Four much of the season, the MVP race has been described as a two-horse race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
No doubt those two have deserved every mention based ok their spectacular play this season. Westbrook is still averaging a triple double after 60 plus games, Adams the odds are he’ll finish the season joining Oscar Robertson as the only other guy to do so. Harden himself is less than 2 rebounds away from averaging a triple double himself, while leading a resurgent Rockets team to one of the top records in the league after missing the playoffs last year.
Westbrook, for better or worse, has been asked to do just ascot everything for the hapless OKC Thunder. And boy has he done it all. A point guard leading the league in scoring with over 30 per game,WHILE dishing out 10 assists, AND grabbing over 10 boards, just about every single game. That’s unheard of.
The problem with Westbrook is he’s pretty much playing to get that triple double average as this stage. The Thunder will make the playoffs, but are not going to be a threat to any of the top 4 teams out West, and are likely to get bounced ok the first round. Is he valuable to his team? Sure. But is he making his team mates better? Victor Oladipo, a great player who’s shown he’s able to be a big part of the offense in Orlando, has, been reduced to a spectator most possessions. Other than Steven Adams, none of the other Thunder players have shown signs of improved play nor has Westbrook shown any interest in making them better. Averaging a triple double will be a gigantic feat by any measure, but wins matter, and making everyone around you better matters, and Westbrook hasn’t been doing enough of both.
Harden on the other hand has been winning games. Rockets are a much improved team this year, and Harden has undoubtedly been the key. His move to the point guard position has seen him in charge of every play, and he’s been great setting up teammates while maintaining his tremendous scoring pace.
It’s hard to knock Harden’s case for MVP, but I’m going to try. You could say he’s been helped by D’antoni and his new system. He’s had more help than Westbrook, with Eric Gordon having a great season and now Lou Williams, another Sixth Man award candidate joining the fray. Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela ans Nene have all played better than most expected. And the Rockets have had a couple mini slumps recently, falling slightly down the conference ladder.
Lebron and Durant mainly have been the other messages thrown in the mix for MVP. One name that hasn’t been mentioned nearly enough for MVP is Kawhi Leonard. Heck,anyone who’s been paying close attention may even say he should be the front-runner.
Kawhi has been a ridiculous hot streak lately. But really he’s been doing it all season long. The guy has gone from a shooting liability to one of the best shooters from any range. He’s right up there with the Klays and Stephs, not in jacking up bombs from way beyond the three point line, but in terms of shooting accuracy, efficiency, and knocking down shots over all kinds of defenses. If he needed to, and if Gregg Popovich saw the need, Kawhi would have no problem averaging 30 points per game. Spurs are known to spread their offense, but this season Kawhi has clearly carried them many a time. Not since the early days of Tim Duncan and before him David Robinson have the Spurs relied so heavily on one player on offense.
But what should seal the case for Kawhi as MVP is how he’s equally carrying the Spurs on defense. By now most should have watched the highlight of him knocking down a totally ridiculous clutch 3 to tradable the lead late in the game against the Rockets, and then chasing down MVP nemesis James Harden for an unbelievable clutch block away the other hand to seal the win. That sequence perfectly sums up what Kawhi does for his team. No other player in the league does as much on both ends like Kawhi. Not Harden or Westbrook. Not KD or Lebron.
That leads to the icing on the cake. Kawhi has carried the Spurs to the second best record in the league. They’ve won more than Cleveland, Houston, OKC. Only Golden State have a better record, and they have 4 All Stars while the Spurs have 1. Kawhi has willed guys his team to victory repeatedly this season, overcoming poor play and injuries from key guys like Gasol, Aldridge and Parker. He’s been the clear leader they look to carry then in the clutch. And he’s done so with his usual quiet, poker face, with no drama, and it’s been damn fun to watch.
That, basketball fans, is the definition of an MVP.