The NBA MVP race

Steph, James, LeBron, Russell, Chris or Anthony?

You could make a case for all six players as the 2014-2015 NBA Most Valuable Player.

Stephen Curry has been the best player on the best team in the league.

James Harden has been the star player on a team that made the 2 seed in the brutal Western Conference despite Dwight Howard missing exactly half the season with a knee injury.

LeBron James is still the best player in the league and took the Cavaliers from a lottery team to a Championship contender (whilst seeing the Miami Heat go the opposite way) in a single season.  Admittedly with the help of a few other players.

Russell Westbrook has eleven triple doubles this season (23 for his career – still some way behind Oscar Robertson who had 41 in the 1961-62 season and 181 for his career) and nearly dragged the Oklahoma City Thunder into the playoffs despite Kevin Durant only playing 27 games this season due to injury.

Chris Paul is still the best point guard in the league and narrowly missed a 50-40-90 season by virtue of hitting 39.8% of his three point attempts (he shot 52% from the field and hit exactly 90% of his free throws). The Clippers are also a serious contender in the West.

Anthony Davis, already a star at the age of 21, averaged a double-double this season and led his team into the playoffs with a win over the streaking San Antonio Spurs.

There remains significant debate about what criteria should apply to the “most valuable” player in the league.  It has not always gone to the best player in the league – best being a highly subjective description in any case – because that is clearly LeBron, despite a very slight regression this season, and has been for several years.  LeBron’s Heat were not always the best team in the league, although they did win the title the two years he won the MVP whilst in Miami.

The issue of replaceability has often been brought up in MVP discussions: how would Team X perform without Player Y.  It is hard to argue, for example, that the Houston Rockets would have made the 2 seed in the West without WAR (wins above replacement) leader James Harden.  It is also hard to argue that Stephen Curry is really the NBA’s MVP when he only played 32.7 minutes per game this season: how much did the Warriors really need him?  How valuable is a guy who sits for 15 minutes a game.  The flip side of this argument is that Curry put the Warriors in a position to win in fewer minutes.

The case for Westbrook diminished a great deal when the Thunder missed the playoffs, but voters were perhaps already disinclined to put Westbrook atop their ballot given his high usage rate since Durant was injured – a recent 43 shot performance against Indiana did yield 54 points and support from Kobe Bryant.

As great as Anthony Davis is, and the case for starting a franchise around him would be as strong as any other player in the league – including the now 30 year old LeBron – it is hard to pick very much about this season that really screams MVP, but his Pelicans did make the playoffs in the Western Conference, so his case is perhaps as strong as Westbrook’s.

Most commentators seem to have reduced the contest to a straight Curry vs. Harden matchup.  Curry’s Warriors swept the Rockets this season and are clearly better equipped for the playoffs.  Arguments have been made about how either team would perform without their star, with the consensus being that the Warriors, without Curry, would still be contenders in the West, while the Rockets without Harden would likely be lottery-bound.  This is perhaps a disservice to the remainder of the Rockets roster, but it is undeniable that they lack a player of the quality of Klay Thompson.  Curry has performed at an elite level all season long, narrowly missing a 50-40-90 season by “only” hitting 48.7% of his field goals, but I think Harden deserves the title this year.  Whether or not voters agree remains to be seen.


About

Andrew was something of a latecomer to the game of basketball, having given up rugby after leaving high school. Joining Edinburgh’s fabled Pentland Tigers, he quickly moved on to the East Lothian Peregrines in the Scottish national league before moving to Belfast where he played with Queens and then with Belfast Star. After a year in the superleague, he moved back to Scotland and played with the Scottish Rocks in the BBL. He “retired” (the McDermott rule for using the word “retire” instead of “stopped playing” does require you to have been paid to play, so technically he retired) and moved to Seattle where he began life as an academic, which currently sees him working at University College Dublin. He is a legitimate non-frontrunning Miami Heat fan, having taken up following the team in 2001.

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