By STEVEN RISLEY Staff Writer
Every October begins a new season in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with every new season, there are a slew of predictions. Who will win the championship? Who will win the Coach of the Year award? Who will win Rookie of the Year? Above all of those comes the most heavily debated. Who will win the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. There are always a few obvious candidates and then those who seemingly come out of nowhere.
Prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, there was one player whom many believed would take home the award, Oklahoma City Thunder’s (OKC) Russell Westbrook. With Kevin Durant leaving OKC to play with the Golden State Warriors, many believed Westbrook would be able to do the unthinkable by averaging a triple double.
To date, he has not disappointed. Westbrook is posting averages of 31.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.1 assists in 34.6 minutes per game heading into the All-Star break. This would make him the only person to average a triple double this late into the season since Oscar Robertson averaged one for the entire 1963 NBA season. Robertson is the only player ever to accomplish this feat.
Unfortunately for Westbrook, team success plays a vital role in deciding who receives the MVP award. While OKC doesn’t have a bad record (32-25), they are the seventh best team in the Western Conference. Westbrook’s main competitor for MVP is Houston Rockets guard James Harden. Harden is putting up unprecedented stats in his own right, boasting averages of 29.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 11.3 assists in 36.6 minutes per game.
While averaging slightly inferior individual stats, Harden’s play has led to a significant difference in the win column (40-18), giving Houston the third best record in the league. Some will argue that the Rockets are a better team overall, but Westbrook and Harden are both superstars on teams full of role players. No players on either team have ever been named to an All-Star team other than Westbrook or Harden.
To further demonstrate the significance of team success, there have only been two MVPs since 1985 whose team wasn’t either the first or second seed in the conference. The two were Karl Malone in 1999, whose team was tied for the best record but fell to the three seed due to seeding rules, and Michael Jordan in 1988, whose team was also the third seed.
When you take this into consideration, there are several players that will receive first place votes for the award. Each voter casts a vote for first to fifth place. Each first place vote is worth ten points. A second place vote is worth seven, with third, fourth and fifth being worth five, three, and one respectively. The player who racks up the highest point total wins the award, regardless of what place votes they receive.
Some examples of players who are bound to receive votes are Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics, Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, and Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
All of these teams are within the top two of their conference.
Regardless of who your favorite player is to win the award, the media will ultimately have the final say at the end of the season. Harden and Westbrook seem to be the clear favorites, but don’t count out the rest of the league just yet. It is safe to assume that this year’s race to the MVP award will be one of the tightest in history.
all stats courtesy of espn.com. image courtesy of google images