/ 13.3 RPG / 8.8 APG and had two triple-doubles in that series.
James is still the NBA’s best player, even though he might not be this year’s MVP. That’s not a knock on him, Westbrook or Harden, but James is simply a once-in-a-generation talent. And, is still the most valuable in the entire league. He has been consistently putting up the same numbers for the last 13 years and has won four MVPs awards. Yet sometimes he still gets overlooked because he’s been so good for so long that it’s getting old.
The way that James is able to score in a variety of ways—jump-shooting, driving to the basket, on fast breaks, on the dribble. Combine that with his ability to involve his teammates while playing and defending nearly every position, and nobody can match up to his size, speed and athletic ability.
Overall, LeBron probably wouldn’t be too upset if he doesn’t win his fifth MVP award. I’m sure he has his eyes set on another Finals MVP anyway.