MVP race 2017: ‘The Beard’ or ‘Westwolf’

James Harden (13), Houston Rockets.

DYLAN PADY, Sports Editor | [email protected]

The NBA playoffs will begin this weekend, with round one games consisting of Cleveland (1) v. Chicago (8), Boston (2) v. Indiana (7), Toronto (3) v. Milwaukee (6) and Washington (4) v. Atlanta (5) for the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference (and the much more talented conference in my opinion) will feature Golden State (1) v. Portland (8), San Antonio (2) v. Memphis (7), Houston (3) v. Oklahoma City (6) and Los Angeles Clippers (4) v. Utah (5).

This has been a great season for basketball, as a number of players have stepped out of their comfort zone and really improved their game this year. Kevin Durant joining Stephen Curry and the Warriors was frightening for most of the league at first, but Golden State was not immortal. The powerhouse of the West lost 14 games this season to teams such as the Lakers, Rockets, Grizzlies and the Heat.

That being said, a lot of players have been working hard and showcasing that they deserve the MVP award.  Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Gordon Hayward, DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard are the top 10 players in the MVP race at the moment. I believe that a new system needs to be incorporated as there are a handful of other talented players who are listed as potential winners but may be out of the running either due to injury or experience in the league. These players include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Paul George and Chris Paul.

I believe Harden will win the MVP race, as everyone became fearful of “the beard” this season. Harden turned the incredibly average 2016 Rockets (41-41 overall) into the third-best team in the West, as Houston currently sits 54-27 with less than one more week of the regular season to go. Houston’s organization was hungry to compete this season and traded players with the Pelicans to pick up Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.

Both players proved to be deadly sharpshooters from downtown (Gordon won the three-point contest in New Orleans during the All-Star game this season). Following up on the idea of surrounding Harden with other shooters, the Rockets traded Corey Brewer and a first-round draft pick to the Lakers in exchange for the 2014-2015 sixth man of the year award winner Lou Williams.

Now, with a roster full of teammates who know how to score and a more offense- focused game plan, Harden is passing the ball more. He’s running the court, pulling up from deep, getting to the foul line and almost anything he wants. He averages 29.3 points per game (PPG), 11.3 assists per game (APG) and 8.1 rebounds per game (RPG); all are career highs for Harden.

If you are not rooting for Harden to win, then it is fair to assume you either want Westbrook, Leonard or James to win. While I love watching Leonard and James play, I believe the only other true contender for MVP would be Westbrook. Westbrook is having himself a huge season statistically, but Oklahoma City finished sixth place in the Western Conference -— their current record stands at 47-34. Westbrook currently averages 31.9 PPG, 10.7 RPG and 10.4 APG, essentially averaging a triple double every game.

Westbrook just recently had one of the biggest games of his career against the Denver Nuggets. With 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, Westbrook scored his final basket of the night with no time left and 35 feet away from the hoop. This was the game-winning basket that gave the Thuder a 106-105 win. A lot of the players mentioned earlier contacted Westbrook on Twitter, congratulating his efforts and acknowledging his potential MVP status.

After revising my writing, it became apparent that Westbrook’s case looks a lot better on paper than Harden’s. Harden has simply become more of a team player and this is a statistic that cannot always be recorded. On the other hand, Westbrook does have a solid team backing him up, but when you’re watching OKC play, you’re essentially just watching Westbrook play.

I believe the MVP award needs to extend into the post-season in order to truly decide the greatest player in the NBA, as the regular season by itself does not provide enough evidence. If Westbrook is named MVP but Oklahoma City loses to Houston in the first playoff series, is Westbrook still the most valuable player or is he just the most popular? What about last season? Curry was named MVP for the second time in a row, but Golden State ended up blowing a 3-1 lead and losing to the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. 

I know the award is for most valuable player, but I believe that a great player can put up big numbers and encourage teamwork and even produce a more prosperous team. This year’s race is going to be a good one, and if any of the players previously mentioned won the award for some crazy reason, I would be content (except Curry, I think he’s good but incredibly overrated). The idea of the MVP race extending to post-season play would better determine who wants to win when the stakes are higher than a regular season game.

Furthermore, players who have been sitting out more frequently towards the end of the season have less of an opportunity to win the MVP award because they’re saving their efforts for post-season action and could care less about the regular season.

Granted, if a player is resting before the playoffs, they are already at a disadvantage of winning the award. This is because there are already players who play every game. At the same time, I believe you need to be a playoff-contending team in order to be an MVP -— You can’t be the best in the game if you’re not winning.