A year ago, Russell Westbrook made NBA history by becoming the first player in over five decades to average a triple-double for an entire season. Despite the fact that his Thunder were only sixth in the Western Conference, Westbrook earned MVP honors.
This season, Westbrook’s Thunder sit in fifth in the West, and the star point guard is nearly averaging a triple-double again, with 25.3 PPG, 10.4 APG, and 9.5 RPG. This time around though, Westbrook is an afterthought in the MVP discussion — he finished seventh in a recent poll of NBA reporters conducted by Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post.
Westbrook’s triple-double average was at the center of his 2016/17 MVP case, but it wasn’t the only point in his favor. He also led the NBA in scoring, and the fact that he wasn’t playing alongside an established star like Paul George buoyed his case. Still, the contrast between the general perception of last year’s performance and this year’s is an indication that MVP votes often rely on a narrative as much as anything.
In 2017/18, James Harden‘s narrative is the one gaining momentum. The best player on what has been the league’s best team, Harden has led the Rockets to a 44-13 mark and has posted staggering numbers in the process. He’s leading the NBA with 31.3 PPG, and has also contributed 9.0 APG, 5.1 RPG, and 1.8 SPG on .448/.384/.865 shooting.
Harden’s excellent season earned him the top spot on 91 of the 100 ballots Bontemps received in his informal MVP poll earlier this month. Only one of the 100 writers polled left Harden out of the top two. Those figures suggest that the race isn’t close, but should it be?
ESPN’s Zach Lowe suggested earlier today that you could make a real case for Giannis Antetokounmpo as a co-favorite in the MVP conversation. Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 27.8 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 4.8 APG with a .540 FG%, is putting up monster numbers of his own, and his on/off-court numbers are striking — the Bucks have a +5.6 net rating when he plays, and a rating of -9.7 when he sits.
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, the first two runners-up in Bontemps’ poll, are both having big seasons for the Warriors, and LeBron James should be part of the MVP discussion too, especially if he and the new-look Cavaliers have a strong finish. The Raptors and Celtics are the top two teams in the East right now, so DeMar DeRozan and Kyrie Irving shouldn’t be written off either. And the way Jimmy Butler has led the Timberwolves this year has been impressive.
In other words, there are no shortage of worthy candidates for this year’s Most Valuable Player award, so should Harden be considered the overwhelming favorite to win it, as the results of Bontemps’ poll suggest?
What do you think? Will Harden be this year’s MVP? Who is his biggest threat to claim that award? Vote below in our poll and jump into the comment section so share your thoughts!
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