NBA MVP race: Why the talk around Russell Westbrook vs James Harden feels premature

The MVP (Most Valuable Player) in American sports in general, and in the NBA in particular, is the equivalent of the Ballon d’Or in world football. While Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have shared the last nine Ballon d’Ors between them, in the NBA, the story and the selection of the MVP is a little more complicated and controversial. Kobe Bryant, for a stretch of five years was easily the world’s best basketball player, but has only been awarded the MVP once.

Canadian Point-Guard Steve Nash was awarded the MVP two times, even though he has never been an NBA Champion. LeBron James has been the MVP four times and Kevin Durant once. This is the reason why the current talk for MVP feels premature and very misplaced. The two players, who are being considered the strongest contenders for it, will in all probability not even make it to the Conference Finals.

The reasonable question raised here then is — shouldn’t the MVP go to the player with the best stats on a team with the best record? A team that is rated to progress the furthest in the playoffs?

 NBA MVP race: Why the talk around Russell Westbrook vs James Harden feels premature

The MVP race could boil down to Russel Westbook and James Harden. Reuters

The race for the MVP, according to many an analyst and commentator, has narrowed down to James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook is averaging a triple double (that is, double-digit points, rebounds, and assists), and Harden is close on his heels with similar numbers.

The four best teams in the NBA at the moment are the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Golden State Warriors. But if the trends continue, as they should, with the exception of LeBron James who is always in contention, and to a certain extent Kevin Durant, this year will see none of the best and most influential players from those four teams be awarded the MVP.

Steph Curry, with the addition of Kevin Durant has seen his numbers drop considerably, especially his Points-Per-Game. He averaged 30.5 points per game on the back of an incredible 405 three-pointers made in last year’s regular season. But with change in the tactics of the Golden State Warriors’ Head Coach Steve Kerr, in the pick and roll, Curry’s numbers are no longer worth being named the MVP. And Durant, by every measurable standard has been the Warriors’ best player on the court. But individually, his stats are nowhere near as good to the leading contenders — let alone to his MVP from three years ago — to be considered for MVP talk, even though he has been a huge part of the Golden State Warriors succeeding as quickly and easily as they have.

Anthony Davis, the superstar of the New Orleans Pelicans is also recording amazing numbers and will pop up in the MVP conversation come the latter stages of the regular season, but his team even if it manages to slip into the playoffs, will struggle to get past the first round.

This year, the league is changing the rules to its All-Star Weekend All-Star Game voting. Votes from fans account for 50 percent, with the media’s voting for another 25 percent, and players’ the remaining 25. A main reason for doing this is to prevent the voting of marginal and not All-Star caliber players from getting voted in. A case in point is the incredible number of votes that the not-so-good Golden State Warriors player ZaZa Pachulia has been getting because of his profile in his native country of Georgia. The other trend the said rule tries to circumvent is that of celebrities using their powerful social media reach to ask for fans to vote for particular players. Canadian rapper and pop star Drake and Justin Bieber have done so in the past year.

I cite this particular example because the league and the aura of the MVP Award will be enhanced by initiating something similar. The MVP Award then becomes a team-centric endeavour, and fans and players are richer for it. What’s the point of amazing stats if they do little to enhance the chances and the fortunes of your team.

The counter argument to the MVP being an individual award is that individual performances are but a component of a team, and in the case of an MVP-caliber player, a most primary component. But only a component nonetheless.

Updated Date: Jan 11, 2017 17:32:41 IST