This year has been one of the closest NBA MVP races in recent memory. The remaining two weeks left in the regular season could go a long way toward determining who will take home the hardware. Here’s a look at everyone involved in the conversation.
The front runners
Harden has taken a gigantic step forward this year and has cemented his position as one of the NBA’s top players. He’s averaging 29.3 points per game, a league-leading 11.3 assists and eight rebounds, all career highs. Not only does he average nearly 30 points per contest, but his play-making ability and court-vision are supreme. In fact, Harden became the first player ever to both score and assist on 2,000 points in a season. His energy on the defensive end, a major criticism of Harden in the past, has also improved. He’s undeniably having the best year of his career.
The success of his team is also a huge factor. The Houston Rockets sit third in the Western Conference at 51-23 and also own the league’s third best record. With the departure of Dwight Howard to Atlanta and the mid-level free agent additions of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, some questioned whether the Rockets would have the star power to be one of the NBA’s elite. Largely thanks to Harden, they’re right there.
When Kevin Durant left for the Golden State Warriors in the off-season, Russell Westbrook was the clear-cut face of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s more than lived up to it. His 31.4 points per game, 10.4 assists and 10.5 rebounds pretty much speaks for itself. Westbrook could become the only player to average a triple double since Oscar Robertson did it in 1963-64. It’s not all about the stats for Westbrook either; the Thunder are 30-7 when he records a triple double.
The Thunder were down 13 with just 3:30 to go against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday when Westbrook led the comeback by scoring 16 of the Thunder’s final 18 points, including a go-ahead jump shot with seven seconds to go. The Thunder went on to win 92-91.
Oklahoma City is 42-31, good for sixth in the West. They aren’t viewed as a premier championship contender, but could make some noise in the playoffs with the right matchup. However, one thing is clear; without Westbrook, it would be a drastically different season for the Thunder.
In the hunt
From a pure numbers point of view, Leonard’s 26 points per game, 5.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists aren’t as eye catching. But let’s take a closer look. He has a field goal percentage of .486, remarkably high for someone with such a lofty scoring average. He’s also one of the top defensive players in the league and is able to comfortably shut down most wing players.
Should Leonard be named defensive player of the year for a third time this season, he’ll join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to do it while averaging at least 25 points per game.
His team also has the best record among MVP candidates with the Spurs sitting at 57-16, second best in the league behind the Warriors. While Leonard may not have the flashiest stats, his efficiency and his all-around play make him hard to ignore.
Shocker, but LeBron James is having a good year. His remarkable consistency over the last decade makes him easy to overlook. But his numbers indicate that he shouldn’t be. His 26 points per game, 8.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds are right on pace with his averages from the last decade. It’s his efficiency that’s way up, posting a mind-boggling .542 field goal percentage.
But with the Boston Celtics taking over top-spot in the East and the other three candidates having career years, it seems unlikely that James will win his fifth MVP.