November 22, 2017 | 3:29 pm
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Russell Westbrook Leads MVP Court as the Regular Season Winds Down

The end of the regular season of the NBA is just a few short weeks away and the MVP conversations are heating up. As I began thinking about who I would pick to win the award this year, a myriad of questions came to mind. What are the criteria for the MVP award? Is it based on popularity? Perhaps it’s an award based on statistical analysis alone. Is being a good leader and having the ability to elevate your teammates level of play taken into consideration? Maybe it’s just given to the leading scorer on the best team.

This week, I’ve nominated 5 players for my NBA MVP court. I’ve selected each player for a different reason, and ranked them in order of who I believe should win and why. Without further adieu let’s jump in and see who made the list.

  1. LeBron James

King James is sort of a “duh” pick and the reasons he makes the list are obvious. In his 14th NBA season he’s once again the leader of the defending champs averaging 26 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game at 54% from the field and 38% from three. He has led his team through yet another winning season at 46-24 playing all but 6 games of the year. We all know James is in a class of his own, but this year in particular I have liked seeing him grow up a little more. He’s more mature, and less selfish than he was in his younger days departing from the “me-monster” he used to be.  I also like that the Cavs aren’t infallible. It makes them easier to like when compared to teams like Golden State who have become villainous after acquiring Kevin Durant and mopping the floor with everyone.

In short, LeBron makes my MVP list because he’s the OG of this generation and continues to expect to better of himself each season. Like a fine-wine he is getting better with age, and more palatable as his ego stays in check.

  1. Kawhi Leonard

Leonard sometimes falls off my radar due to his obnoxiously unassuming personality, but it’s undeniable that he runs with the best of the best in the league. He’s an undersized small forward at just 6 foot 7 inches in his 6th season as a San Antonio Spur bringing in an average of 25.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

What I like most about Leonard is his ability to play lock-down one-on-one defense. In a league where a lot of MVP candidates are known for offensive fireworks, defense is often overlooked. Leonard brings a gritty work ethic on D that shows he doesn’t care about his matchup and that he’s not afraid of anyone. The Spurs currently sit at 2nd place in the Western Conference and I’m convinced that they will beat Golden State to head to the Finals this year.

  1. James Harden

I have to admit that listing James Harden as 3rd on my list is a little painful for me. Up until recently I have not been a big fan of Harden’s. I still wouldn’t say that I like his style of play, but this season he has shown himself to be more worthy of the MVP title than he has in years past. I believe a player needs to have a complete game to be considered as the MVP, and up until this year we haven’t seen any defense whatsoever from Harden. In fact, he was recognized on Shaqtin’ a Fool for having the worst defense in the league last season.

However, this year he’s put forth more effort on D, and he’s also sharing the ball quite a bit more than he used to in years past. For that, he has earned the #3 spot on this list. Harden is in his 8th year in the league averaging 29.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game. This season, his ability to facilitate offense and elevate everyone’s play has been truly impressive–he’s averaging 4 more assists per game this year compared to last. Harden is also hauling down almost 2 more defensive rebounds per game which is a decent uptick from last year’s numbers. Harden and the Rockets sit at 3rd in the West, 6 games behind the Spurs and 5 ½ games ahead of the Jazz. If they stay put they will head into the post-season to potentially face the Oklahoma City Thunder and another MVP contender.

  1. Isaiah Thomas

The Boston Celtics are far better than I thought they would be this year. They dominated the draft last summer, and I fully expected them to take a couple of years growing the seedlings before making a serious impact in the league. However, they are second in the Eastern Conference a half a game behind the defending champions. I don’t think they want the first seed this year for several reasons, but I believe that if they did want it they could easily take the lead and leave Cleveland in the dust.

A big part of their success has been the contribution of their starting point guard, Isaiah Thomas. The Washington product is in his 6th season in the NBA and brings in an average of 29 points, 6 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. He shoots at around 46% from the field and 38% from three while also going 91% from the free throw line. Thomas is a pick and roll master, and doesn’t let being undersized stop him from scoring and proving his doubters wrong.

  1. Russell Westbrook

Westbrook is another player that I haven’t always been so fond of. Like Harden, I still wouldn’t say that I like Westbrook, but you have to respect what he’s done this season. After being jilted by Kevin Durant, Westbrook has led the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 7th seed in the West just behind the Memphis Grizzlies and light years ahead of the Denver Nuggets.

If you’ve followed the NBA at all this season you know that Westbrook is now averaging a triple double with 31.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. He is impossible to guard off the dribble and has developed into a key offensive facilitator finding his teammates open for shots at every turn. So far this season, Westbrook has tallied a jaw-dropping 35 triple-doubles and he’s closing in on Oscar Robertson’s record of 41 in the 1961-1962 season. The Thunder have 11 games left so Westbrook needs to tally 6 more triple-doubles to tie Robertson’s record, and 7 to break it. Breaking records aside, Westbrook deserves the MVP award based on his current stats alone. His overall commitment to the Thunder in the midst of uncertainty has been impressive, and the way he’s taken the lead is nothing short of incredible. Hands down he has shown the league that he is truly the most valuable player of the year.

The regular season ends on April 12th with the playoffs beginning shortly thereafter. Only a few more weeks until the winner is crowned. May the odds be ever in their favor.

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