The NBA MVP Race Comes Down to the Wire


Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) brings the ball up the court in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Oklahoma City won 101-98. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

With just a month left in the NBA season, Dallas Mavericks billionaire owner Mark Cuban said that Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook shouldn’t be mentioned in consideration for the MVP award.


Cuban says Westbrook shouldn’t be the league’s most valuable player because his team is unlikely to crack 50 wins, a mark Cuban says defines a superstar.


(Cuban’s Mavericks currently sit at 26-36.)


The Thunder won’t be a top seed in the playoffs or get to 50 wins, but Westbrook is averaging 31.7 points per game (the most in the league), 10.1 assists per game (third in the league) and 10.7 rebounds per game (12th in the league, which is unusual for a point guard).


Westbrook’s total points and assists are over half of Oklahoma City’s scoring. With the absence of Kevin Durant, Westbrook has been carrying the team. The Thunder are on pace for 45 wins, a drop off from last year. Only Oscar Robertson has ever averaged a triple double (double digit tallies in points, rebounds, and assists) for a single season.


When evaluating a player’s value, you have to imagine the team without that player. Without Westbrook’s heroics, the Thunder wouldn’t be in striking distance of a playoff spot.


But Westbrook isn’t a shoe-in for the award. If other voters value win totals over stat lines, three other players are in the mix: James Harden, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard. Cuban says the race is a toss-up between these three players.


Harden, of the Houston Rockets, made the transition to point guard this year, a move that was initially questioned, but the experiment paid off in a huge way, as Harden has averaged 28.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 11.3 assists per game. He ranks third in points per game and first in assists per game, which proves he can be a point guard and run an offense. Harden has the Rockets with a firm hold of the third seed in the West.

Kawhi Leonard is averaging career highs in points and assists. His stat line — 26.1 points, 3.4 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game — could be a little better compared to his peers, but his contribution to the team is elite. The San Antonio Spurs are 48-13, only 2.5 games behind the Golden State Warriors. Leonard is the longest shot of this group, but he’s officially made the jump to MVP-caliber level.

And then there is four-time league MVP, LeBron James. Following six straight NBA Finals appearances, it’s easy to forget that what James does on the basketball court is amazing. The Cleveland Cavaliers lead the East with a 42-19 record.


However, there are three teams in the NBA with better records, which may hurt James’ case. This year, James is averaging 25.9 points per game, his most since returning to Cleveland, as well as 8.9 assists per game, a career high and significant improvement from recent years, and 6.8 rebounds per game, which ties a career high. James is quietly having a career season, and no one notices because it’s the level of play we’ve come to expect from him.

It will be interesting to see who takes home the award. Right now, it appears Westbrook and Harden are virtually tied at the top depending on who you ask.


Should Westbrook’s almost unprecedented stat line prevail?


Or does Harden’s additional win give him a slight edge?
Leonard and James can’t be counted out, as their respective team’s success hinges on their productivity. We’ve been treated to some all-time great basketball from these four players, but only one of them will be the 2016-2017 MVP.

The NBA MVP Race Comes Down to the Wire