For the last few years, the MVP races have been somewhat dull. Since 2008 it’s been LeBron’s trophy to lose, and lose he rarely did. He captured four out of the six MVPs over the past six years. It’s taken either the whole basketball world collectively losing its mind over Derrick Rose, or Kevin Durant averaging a 32-7-5 on a 59-win team to wrest the award away from James. However, this year, with James missing a few games from nagging injuries and giving up shots and minutes to rest a little more, the race has suddenly been thrown wide open, and it’s anyone’s to win.
Before we can choose a winner, we have to decide what “most valuable” means, and that’s where the proposition gets murky. Everyone has their own opinion on what “most valuable” actually means. Here’s the brief rundown of each interpretation and the player it fits best.
The Best Player: The guy you would choose first in a draft to win a life-or-death pickup game.
Who? Who else but LeBron? When he goes all out, he’s unstoppable.
The Best Stats: Think Wilt. He averaged crazy stats back in the 60s but never led an elite team while he did so.
Who? Anthony Davis. A 24-10-2, with a steal and a half and three blocks a game on 53.7 percent shooting from the field and 80.2 percent from the line.
The Best Lines Night to Night: Huge triple-doubles, lots of blocks, etc.
Who? Russell Westbrook, obviously. That run of triple-doubles when Westbrook turned into Oscar Robertson for a few weeks (complete with the grumpy personality!) was jaw-dropping. He even turned in a few near quadruple-doubles when he turned the ball over seven or eight times.
The Best Player on the Best Team: This is usually the player who wins the award, as conventional logic concludes that the best team must have naturally had the best player.
Who? The Warriors are the best team and Steph Curry is their best player, so Curry would win.
The Most Valuable: This player carries his team nightly and succeeds despite little help.
Who? From night to night, James Harden has been the MVP. Curry can have a bad game and the Warriors can still win because he plays alongside an all-star (Klay Thompson), a rim-protecting big man (Andrew Bogut), and a DPOY candidate (Draymond Green). When Harden doesn’t show up to play, who’s going to pick up the slack? Trevor Ariza? Corey Brewer?
Of those different interpretations of MVP, who is most likely to win the award? James won’t win because he’s missed twelve games this year, and possibly because he stacks up poorly against past versions of himself. Davis won’t win because he’s also missed time, fourteen games, and his team wasn’t elite. Westbrook won’t win for the same reason, missing fifteen games, although he gets the edge over Davis in my opinion because of the insane lines he’s put up.
Harden and Curry, to me, are the clear frontrunners for the award. I think Harden deserves it because of his consistency, the extra load he’s shouldered (about 350 more minutes than Curry), and his irreplaceability to the Rockets.
However, Curry’s Warriors are going to win 67 games (assuming they beat the Nuggets at home tomorrow night), tied for the sixth-highest win total in NBA history, and a record on par with legendary teams such as the ’86 Celtics, the ’92 Bulls, and the ’00 Lakers (and the immortal ’07 Mavs who lost in the first round). With the historical clout that record provides, it’s Curry’s trophy to lose. Interestingly enough, the best player on each of those four 67-win teams (Bird, Jordan, Shaq, and Dirk) all won the MVP that year, providing precedent for a Curry victory.
Whatever happens, it should be an exciting cap to an exciting race. Onto the playoffs!