By Ryan Moyle | Contributing Writer
As the NBA regular season winds down into the home stretch, the talk among analysts and fans alike always revolves around the best overall player in the league. Often times, the MVP is given to a player who has not only solidified himself as the most productive and awe-inspiring individual during the regular season, but also as one of the all-time greats of the sport.
Over the past decade, Cavaliers forward LeBron James has dominated the award, winning four MVP’s during this time, his first two with Cleveland and the latter two coming with Miami. Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry has the last two MVPs with his sensational long range shooting and ball handling skills. He’s led his team to a record-setting season last year and an NBA championship the year before that. However, despite James and Curry battling each other in the NBA finals for the past two years and possibly for a third time this season, there have been a number of other players who have been making their case for the MVP title.
The player that is looking to run away with this MVP race is Oklahoma City Thunder point guard, Russell Westbrook. At the moment, Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the year, a feat that has only been achieved through a regular season by Oscar Robertson during the 1961-62 season. In only his second year in the NBA, Robertson averaged 30.8 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game, and 11.4 assists per game with the Cincinnati Royals. Through 64 of 82 games, Westbrook is averaging 32.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.0 assists. With the absence of his former partner in crime, Kevin Durant, Westbrook has picked up the slack and his having one of the greatest individual regular seasons in NBA history. The problem with Westbrook is that his team is currently just sitting seventh in the West standings. While the Thunder should still make the playoffs, they don’t have the record to justify Westbrook’s MVP candidacy. Since the 1982-83 season, every MVP winner has come from a team that has won at least 50 games during that season. With less than 20 games remaining on the Thunder’s schedule, it’s unlikely they reach 50 wins. Couple this with the fact that Westbrook leads the league in field goal attempts per game and is shooting just 42 percent from the field, and the validity of Westbrook’s candidacy comes into question.
A state over in Texas is James Harden, who may be second in this race, averaging 29.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 11.2 assists for the Houston Rockets. Harden is now playing the role of a true point guard. In addition to leading the league in assists, he’s also scoring at an incredible clip, coming in at third in scoring behind Westbrook and the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas. However, like Westbrook, efficiency is a concern with Harden, who leads the league in turnovers and shoots just 44 percent from the field. But led by Harden, the Rockets are sitting comfortably in third place in the West.
While both Harden and Westbrook are putting up gaudy numbers, other players have a chance to win MVP as well. Of course, LeBron will always be in the conversation. He’s having another efficient season leading the Cavaliers to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. As the past two seasons’ MVP, Stephen Curry is having a solid year, although his numbers have dropped due to the addition of Kevin Durant who is also putting up good stats. At 5’9”, Isaiah Thomas is having an incredible season and is second in scoring in the league. He has led the Celtics to second place in the Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors is quietly having the best season of his career, and the two big men of the New Orleans Pelicans, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, are also in the conversation despite being on a non-playoff team. However, with the stats that Westbrook is putting up, it may be difficult to deny him his first MVP honor.