Although it is a little late for a MVP article, the newest contributor to the site had written this before the end of the season, and I thought it was a good read for all the viewers to the site to read.
The NBA’s MVP race has been dominated by LeBron James in past years; James has won four of the past six MVP awards. However, the NBA has seen a new wave of stars emerge, and James’ MVP reign is coming to an end. Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis are some of the young stars chasing James’ sought-after throne. The definition of MVP varies, for most. Based off past winners, an MVP is a player who plays on a winning team, not necessarily the best, and puts up impressive numbers; their impact is felt beyond their numbers. They are the leaders on their teams, and they perform at an elite level on both ends of the floor. According to this definition, James Harden is the clear-cut MVP for the 2014-2015 season.
James “The Beard” Harden is second in the league in scoring, and he ranks in the top ten in assists and steals. Looking at his statistical prowess does not fully display his impact and importance to the Houston Rockets. Due to the fact he leads the league in free throw attempts, he always has defenders on their heels; they cannot play their normal defense on him, otherwise they would be in constant foul trouble. Not only has he been dominating opposing teams, but he has been doing it without his partner in crime, Dwight Howard. Howard has missed 38 games, and the Rockets have been bit by the injury bug this year. Not only has Dwight Howard been injured, but key role players such as Patrick Beverly and Terrence Jones have missed a combined 81 games out of 140 (Basketball-Reference). Harden has been carrying a team of role players and bench warmers to a top-three seed in the Western Conference, which many believe to be the most competitive conference in the League’s history. The Beard has been an iron-man, having missed only one game this year because of a suspension, not injury. Among the biggest knocks on Harden was his inability to play average defense in the NBA. This season, Harden entered the top ten in defensive win shares and ranked top five in steals. He credits his exponential improvement on the defensive end to his time spent training with team USA in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Harden’s emergence as a legitimate top tier two-way player in the league has established him as the best guard in the NBA. He is putting up LeBron James-esque numbers, signifying himself as the coveted “do-it-all” player. He has singlehandedly willed the Rockets to the top.
Stephen Curry has, arguably, been the best and most consistent point guard in the 2014-2015 seasons. Widely regarded as the greatest shooter since Reggie Miller, he has expanded his game beyond being a spot-up shooter. Not only is he leading the League in three pointers made, he ranks in the top ten for points, assists, and steals. However, his individual defense is shaky, at best. The Warriors prefer to stick Curry on a bad offensive player and allow Klay Thompson to guard the opposing team’s best offensive threat. Furthermore, Curry’s defense is a glaring negative and renders him incapable of impacting the game on both ends like Harden does. Despite his defensive deficiencies, he has been able to lead the Golden Warriors to the best record in the NBA, and he is considered to be the best player on the best team. Throughout League history, the MVP has been selected based off this criteria, but it was not limited to it. Voters must take the talent he is surrounded by into account; Curry does not have to carry his team every single night like Harden has done. The Rockets live and die by Harden, but the Warriors have other players who can fill in for Curry. Curry has, arguably, the second best shooting guard, Klay Thompson, to take some of the load off of him. Opposing defenses have to strategize beyond Curry, unlike Harden who is always the focal point of opposing defenses.
James Harden’s old teammate, Russell Westbrook, has been putting up historical statistics this season. He has been a triple-double machine; he was the first player since Michael Jordan to record four consecutive triple-doubles. In the month of March, he went off on a monstrous tear averaging 31.2 points, 10.3 assists, and 9.1 rebounds; not even the great Oscar Robertson has been able to achieve such an impressive feat. In spite of accomplishing said feats, Westbrook has been criticized for achieving the success without his teammate and the NBA’s second best player, Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant was awarded the MVP last season while Westbrook was injured and unable to play for most of the year, and KD’s absence this year further validates his award. Durant is the legitimate MVP of the Thunder and Westbrook is his sidekick. Westbrook’s inability to keep the Thunder afloat proves that he is not even the team’s MVP let alone MVP of the League. If Dwight Howard stayed healthy and Harden was injured then the Rockets would be in the same situation as the Thunder, showing Harden’s value. Harden is the most important player for the Rockets, as is Durant for the Thunder. Despite Westbrook’s awe-inspiring performances during KD’s absence, the Thunder have been struggling to capitalize on their performances and have been suffering defeats to lesser teams. Furthermore, the Thunder have been fighting for their playoff lives and are barely holding on to the eight seed. On the contrary, Harden has kept the Rockets at the top of the West. In effort to make up for KD’s absence, the Thunder have made trade deadline acquisitions to bolster their roster, but Westbrook’s ball dominance has made it difficult for them to jell together. In conclusion, Westbrook has been trying to do too much; he puts up the sexy numbers, but he is not benefiting the Thunder.
Anthony Davis, the twenty-one year old phenom, has taken the League by storm. His player efficiency rating (PER) of 31.4 is second to only hall of famer Wilt Chamberlin, and he is on pace to join Michael Jordan and Chamberlin as the only three players with a PER rating over 31. PER is an overall measure of how much a player contributes in the amount of time they are on the court; to put in perspective, the league average is 15. (NBA) Like Russell Westbrook, he is injured too often, and the Pelicans are chasing the eight seed in the West. Conversely, Harden has stayed healthy and the Rockets are fighting for a top seed. Despite his out-of-this-world season, Davis does not fit the description of an MVP; when he stays healthy and leads his team to the top then he will be a lock for the MVP. However, his candidacy is tainted by his injuries and lack of team success. Based off prior MVPs, Davis fails to qualify due to missing far too many games. Of the last 30 MVPs, not a single one has missed more than 11 games, and twenty-eight of the winners have played for teams that finished first or second in their conference (Favale 2015).
The 2014-2015 has been a season of drastic change. New faces have emerged, and Harden is leading the pack. Unlike other MVP candidates, Harden has stayed healthy, played both ends of the floor, and has led his team to the top. He has done so without the help of superstar center, Dwight Howard. Harden has elevated his game on both ends of the floor and has expanded his game to become a do-it-all player; Harden’s resume is second to none. In the word of his former teammate Durant, “You the real MVP.”
By: Hamed Qashmar