The 2016/17 NBA season is remembered for Russell Westbrook's historic triple-double season. The only player to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson in 1962, Westbrook surpassed James Harden for MVP even though some questioned the effectiveness of Westbrook's figures.
This season however, after Westbrook has averaged yet another triple-double, the tide has turned as Westbrook is barely in the conversation for the most prestigious award. With Westbrook out of the picture, Harden has carried his terrific play from last season into this campaign and has taken the lead in the running for this year's award. However, he is far from a lone ranger with none other than LeBron James and Anthony 'The Brow' Davis on his tail.
Let's take a look at the three contenders individually and work out who deserves the best individual award in basketball.
James 'The Beard' Harden's style of play could best be described as lulling his opponent into a false sense of security, hypnotizing the defender by rocking the ball back and forth before delivering the damage. His play this season has culminated in averaging a league-high 30 points per game, third in assists per game and leading the Rockets to the best record in the NBA.
When Harden's Rockets went 25-5 through the first 30 games this season, it was clear he was once again playing MVP-calibre basketball. Since then, the Rockets have held the best record in the league and he has carried that over into this postseason as Houston have taken a 2-0 lead against the Timberwolves. Their style of play combined with the cohesion of their two superstars in Harden and Chris Paul has confirmed their adequacy to contend with the Warriors and challenge for the Larry O'Brien trophy. As a spearhead in this devastating team, Harden is at the forefront of the MVP conversation.
The MVP award is phrased in a way that does not say what it is not. The award is not based on a single stat line or can be boiled down to one defining factor, nor does it award the best player in basketball. For if that were the case, LeBron James would have won more than four MVPs in his career as he is the best player in basketball and has been nearly his whole career.
James' MVP campaign has suffered in two ways this season. Firstly, from the 'LeBron factor' and secondly from the Cavaliers play. When Westbrook averaged a triple-double last season, the basketball world was amazed. When Westbrook averaged a triple-double for a second straight season, most people did not bat an eyelid. The issue with James is that he has always been great. He has played and performed like an MVP every year he's been in the league and however incredible that is and even if this season's numbers are that bit better, it is not enough of a narrative to earn him the award. We expect greatness from him.
Apart from last year, the award has always gone to a player whose team has one of if not the best records in the league. The Cavaliers not only have ended up in the fourth seed, their narrative this year has had more twists and turns than a soap opera. From trades to tantrums to Tyronn Lue's leave of absence, the Cavaliers have been through it all this year and it's ended up in a record that is not top tier. The LeBron factor means that they are no ordinary fourth seed but they will still not get home court if they go beyond the opening round. This will definitely hurt LeBron's MVP chances, even if he has single-handedly revived the Cavs' campaign.
When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his left Achilles tendon in January, most analysts wrote off the Pelicans. Without one of their deadly frontcourt superstars, it seemed as if the Pelicans would fall to mid-table mediocrity and miss the postseason. However, since that day, Anthony Davis has elevated his game to devastating heights.
Davis' numbers are impressive and some of his individual stat lines are borderline unprecedented. This season, Davis has averaged over 28 points per game, good for second best in the league, tallied with a league-high 2.6 blocks, and 11 rebounds per game. Maybe his most impressive individual stat line was against Miami in February. Davis scored 45 points to go along with 17 rebounds, five blocks and five steals. His numbers alone are MVP-worthy.
Unfortunately, Davis has a similar issue to that of James this season. Not that Davis has the 'LeBron factor', but that his Pelicans are just not good enough. Though they have definitely overachieved this season thanks to Davis and some of his key running mates, going into the postseason as the sixth seed will not cut it. They haven't dominated teams night in and night out and are not a real contender for a finals appearance.
And the winner is...
Last year's voting was unique compared to previous awards. Having a player average a triple-double, a feat not achieved since 1962, led to the voting fall heavily on statistics even though this is not normally the case. The result was the award going to a player whose team ended up in sixth position of their conference. It is the lowest seed a player has ended up on for at least 20 years. This year, however, it seems back to normal with wins being important alongside statistics.
With that being said, with LeBron's Cavaliers and Davis' Pelicans taking up the fourth and sixth seed, respectively, it may not cut it. Therefore, Harden, leading his team to a league-best 65 wins puts him in a dominant position. Couple that with his stat line of 30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds per 29.8 minutes played this season, and you have your 2017/18 NBA MVP.
Harden, Davis or LeBron? Who is your 2017/18 NBA MVP? Comment below!