In what looks to be one of the closest MVP races in NBA history, three excellent candidates are up for the top spot, but only one can win. 2016-’17 was a year that saw James Harden revitalize not only the Rockets franchise, but his career as well. In a season where Kawhi Leonard improved as a player while leading the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals. And finally, ’16-’17 gifted us an angry and abandoned Russell Westbrook who did something that hadn’t been done in the NBA in over half a century. There is no doubt that all of these candidates are studs and deserve their due recognition, but only one can be crowned MVP tonight, so who will it be?
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: In the first year after the retirement of NBA legend and Spurs star Tim Duncan, San Antonio was looking for their next leader, it’s safe to say the search has ended. Every year Kawhi Leonard has been in the NBA, he has improved as a player, adding something new to his game every year while continuing to maintain what makes him so great already. In 2016-’17, Leonard realized his superstar potential and led the San Antonio Spurs to an elite 61-21 record and a Western Conference Finals berth. And even though “The Claw’s” season ended in disappointment, he has nothing to be ashamed about after the year he had in the Southwest. In 74 games, Kawhi Leonard averaged a career high 25.5 points, six rebounds, 3.5 assists, two steals, and shot 38% from three and 48% from the field. Kawhi also boasted the Leagues third best player efficiency rating at 27.5, while also contributing 13.6 win shares over the course of the season (fourth best in the league). While Kawhi may not say much, his game speaks volumes, something he showed this season and the reason he may just be the MVP of the league after tonight.
James Harden, Houston Rockets: After a sub-par showing in the 2015-’16 season, James Harden came back in ’16-’17 as a new player, and he’s being rewarded for it. When he entered the NBA, no one expected that James Harden would one day lead the league in assists let alone be an MVP candidate when he was sixth man in OKC. In the 2016-’17 season, Harden did what he’s done his whole life, defy the odds and rise above. Under new head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Houston Rockets transformed from a lowly eighth seed team into an offensive juggernaut and a top three squad in the stacked Western Conference. Along with D’Antoni, Harden deserves much of the credit for the vastly improved Rockets. In this past season, Harden averaged a career high 29.1 points, eight rebounds, a steal and a half, shot 44% from the field and 34% from downtown. Yet Harden’s amazing play didn’t end there, as “The Beard” also led the League in both assists (11.2), and win shares contributed at 15.0. One knock against Harden’s ’16-’17 campaign, is the amount of turnovers he accrued over the year, as he averaged nearly six cough ups a night. In the new Houston offense, Harden was transformed into a a revamped version of the mid 2000’s Steve Nash, becoming the ultimate playmaker and an elite scorer from anywhere on the court. In Nash’s case, he was crowned MVP, perhaps the same is in the cards for Harden.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Finally, we reach the MVP candidate with the best storyline of the year. One year, the Oklahoma City Thunder are considered one of the top five teams in the NBA with a strong core of emerging and and established stars such as, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. Fast forward one season and the entire landscape of OKC has changed. The team has been ravaged by the losses of both Durant and Ibaka and many wonder if this team will begin its descent into mediocrity and insignificance. Fortunately, Russell Westbrook would not allow that to happen, so he put the Thunder on his back and carried them to a respectable 47-35 season as well as a playoff berth as a sixth seed. And when I say Westbrook put the Thunder on his back, he did exactly that…In this past season, “Danger-Russ” led OKC in every major statistical category, posting a stat-line of 31.6 points a game (best in NBA), nearly eleven rebounds a night, 10.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and shot career bests from both the free throw line (84%) and the three point line (34%). Westbrook also led the league with a player efficiency rating of 30.6 and contributed 13.6 win shares over the course of the year. The same knock against Harden also plagues Westbrook, as he was relatively turnover prone throughout the year (5.4 a game) and took/missed more shots than any other player this year. Whether or not Westbrook wins the MVP tonight, he did something in ’16-’17 that was both historic as well as heroic, and he should be recognized for that.
Prediction: In my opinion, Russell Westbrook was the most valuable player to his team this year, and deserves to win for that fact alone.
Thanks for reading.
All Stats via BasketballReference.com
All Images via Google.com