Photo Credit: FanRag Sports
The 2017 NBA Playoffs are well underway. While the primary focus has turned to which NBA team will rise above the rest and win this year’s championship, there is a whole other battle to be fought over which player is deserving to be crowned the league’s Most Valuable Player.
The two frontrunners two win the award have stuffed the stat sheets in pretty much every game this season. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook set the NBA record with 42 triple-doubles and became the first player to average a triple-double over an entire season since Oscar Robertson in 1961-1962. Houston Rockets’ shooting guard James Harden also had a fantastic year, boasting the league-lead in assists and putting up 22 triple-doubles of his own.
While there are other dark-horse contenders to win the award like San Antonio Spurs’ small forward Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland Cavaliers’ small forward LeBron James, the focus should be on these two electrifying guards, both of whom had phenomenal seasons and rose above the rest.
But what is it that makes this year’s MVP race so compelling? Is it the fact that Westbrook averaged a triple-double with a league-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game, or is it the fact that there is another player even in this discussion to perhaps come away with this award given Westbrook’s insane numbers?
It’s actually little bit of both. Harden himself put up 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game, and he did it while shooting better field goal and 3-point percentages than Westbrook. He also led his team to eight more regular season victories than Westbrook did, which is another key aspect of value.
Sure, James Harden did not average a triple-double like Russell Westbrook did. But he averaged nearly the same amount of points while shooting a higher percentage than Westbrook, and he also dished out more assists. While Westbrook’s triple-double average is a great thing to boast, Harden really was right there with him.
Is 8.1 rebounds really that much different than 10.7? What if Westbrook had averaged 9.9 rebounds per game and Harden had averaged 7.3 (or 7.5 if we scale using percentages)? It’s the same exact difference and should produce the same exact voting results because of it, but Westbrook wouldn’t have that triple-double average to boast. Would this change the race? It probably would, simply because of how much the triple-double average is weighed by some people. For others, not so much. But that’s the beauty of this year’s race.
This NBA MVP race is compelling because it’s going to come down to the true interpretation of the voters. The past two seasons, it wasn’t like that. Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry was the clear choice to win the award. This year’s MVP race is what the NBA needs. It needs two candidates that have great cases to be made for them as the league’s most valuable player. Russell Westbrook and James Harden have provided that this season.