- James Harden
Although Russell Westbrook has put up historic numbers by averaging a triple-double this season, James Harden should be this year’s most valuable player. It’s amazing to think that Harden and Westbrook were once teammates, and neither of them was the best player on that team. Harden isn’t having the 30-10-10 season that Westbrook is having, but he’s putting up amazing stats and is helping his team win games at a higher rate. Harden is leading the league with more than eleven assists per game, which is roughly double his career average. He was primarily used as an off-ball shooting guard before Mike D’Antoni took over as head coach this season. Many people speculated if this marriage would work because of D’Antoni’s failures outside of Phoenix. Harden isn’t the floor general that D’Antoni once had in Steve Nash, but Harden’s ability to translate his game into D’Antoni’s system has been one of the most pleasantly surprising storylines of the NBA this season. With James Harden being the facilitator on offense, you’d think that his scoring output would be diminished. But that’s the beauty of D’Antoni’s offense, he likes his teams scoring early and often. James Harden is second in the NBA in scoring behind Russell Westbrook with nearly thirty points per game. Harden received a lot of criticism last season because of his poor effort on the defensive end. Although Harden will never be an elite defender, he has put in the effort needed to be a serviceable defender in today’s NBA. There’s no shame in Harden finishing second in the MVP vote behind the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double in a season, but I believe that Harden’s season has been equally impressive and he’s helped his team more than Russell Westbrook.
- Russell Westbrook
Although most people believe that Russell Westbrook should win MVP, I think he should come in second behind James Harden. Westbrook has been the most exciting player in the league to watch this season. He is clearly a man on a mission, and hasn’t seemed to slow down. Early in the year, I thought he would eventually hit a wall by the end of the season. I didn’t think anyone could play with that level of effort and intensity for an entire season without their body giving out. I’ll admit, I was wrong about Westbrook. Westbrook is leading the league with nearly 32 points per game. He’s averaging roughly 10.5 assists and rebounds per game too. He’s having a historic season that will likely culminate with him getting the MVP award. I wouldn’t be surprised or upset if he wins the award, but I think Harden deserves it more. There are many instances in every game that Thunder bigs purposely don’t get the rebound to allow Westbrook to pad his stats. Westbrook is a stat stuffer, but I don’t think he does it intentionally. His teammates help the narrative that he’s a stat stuffer, but I don’t think that he cares more about stats than winning. That’s just the only way that he knows how to play the game. It was detrimental at times when he played with superstar Kevin Durant, which is probably one of the main reasons why Durant left Oklahoma City. At times, Westbrook plays out of control and hurts his team. But he’s such a talented player that you have to take the bad with the good. There are more instances of Westbrook willing his team to win than him costing his team games by making mistakes. He is very turnover prone and takes bad shots at inopportune times, but you cannot deny that these few flaws are far outweighed by his many strengths. Westbrook has been incredible to watch this season and he’d deserve MVP in most years, but I believe that he should finish in second in the MVP voting behind James Harden.
- Kawhi Leonard
The NBA MVP vote is a two horse race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook. But to have a top five ranking, you need five players to rank. The third spot in the MVP vote is also a two horse race between Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. I give the slight edge to Leonard because he’s been a two-way superstar all season. I believe Kawhi Leonard is the best defensive player in the NBA. Coming out of college, he was seen as a defensive stopper with a limited game on offense. He was drafted by the perfect team because there isn’t a coach in the league like Gregg Popovich. Although Pop deserves a lot of credit for helping Leonard become an offensive star, the majority of the credit should be given to Leonard himself. He’s worked tirelessly on his jump shot, which was a major weakness when he entered the league. Now he’s a lethal shooter out to three point range. He has the ability to beat his defender one-on-one whether he’s on the perimeter or in the post. He takes the majority of the burden on offense and defends the opponent’s best player on defense. The Spurs are one of the best teams in the league again this season, and Leonard is the engine that makes them go. Leonard deserves to finish third in the MVP race behind Harden and Westbrook.
- LeBron James
If the MVP was given to the best player in the world, LeBron James would win every year. LeBron is better than both James Harden and Russell Westbrook will ever be. The greatest player in his generation has won the MVP before and doesn’t seem to care about ever winning it again. LeBron is too focused on team awards, like defending the championship that the Cavaliers won last season. It seems like LeBron and the Cavaliers coast through the regular season. They try to get the number one seed locked up (except for this year), but take many days off in the process in order to save themselves for the playoffs. Although the Cavaliers are the number two seed this year, King James and company don’t seem to be too worried about the Boston Celtics. When the Cavaliers are playing up to their potential, there isn’t an Eastern Conference team that can beat them in a seven game series. LeBron will likely be the MVP of the postseason even if the Cavaliers don’t win the championship. He’s too talented to not be the best player in the world when he’s giving maximum effort. But for a regular season award like the NBA MVP, LeBron should finish in fourth place behind Harden, Westbrook, and Leonard.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
With the top four in the MVP race being unanimously agreed upon, the fifth place in the MVP voting will be up to a voter’s personal preference. When Giannis Antetokounmpo was a rookie, I was amazed with the potential that he showed. I said that he’d eventually become a top five player in the league if he ever gets a league average jump shot. Giannis still can’t shoot, but he’s arguably a top five player in the league already. If he ever gets a league average jump shot, he’ll probably be the best player in the world and multiple time MVP. Giannis is that talented. He became the first player in NBA history to be in the top 20 in points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks in a season. He leads his team in all five of these categories, which has only been done four times in league history. He became the seventh player to improve his per-game averages in all five of these categories in each of his first four seasons. He’s essentially a seven foot point guard on offense that can defend forwards and centers on defense. Giannis has led the Milwaukee Bucks back to the postseason for the first time since he was a rookie. Even after Jabari Parker injury, the Bucks went on a tear (unintentional bad pun) because of Giannis’ stellar play. I’ll admit that I’m completely biased because Giannis is my favorite player in the league, but I think he deserves to be in the top five of the MVP voting.