One of the most touted awards in sports is the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Winning an MVP puts a player in an elite group that includes Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, and Wilt Chamberlain just to name a few. This year, as the regular season comes to end, these are the leading candidates to etch their name in NBA history.
* All stats and information gathered on ESPN.com on 4/9/17
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder: Westbrook has had an absolutely historic season, highlighted by breaking Oscar Robertson’s single season triple-double record. After his running mate, Small Forward Kevin Durant, left for the Golden State Warriors in free agency, Westbrook has carried the Thunder, averaging 31.7 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds per game. The Thunder are currently 46-34 and the sixth seed in the Western conference. Westbrook is the favorite to win this year’s MVP award, but his downfall could be his teams’ only slightly above average record.
James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets: Harden, since being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012, has turned himself into an NBA superstar. Usually known as a pure scorer, Harden has transformed into a floor general for the Rockets by averaging 29.2 points and 11.2 assists per game. Harden’s efforts have turned the Rockets into a true contender in the West, with a record of 54-26. If Harden claims the MVP, it will because of how well his play has translated into wins for his team compared to Westbrook. Regardless, Harden has had an amazing year.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs: Leonard epitomizes what the San Antonio Spurs organization is about, excellence in a quiet manner. Since becoming the youngest Finals MVP in league history in 2014 and former teammate Center Tim Duncan’s retirement, Leonard has budded into the face of the Spurs. Led by Leonard, the Spurs are currently 61-19 and second seed in the West. Leonard has averaged 25.8 points, 3.6 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game. While the stats are not as flashy as Harden and Westbrook, Leonard is a lock down defender who has a tremendous impact on the game past the stat sheet. While a long shot for the MVP, Leonard has had yet another top tier season in the NBA.
Lebron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers: Coming off his first NBA championship as a Cleveland Cavalier last year, James has unsurprisingly put together another stellar season. James has led the Cavs to a 51-29 record, currently tied for first in the East, by averaging a solid 26.3 points, 8.7 assists and 8.5 rebounds per game. Lebron is, in terms of the literal definition of the word, the most valuable player in the NBA. When James rejoined the Cavs for the 2014-2015 season, he turned them from a 33 win team to a 53 win team in the blink of an eye. Yet, the Most Valuable Player award is more of a “Most Outstanding Player” award, so James will most likely lose out. James and the Cavs will not be bothered by this, as they are relatively a lock to appear in the NBA Finals which would be Lebron’s seventh straight Finals appearance.