Last season Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game to earn the first unanimous NBA MVP in league history. This was the second consecutive MVP Award for Curry, who had the second-best odds before the start of the season. Since then the NBA landscape has changed drastically and like always with half of the season drawing to an end, the 2017-18 regular season MVP prospects are emerging again. With perennial contenders as well a few new faces, these all-stars have displayed immense potential and caliber, MVP or not. Here are a few front-runners mid-way into the season.
In “The summer of Kevin Durant” we saw this offensive juggernaut leave his Oklahoma (Seattle for early fans) roots behind and move to arguably the best regular season team in pro-ball with Steph Curry (two time recipient of the same award) and company. Many were skeptical of this move as to make way for this nuclear offensive talent that is KD, the Warriors had to make tough sacrifices in rim protecting bigs in Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. Though they do have glaring issues to resolve, as the season unfolded, Durant seemed to have gelled seamlessly with an already loaded roaster.
Firmly in his prime and comfortable in his new surroundings, he should enjoy more open looks and one-on-one situations than ever before. He’s capable of producing a league-best statistical profile, and he has a very good shot at being the leading scorer on the NBA’s most efficient offense and best team having done so in previous seasons. Averaging 26 points, 4.6 assists, and 8.7 rebounds a game and not to mention 1.7 blocks a night, all with staggering efficiency; he is definitely a contender. Although splitting votes with Stephen Curry is a concern, as expected, Durant has establish himself as the Warriors’ best all-around player as this season progresses.
The “he has to be the MVP because he had the best statistical season for a team that won lots and lots of games (they will almost definitely get the first seed)” argument that saw James win in 2012 and 2013 would still hold good since it’s a voting based system.
The LeBron James was obviously “The King”, but the title of “basketball’s best player” had seemingly been taken from him until he willfully overcame the 73 win team in Golden State last year. James went on an absolute tear through the playoffs and then gave an all-time great Finals performance, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks against them. Many claim that he is and should be the MVP each year.
He is currently averaging 27.1 points, 6.9 assists, and 7.2 rebounds a game with 1.7 blocks and 1.9 steals.
What makes a good MVP candidacy? It’s not just the stats but a precarious culmination of the teams record, a good story-line and the candidate’s overall appeal towards the fans all over. It’s been three seasons since the “Chosen One” won an NBA MVP award. And as it has always been, evolution requires fresh players with the progression of the game. As everyone saw the rise of Kevin Durant and the elite marksmanship of one Stephen Curry who are now in cahoots with one another, negating each other’s votes, James has a realistic chance of finally matching Jordan with 5 MVP honors (at least in one stat). But LeBron, occasionally plays to his real potential during the regular season and aims at saving himself the grind for the monster performances he consistently delivers when the matters are tight in the playoffs, making him not necessarily the MVP on the best team (from the East for certain). An MVP is supposed to be the most prized asset of that team and LeBron certainly upholds to that. If any franchise gets a hold of him, they immediately become a title contender and that says something.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook
Undoubtedly, the regular seasons’ major highlight has been the tightest MVP race till date. The front-runners definitely being Russell Westbrook “Mr. Triple-Double” and James Harden, now the One-Guard of the offense heavy Rockets steered by the notorious Mike D’Antoni. Both have provided memorable games and awe-inspiring performances.
Harden’s team has won eight straight, including a victory over the Warriors at Oracle. He’s averaging a solid 28-8-12. He orchestrates the best offense and most fun team in the league, and his defense has improved to “acceptable” by many standards which is a big step up. For Russel, the argument starts and largely ends with him averaging a near triple-double, a feat only achieved in the day when the game was played at a much higher pace and per team possessions were greater than today’s by a staggering margin of over 25-30. What he is doing for the Oklahoma City Thunder is perhaps the greatest individual performances we’ve seen since Oscar Robertson in the 1960’s. He is averaging 30.5 points, 10.6 assists, and 10.5 rebounds a game and almost mid way into the season he is sure to brake his own staggering Tripple-Double mark he set last season.
The Huston Rockets are currently holding the third spot in the Western-Conference and are projected to win an astonishing 62 games on the other hand Oklahoma Thunder are nearing that .500 win mark. Both have similar narratives; wherein each of them was set aside to possibly not making the playoffs and definitely none anticipating their success which is largely and solely due to their Stars. But apart from their standings, Harden has players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon playing at a top drawer levels something that Russell Westbrook has been criticized for. The Rockets have the second best offence right behind Golden State and they average 15.7 three point-shots a game. But what shines through is the fact that under the existing system, Harden only makes around four of those and has assist credits on eight to nine. Russell Westbrook on the other side is single handedly carrying his lack luster roaster (by the standards of the ever-so-competitive Western-Conference). The proof is in the fact that apart from being the one man wrecking crew that he is, his team ends up with the “W” 80% of the time when he defies the odds and racks up those ridiculous Triple-Doubles.
“The Beard” needs to hold that high seed and Westbrook must keep up with his historic pace. There’s no doubt that it’s a race between the two and a tight one indeed.
Apart from these high value players we should also be on the lookout for big names like Giannis Antetokounmpo the big jump for them has been that the Bucks are making a run toward .500. His stake to the claim is unlikely but he fills out all the major statistical categories. Other potential players include Steph Curry, Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis. But leading the entire pack has to be Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is nearly having a 50-40-90 season while being arguably the league’s best defensive player all the while being the Go-To guy for the Spurs franchise. All these above mentioned players might not realistically win the award but are most definitely to be looked out for in the seasons to come as they provide one transfixing performance after another.