November 14, 2018 | 6:41 pm
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MVP race heats up in final weeks of NBA regular season

The 2017-2018 regular season of the NBA is just one month away from wrapping up, and as such, it’s appropriate to begin taking a look at who deserves the coveted MVP award for the year. Like every year, there are many deserving candidates, and like every year the parameters are somewhat arbitrary and extremely subjective. Perhaps that’s why this debate tends be so controversial. Each person’s perspective is highly subjective, sometimes emotional, and each team’s fan base believes a player on their team deserves the award.

With that qualifying introduction in mind, I would like to present my own short list of who I believe deserves the award based on their contributions so far this season. Being that I believe the parameters for this award need to be more defined, I have identified my own parameters that I will use for the purposes of this discussion.

  1. Player consistently contributes a game-changing stat line.
  2. Player brings intangible benefits to his team.
  3. Team performs poorly when player does not play.
  4. Player plays a complete game–meaning they show skills on both offense and defense.
  5. Team is ranked in the top three in their conference.

*Please keep in mind that this list is simply my opinion, and that a number of other arguments could be presented for other players in the league. This article is for entertainment, so don’t take it too seriously. 

I have narrowed my selections to two players from each conference. The Western Conference is the more talented conference in the league overall, but the higher ranking Eastern Conference teams are jam-packed with MVP candidates. Without further adieu, I will begin my presentation with the Western Conference players first.

James Harden – Houston Rockets

Harden has been at the forefront of the MVP discussion for many years now, and while I’m not a big fan of his style of play, I can’t argue that he is deserving nominee. DeMar DeRozan even said he believes Harden is a “lock” to finally win the award this season. Harden averages  31.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game, and the Rockets sit at 1st place in the Western Conference going 9-1 in the last 10 games. Harden’s presence on the team appears to bring comfort, and a sense of grounding to his teammates. He’s shown to be a leader in stats, but he facilitates ball movement and creates a high number of points not only for himself, but for his teammates alike.

During the month of January, Harden missed 7 games and the Rockets lost 3 of those games. Upon his return, the team logged 4 wins in a row including one against their conference rivals this season–the Golden State Warriors. Although I still believe Harden has a long way to go to improve his defense, he has made some fairly decent strides toward making an effort on the defensive end of the court. He’s never going to be nominated as defensive player of the year, but at least he’s not completely refusing to play D anymore. For me, this defensive hesitancy might cost him the award in my book, but I must acknowledge what he’s done this season.

 

 

Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers

The Western Conference is fiercely competitive this season, and only a handful of games separate the teams from 3rd – 10th place in the standings. For now, the Portland Trail Blazers have fought their way to capture 3rd place ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs who are in a free fall after losing Kawhi Leonard for the remainder of the season. Portland’s efforts have been quite impressive as of late and they’ve only lost 1 of their last 10 contests.

Perhaps one of the most under appreciated and overlooked players in the league has been Lillard. He’s an All-Star caliber player, but for some reason, his contributions go somewhat unnoticed. The Trail Blazers barely made the playoffs last season edging out the Denver Nuggets at the 11th hour, going on to lose to the Warriors in the first round. It’s rather impressive that Lillard has his team in position to capture home court advantage one year removed from barely getting in.

 

 

Lillard brings in 26.8 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. He is a big scorer and he’s consistent with creating points for his teammates also. Lillard plays decent perimeter defense and while he’s also not going to win any defensive awards anytime soon, he’s a solid presence for the Blazers and his experience gives him the skills he needs to keep some of the league’s small ballers at bay. Portland rallies around Lillard who they look to as their leader. His skill level garners respect from his teammates, and it seems like they finally have all the pieces to make their mark in the post season this year. I don’t think Lillard will actually win the award this year, but it’s certain that he is deserving. It will be interesting to see how he helps his team perform when they head into the post season.

DeMar DeRozan – Toronto Raptors 

The Raptors have come seemingly out of nowhere to steal first place in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Boston Celtics, and the Cleveland Cavaliers who have been falling short of everyone’s expectations as a team recently. Toronto has been a top three contender for years, but they’ve just never been able to get past some of their playoff demons. However this year, they may just be the sleeper team that captures everyone’s attention in the post season.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan has long been a consistent and substantial contributor to his Raptors averaging 24 points, 5.2 assists, and 4 rebounds per game this season alone. DeRozan doesn’t often miss games, but the one he did not play earlier this season resulted in a loss for the Raptors. Toronto is also 9-1 in the last 10 games, and they’re currently working on a eight game winning streak. DeRozan’s 6’7″ stature affords him the ability to defend his position well, while being able to stretch and avoid mismatches.

He’a an  eight-year NBA veteran, and his teammates look to him and Kyle Lowry to set the pace each game. We might just see the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, but I remain skeptical that they can get it done long term. They’ve shown an inability to close in clutch moments late in the playoffs, so we will see if they can make it happen. Either way DeRozan has earned a solid spot on my MVP nominees list.

Kyrie Irving – Boston Celtics

I will admit that my feelings about the Celtics may be impacting my opinion here, but you’d have to craft one clever argument to convince me that Irving doesn’t deserve to receive MVP consideration this season. Irving finally got his opportunity to come out from LeBron James’ shadow, and he has made the most of every minute. After losing Gordon Hayward the very first game of the season, Irving and his Celtics haven’t missed a beat–frankly to my surprise.

Irving logs 24.7 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game, and is the Grand Central Station of Boston’s assist network every game. He is truly the heartbeat of the Celtics (not to discredit the leadership efforts of Al Horford), and the Celtics are woefully lost without his presence in the game. Irving has become fierce in his efforts on defense, and he combines well with Jaylen Brown to comprise a key piece of what has become known as the best defense in the league for the 2017-2018 season.

 

 

I have been making this prediction for many months now, but I fully expect to see the Celtics in the Finals this year. Without Hayward, they may not have the fire power to overcome the Warriors or maybe even the Rockets (if the Rockets make it that far), but when Hayward returns next year I expect a Championship Title will be in their very near future.

As the playoff standings come into focus in these final weeks, we will get a more clear picture of who will clench the MVP status for the 2017-2018 season. Until then, we will see what teams have the gumption to make one last push before the playoffs. Find me on Twitter @AshleyNBAHoops, and let me know who you’ve got for MVP!

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