With all due respect to LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Stephen Curry, the race for NBA MVP is largely between two people: Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Russell did the unthinkable this season. Not only did he average a triple-double for the entire season, with a per game stat line of 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists, his 31.6 points led the NBA in scoring. He also led the league with a Player Efficiency Rating of 30.70 and set the record for most triple doubles in a season with 42.
The Beard was no slouch either, as he had the 2nd most triple-doubles (22), and was 2nd in the league in scoring with 29.1 ppg, averaged 8.1 reb, and led the league with 11.2 apg. Harden also had the 5th best PER with a rating of 27.43 and led the Houston Rockets to a number 3 seed in the playoffs.
Now in my opinion, the former OKC teammates are members of different schools of thought. Russ comes from the old-school, MJ and Kobe, stubborn school of “F- you, I’m a monster, I run this team, and we’re gonna win my way. If I gotta ballhog, then I ballhog. Y’all gotta earn my trust so the of y’all boys better step up!”. While not getting the best results, he still led his team to the playoffs. Harden comes from the newer free-flowing school of Steve Nash and LeBron where he says “I’m gonna get my teammates involved early and often, I’ll pass first but still get my points, and we’re gonna win this game by playing together. I trust my teammates to make their shots.”
Whoever wins the MVP will determine which of these differing schools will reign supreme and in turn, tell us the direction the NBA will take in the future. While it does seem that more teams are embracing a smooth, efficient, and free-flowing pace-and-space game contingent on passing and 3-point shooting (à la the Warriors and Rockets) there are still some teams (the Bucks and Bulls, for example) eschewing this and taking the approach of old relics by relying on a transcendent talent to carry them (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler).
If Harden were to win the MVP, it would signal that Westbrook is the last of a dying breed and that team ball is the new wave. However, if Russ was to win, it would prove that there is still a place in the NBA for complete freaks of nature to dominate and not be viewed as a detriment to their team.
For what it’s worth, I think Russell deserves to be the MVP; he’s done so much with so little. But it doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what the voters think. Whichever player wins MVP will take the NBA into the future.
Credits: AP Images (For the Photos)