The NBA regular season is coming to an end and MVP talk is more alive than ever. The two players that have predominated in these talks all year long are #Russell Westbrook and #James Harden. The two have had outstanding seasons that will be remembered for years to come. However, the underdog in this conversation is Kawhi Leonard.
Against all odds, Russell Westbrook has been able to securely take the Thunder to the playoffs after Kevin Durant's devastating departure last summer.
His supporting cast lacks All Star-like talent or the 3 point shooting necessary in today's game. But this hasn't stopped Westbrook; it has only fueled his drive and pushed him to produce numbers we have only seen once before in NBA history. The 'triple-double machine' has averaged a staggering 31.7 points (42.4 percent FG%), 10.4 assists, and 10.7 rebounds per game. He is probably the one reason why the Thunder have made the playoffs and clinched a comfortable 6th spot in the Western Conference.
However ... has Westbrook been solely on revenge-mode? He has clearly wanted to prove a point without Durant on his team. I also question whether his constant pursuit of a triple-double hurt his team at times. His 5.5 turnovers per game are certainly a concern. I wonder whether he worked too hard for the wrong goal. The playoffs start now. At the end of the day, Westbrook cannot be my MVP pick because, apart from clearly being an unstoppable freak of nature when driving to the basket, he has not proven to be an elite shooter or defender, especially when it counts most.
He uses one gear, so he can be his own worst enemy at times. While the 'WestBrick' nickname has rightly disappeared from the vocabulary of many this year, I still cannot trust him with making the right decision in crunch time based on what I've seen from him.
A year ago, the chatter around the league involved James Harden's selfish play and one-dimensional game, and how many players, namely Dwight Howard, disliked playing with him as a result. In this season he has been able to completely change his game and surprise the NBA world like few have done over the years. He has evolved into a skilled passer and a tactician that dissects every defense thrown at him. His numbers are equally amazing. He has averaged 29.2 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game. Who could have thought that the Rockets would end up with the third-best record in the NBA this season? Harden's leadership on the floor, especially with his newly acquired repertoire of assists as well as 'hockey assists', have catapulted his team to unimaginable heights this year..
However ..how much of Harden's greatness this year can be attributed to him? I believe a 'D'Antoni system' has a lot to do with Harden's improved play and numbers. Whether it is with Steve Nash or Harden, a 'D'Antoni system' inflates personal statistics thanks to an emphasis on spreading the floor and having sharp shooters all around, allowing talented point guards like the ones discussed to exploit their defenders in 'high screens' all day long. The ball-dominant player will shine on every night either because of the scoring or the passing. You are going to score with D'Antoni ..but you'll also let the opposing team score at will. This is why his success has come in the regular seasons and not in the playoffs where defense defines the champions. While I do not wish to undermine Harden's incredible merits this season, I also cannot overlook his deficient defending. This is one area he has not quite improved in and it does not look like it will ever improve much. My MVP simply cannot produce laughable defensive actions for Shaqtin' a Fool.
The real MVP
Kawhi Leonard would be my pick for #Nba Mvp. 'The claw' has led the Spurs to the second best record in the NBA. He might not be as flamboyant as Westbrook and Harden but the silent superstar has been a more dominant player in my opinion, and dominance should define an MVP season. The 'two-time defensive player of the year' might just as well be named the 'three-time defensive player of the year'.
On the offensive end, while attempting less shots than Westbrook and Harden, Kawhi has become lethal from the mid-range, where greats like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have made their name, helping him be more effective from the field. His 25.8 points per game come with a 48.4 percent effectiveness. His assists and rebounds may be lower than those of Westbrook and Harden; however, he simply has not needed to carry that extra load for his team.
Even without Tim Duncan and with the time Gasol, Parker, and Aldridge have missed due to injuries, Leonard's performance has been as steady as his nerves. He has only improved and improved as the season went on and the stakes became higher. He has simply excelled and dominated on both ends of the floor. He has defended the other team's best perimeter player while also being the focal offensive weapon of his team night in and night out. Only Kawhi Leonard can feel being alluded to when reading this last statement, and this is why he should be the NBA MVP.