This season’s NBA MVP race is as exciting as it has ever been before. The candidates include James Harden of the Houston Rockets, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and of course, the leader the Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry.
Before getting into each player’s individual case for the award, it’s important to understand that there are several unwritten rules and standards that must be adhered to in order for a player to be considered as the most valuable. Those rules go as follows: the player has to dominate at least one statistical category; he must play on a playoff team; he has to be a prolific scorer; he has to play a certain number of games healthy.
Playing healthy and leading a playoff-bound team represent two reasons why the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis is on the outside looking in at the moment, despite the fact that he’s averaging 24.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game this season. (If the Pelicans sneak into the playoffs, Davis’s case gets better.) The remaining players being considered don’t have those issues, at least for the most part. Westbrook did miss about a month at the beginning of the year and a game after suffering an injury to his face not long ago, but he has been tearing it up for going on four months and the others have been mostly healthy.
So with that said, let’s take a look at each player individually. We’ll start with the Rockets’ Harden. Harden has played much of the season without sidekick Dwight Howard, who has struggled with a knee injury this season. With Harden forced to lead the team, one would think that the Rockets would have been doomed in a tough Western Conference, but instead, Harden has put the team on his back and is averaging 27.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.9 steals. He just had a career-high 51-point effort against the Sacramento Kings, and he has his team in position to lock down home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Harden was still a dark horse candidate for the award three months ago, but his play in recent weeks has basically put him neck and neck with Curry and Westbrook. Speaking of Westbrook, he has followed Harden’s mold for carrying his team with Kevin Durant out for the year, and although he has done it by putting up large numbers of points on the board, Westbrook has done something Harden can’t do, put up triple doubles on a consistent basis. Think about this: since the All-Star break ended, Westbrook has notched a triple-double in 40 percent of the games he has played. His most recent big time effort included 31 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks. While the potential of missing the playoffs would hurt Westbrook’s chances of winning MVP, he’s making a heck of a case for winning it regardless just because of how on fire he is right now.
One team that’ll make the playoffs and likely come out of the Eastern Conference in the battle for the NBA title is the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. While LeBron can always be considered a candidate for the MVP trophy, it’s hard for him to outdo himself and continually convince basketball writers that he should win the award year after year. He’s averaging 25.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 7.3 assists in a “down” year for him, and that simply won’t do the trick.
That leaves Curry. Curry is one of the best pure shooters in the game, and he’s the best player on the best regular season team in the NBA. His averages are in line with all of the other candidates being considered for the honor: 23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 2.1 steals. It’s also important to consider that he’s one half of the best backcourt in the league alongside Klay Thompson. The two have teamed up to lead the Warriors to a true home-court advantage, which is evidenced by the fact that they’ve only lost a pair of games at home all year.
Aside from individual and team stats, it’s important to understand that under former head coach Mark Jackson, the Warriors were a very good team, but not in the elite class. Since Steve Kerr joined the club as coach, the team has succeeded to the point that the Warriors have been one of the most dominant regular-season teams since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
Combine that with the fact that Curry can get his teammates involved, create his own shot, single-handedly take over a game, hit the winning shot and break Chris Paul’s ankles on a crossover dribble, and it’s easy to conclude that he’s one of the most efficient and complete players in the game. And when you’re the most complete player in the game, you’re the MVP, plain and simple … unless of course one of the other candidates has something to say about that during the last few weeks of the season.