Weeding out MVP pretenders

Devon Greene, Sports Editor

The NBA regular season has come to an end but the running for MVP is all but over. There are three names that stand out, one of them has led his team to the number one seed over the Imperial Army of the Western Conference in the Golden State Warriors, another man averaged a triple double for the second season in a row and the third kept a shockingly average team in the playoffs.

James Harden of the Houston Rockets has been in the running for the MVP trophy for the past three seasons. The official MVP trophy handed out by the NBA has been an elusive trophy for Harden as he has finished in second place for the past two seasons. However, Harden has made an impact on his fellow NBA players and it showed at the conclusion of the 2015 season as he won the MVP of the league in the National Basketball Players Association Awards Show.

Harden has led his team to the number one seed over one of the greatest teams we’ve ever seen in the Warriors who have dominated the NBA for the past four seasons. His team has the best record in the NBA and he is the best player on the team. That formula usually ends up with that player winning the MVP unless someone else has a historic season, which happened again this year from the man in Oklahoma City who has been abusing rims for his entire career, Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook pulled off a feat, which many NBA fans thought they would never see happen again in 2017. He averaged a triple-double for an entire season, which had only happened once in the entire 71-year history of the NBA. Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in the 1961 season and it hasn’t been replicated by any of the legendary talents that stepped on a court since. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and LeBron James are all considered better players than Robertson and Westbrook, but none have even sniffed averaging a triple double. Westbrook’s historic season single-handedly propelled him to the MVP trophy in 2017 even when his stats didn’t necessarily translate into wins.

Whenever somebody accomplishes something that has never been done in a league with as rich of a history that the NBA has, it’s time to pay attention. Westbrook accomplished something no one had ever done in the history of the league on Wednesday night as he grabbed 20 rebounds, which sealed his second consecutive season averaging a triple-double. This is where it gets messy. The NBA MVP voters set a precedent last year; they overruled any of the previous standards in determining the MVP of the league. They gave it to Westbrook over Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant when all had better, or equally great seasons when Oklahoma City was a far worse team than the Rockets, Spurs or Warriors.

This season, voters have backed themselves into a corner. Westbrook repeated his unimaginable feat, accomplishing something that is just as historic, if not more, but it is looking like he is not even going to finish in the top five in MVP voting.

The final man who is in the running for an MVP every year and should be the frontrunner this season is James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. James, like Jordan in his prime, could legitimately win MVP during every single year they play basketball. James is playing in his 15th season in the NBA and hasn’t lost a step. He’s proved to still be the best player in the world but this season was a bit different.

Since James left Cleveland in 2010, he’s always had a decent amount of help on his team. In Miami he had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and when he came back to Cleveland in 2015, he had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. But this season, James has had the least help in the last eight years. The Cavaliers traded away Irving in a trade that ended up being worse than snow in April, and the injury-ridden Cavaliers haven’t played a single game, where they have had all their players healthy. James has kept this team’s head above water as they struggle to find their zone.

I measure the most valuable player in the NBA by the player who means the most to their team so let’s go through the three men we’ve talked about and discuss how their team would be okay without them.

The Rockets would do just fine without Harden at the helm. They have one of the best offensive coaches in the past decade, one of the best point guards of all time in Chris Paul and one of the deepest benches in the league. They might not be holding on to the number one seed in the West, but they certainly wouldn’t be struggling to find a spot in the playoffs.

If we remove Westbrook from Oklahoma City, it would be a far more interesting situation than Harden’s case in Houston. The Thunder have Paul George, who is one of the best two-way players in the league, Carmelo Anthony, who is certainly on the downswing of his career but is still a viable option, and Stephen Adams, who has proved to be one of the premier rebounders and defenders in the league. Another factor that could play into this situation is what happens to players when they leave the presence of Westbrook. If we look at Durant in Golden State, he’s been a better defender and a more efficient shooter. Harden has become one of the deadliest offensive players in league history and Victory Oladipo has been the most improved player of 2018 after playing with Westbrook last season. Westbrook is a great player, yes, but is most certainly a detriment to his teammates. The Thunder may even have a better record if they got Westbrook off the roster.

Concluding this is the best player in the world, James. If we take James off the Cavaliers roster, we are looking at one of the worst teams in the NBA. Their best player would be Kevin Love, and we saw how great that worked out when he was back in Minnesota. After Love, it’s a toss-up of young players who are still developing and old players who might need a Life Alert within the next two years. Cleveland has had the most instability in their franchise all season and James has been the one strong, dependable option, which has kept the team in the four seed in the East. Without James, the Cavaliers turn into the Michael Scott led pickup team.

Harden will probably win MVP, Westbrook has the precedent on his side and James has had the best season. This year proves for me that we need to clear up the definition of MVP because it seems to change on a yearly basis.