NBA MVP Race

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Anna Meyer ’17

NOTE: All statistics are current as of January 21st, 2017. They were gathered from basketball-reference.com and espn.go.com

The 2016-17 NBA season was supposed to be one of the more predictable years in recent memory. No Eastern Conference team added any game-changing free agents in order to challenge the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Golden State Warriors somehow managed to improve their star-studded roster by signing Kevin Durant in the offseason. As the season has unfolded, Cleveland still appears untouchable in the east, but Golden State’s recent fourth-quarter struggles have left the door open for multiple Western-Conference foes. However, regardless of the supposed predictability (or lack thereof) of the NBA, the recipient one individual award certainly remains uncertain. The league’s annual Regular Season Most Valuable Player award (MVP) still remains up for grabs, with many phenomenal players emerging as extremely qualified candidates as we approach the midway point of this season. However, despite the tremendous seasons of James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and many other superstars, I believe that Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook will win the NBA’s most prestigious individual honor at the end of the regular season.

Russell Westbrook is an extremely riveting and expressive athlete. The 6’3” superstar has always been known for his unique fashion choices and willingness to voice most of his thoughts in a public manner. Throughout his career, the 28-year old has called out multiple players and reporters after games, while also being known for his unlimited passion and enthusiasm on the floor. As a result of his opinionated and demonstrative personality, Westbrook attracts large amounts of media attention on a frequent basis. When one considers that almost every modern-day MVP garners large sums of interest from journalists and fans, Russ’ candidacy for this award should not be in question.

However, despite the fact that many Regular Season MVPs have possessed notable personalities, the majority of a player’s credentials should relate to on-court performances. Luckily for Thunder fans, Westbrook definitely possesses no issues in this department, due to the fact that he donates one hundred percent effort in every game and can create baskets at will. Whether the six-time all-star is nailing jumpers, driving to the hoop at top speed and finishing around the rim, gathering key rebounds, or finding his teammates for open looks, Westbrook is always involved in the offense and exerting large sums of energy on every possession. Assuming Westbrook maintains his unmatched energy and effort levels, expect him to receive heavy consideration for the league’s greatest individual honor.

While Westbrook has tweaked and improved his game during each year of his career, this season, his performances have reached a nearly unprecedented level. Shortly after his superstar teammate and supposed close friend Kevin Durant abandoned Oklahoma City for the Bay Area, NBA fans across the globe knew that “Russ” would be forced to try and fill the 28.2-point per game void in the Thunder offense. The now-undisputed face of the Thunder organization has certainly surpassed those requirements and is on pace to become the first man to average a triple double since Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson accomplished the feat in 1961-62. Due to his large involvement in the offense, Westbrook is not only averaging 10.5 rebounds and dishing out 10.3 assists, but he is also leading the entire league in scoring at 30.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Westbrook is putting in solid shifts on the defensive side of the ball, averaging 1.5 steals and 8.7 defensive rebounds per contest. If “The Brodie” can maintain these stunning statistics and help the Thunder maintain a slightly higher playoff seed, there should be significantly less doubt over the 2017 MVP award’s recipient.

While Russell Westbrook has experienced a tremendous year so far, many other superstars are having phenomenal seasons as well. Houston Rockets superstar guard James Harden has recently been converted to the Point Guard position, but has still produced 28.7 points per contest and has also increased his assist average by 4.2. The Rockets also possess the third-best record in the Western Conference, along with five players averaging in double figures, displaying Harden’s rare ability to make his teammates better. However, I believe that the “The Beard” will fall a little short in the MVP race for two reasons. For starters, if Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double by the end of this season, he will receive even larger amounts of media attention. This could cause voters, some of whom are members of the press, to be inclined to cast their ballots for Westbrook instead of other candidates. Harden also has more consistent sources of scoring at his disposal, causing his assist numbers to be slightly inflated. Currently, three qualified Rockets players are hitting at least 39% of their three point attempts, and when one considers that Houston shoots only slightly less than 40 threes a night, it is nearly impossible to take Harden’s assist numbers at face value. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City only 32.5% from three as a team, forcing Westbrook to take and make more shots while also finding teammates for looks at the rim. Assuming Westbrook continues to perform these tasks in a successful manner, expect him to win his first NBA MVP Award.

Golden State Warriors small forward Kevin Durant has also had a terrific season. Despite the fact that the “Dubs” have two other volume scorers in back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry and fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson, Durant has still averaged 25.8 points a night and has nailed an incredibly efficient 53.7% of his field goal attempts. However, since Durant has to share the basketball with many other superstar teammates (Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green) and the Warriors play extremely unselfish basketball, KD will struggle to match the statistics of Harden or Westbrook this season. As a result, Durant’s consistent play may be overlooked when a new MVP is crowned.

The final, perennial contender is Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James. The three-time NBA Champion is regarded by many as the best basketball player on the planet and consistently makes every single player around him better. After leading the Cavs to their first-ever NBA Championship in 2016, James, who celebrated his 32nd birthday about a month ago, has shown no signs of slowing down this season. Last season’s Finals MVP is enjoying another all-star caliber campaign, averaging 25.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game. Despite all of this success, “LeBron” will probably miss out on another MVP award. For starters, voter fatigue does exist, and when a player has already won four Regular Season MVP awards, fans will take his greatness for granted. As a result, James’ success will probably not receive as much attention as Westbrook’s, due to the fact that it is expected.

While many players could certainly make their respective cases for NBA MVP, I believe that Russell Westbrook will take home the award this season. His unique personality, large media following, and nearly unprecedented statistics will set him apart from the rest of the league. Don’t let his exclusion from the West’s All-Star Game Starting Lineup fool you; Russell Westbrook will likely receive his first MVP award at the end of this season.