The fight for the 2016-17 NBA MVP is one of the most hotly-contested individual award races in recent memory. A number of players have a reasonable claim on the league's top honor, and it may very well come down to which player finishes the season strongest.
Russell Westbrook has as good a case as any. He's on the verge of becoming only the second player to average a season-long triple-double, and the first since Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson achieved the feat in the 1961-62 season. Robertson's season is the stuff of legend, and there are more than a few NBA junkies who believe matching that historic accomplishment is worthy of the award by itself.
Daryl Morey, the GM of the Houston Rockets, appears to disagree. In a not-so-subtle jab at Westbrook on Twitter, Morey suggested too much of the MVP race focus was being placed on “random” number combinations:
While the tweet doubles as a case for his guy, James Harden, Morey makes a fair point about the broader discussion surrounding Westbrook's season. If he was only averaging 9.9 assists per game, there are a lot of people who wouldn't have the same reverence for what he's accomplished for the Thunder this season. Fox's Chris Broussard, who has voted for previous MVPs and has a ballot again this year, openly admitted Westbrook would not get his vote if he didn't average a triple-double.
There's always been a tug-of-war over who “deserves” the MVP. Sometimes it goes to the narrative favorite, like Derrick Rose in 2011, or a veteran who was snubbed in the past, like Kobe Bryant in 2008. The closest thing we have to a consensus number one this year is Harden, whose blend of team success and consistently excellent production might be the most well-rounded package.
If it were up to me, the award would go to LeBron James. He is still the best basketball player on the planet, carrying the East's best team despite injuries to top contributors and doing his usual jack-of-all-trades thing. James is averaging a career-high in assists (8.9), is shooting over 54 percent from the field, and is producing at a rate nearly identical to previous years in which he won the MVP award.
I don't think rewarding the league's clear-cut best player is ever a bad idea — no one looks back and says, “We really should have given Michael Jordan less MVPs” and in fact the opposite case is usually made. But voters have shown they like to reward players on the rise, and players like James tend to get downplayed in the MVP discussion because the public simply expects greatness from him.
Regardless of who ends up winning, Westbrook's case for this year's honor is anything but clear cut. If it takes some politicking from a player's general manager to sway the voters, Morey will continue to campaign against Harden's closest competition.
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