Breaking Down The NBA MVP Race

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MCT

(Dan Honda/Contra Costa Times/MCT)

By ARTUR BALANOVSKIY
Contributing Writer
Published April 10, 2015

For the past few years, the NBA’s race for the Most Valuable Player award has been dominated by LeBron James and Kevin Durant (mostly the former). This year, however, a new set of perennial all-stars have entered the conversation, and for the first time since 2008, James is not the frontrunner. Although  lot can change between now and the end of the regular season, here are the frontrunners to receive the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy:

Stephen Curry

Being the leader of the best team in the NBA (56-13 record) alone deserves consideration for MVP honors. Now throw in that he is arguably the best three-point shooter in a league that has become dominated by long range shooting, leading the league in three pointers per game (3.4) and three pointers made (216), as well as fifth in three-point percentage (42.1 percent). With 23.5 points a game (sixth), 7.8 assists (sixth) and 2.2 steals (leads league), what more can Curry do? How about having arguably the best handles in the NBA? Add that to Curry’s resume as well. And this is not on a team lacking star power and other stat-stuffers. Curry makes his teammates better, and is the most valuable player on the league’s best team- and just maybe the NBA period.

James Harden

Until Oct. 2012, James Harden was the sixth man and third best player on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Today, he is the key to the Houston Rocket’s improvement with each year. Harden brought Houston back to the playoffs, and today they are fourth in the insanely good Western Conference with a 46-23 record. Until recently being pushed to second, Harden led the NBA all season in points per game with 26.7. Harden gets to the free throw line with ease, has greatly improved his defense and led a team without a consistent presence from their second best player, Dwight Howard. The fact is that when he’s on, Harden is as good an offensive player as anyone else and handles the ball like a point guard. Add on one of the League’s best pull-up three point shots and you have a true MVP candidate.

Russell Westbrook

If we named an MVP post-All-Star break (during which he was the All Star Game’s MVP), there would be nobody even close to Russell Westbrook. First in scoring (27.5), fourth in assists (8.4), third in steals (2.1), and first in the league with a mind-blowing nine triple-doubles, including a streak of four in a row (which has not been done since Michael Jordan). The numbers Westbrook has put up since the All Star Game are comparable to greats like Oscar Robertson. So what holds arguably the most exciting player in the NBA from cruising to the MVP award? Two things: the short sample size and Oklahoma City’s record. This run, incredible as it may be, is only indicative of about two months of the season. Although Westbrook has been great all season, the recent explosion does not represent everything leading up to All Star weekend. Combined with missing 14 games this season, Westbrook may not have done enough in enough games to win the award. Furthermore, the Warriors are the best team in the league. Houston is third in the West. OKC is barely hanging onto the eighth spot, with the New Orleans Pelicans only two games behind. Even if they make the playoffs, an eighth seeded team may not be enough for an MVP honor. If they slip out of the playoffs, Westbrook will lose a lot of consideration. Anything can happen, but an MVP award for Westbrook does not seem likely… this year.

Outside Contenders:

Anthony Davis has been as big a part of his team as anybody else and is on track to have the highest usage rating of any player in the NBA. If the Pelicans make the playoffs, they owe it all to their young superstar. Leading the league with almost three blocks a game, fourth in scoring with over 24 points a game, 10th in rebounds with just under 10.5 a game, and eighth in field goal percentage with over 54 percent is beyond impressive. The near triple double stat line- 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks and seven assists on March 15- is flat out scary for the 22-year-old who just keeps getting better. However, his youth and his team’s record play against him. Even with an eighth seed, it is unlikely the power forward will take enough votes away from Curry, Harden and Westbrook. Defensive Player of the Year, however, just might be possible.

LeBron James is still a superstar in the league and is still considered by many (probably most) to be the best basketball player in the world today. Season averages of nearly 26 points (third), over seven assists (seventh), nearly six rebounds and among the highest usage and efficiency ratings, as well as bringing the Cavaliers from missing the playoffs to a second seed in a year makes James deserving of MVP consideration. What will work against him is the increased competition, the impressiveness of all other players on this list and voter fatigue. Although Curry and Harden are not being over-hyped as potential MVPs, the fact that many fans and members of the NBA want to see somebody else win the honor will be a factor.