BEIRUT: As the NBA’s regular season came to an end, the race to the KIA MVP couldn’t be any tighter. Four main contenders: Russell Westbrook (OKC Thunder), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Lebron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), and Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs) are all very much in contention.
While Kawhi Leonard has become a legitimate MVP contender, Lebron James has been long recognized as the world's best basketball player. Both Russell Westbrook and James Harden, on the other hand, have broken records in an outstanding season.
While James has managed numerous stunning comebacks for his team in the playoffs, his regular season numbers are no less impressive either. James now has 13 straight seasons of 25+ ppg (points per game) when no one else has ever done it 12 times in a row. He is averaging a career high in rebounds and assists in his 14th season while shooting 55 percent from the field. No player before including Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul Jabbar has ever posted this kind of record. The Cleveland Cavaliers finished their season in the second seed of the Eastern Conference with a 51-31 record after being 0-8 with James off the court.
Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard makes strong case for MVP. He is averaging a career-high 25.9 ppg, and became the first Spurs player to score at least 25 points in a season since Tim Duncan. Comes “clutch” time, Leonard puts an extraordinary performance on both ends of the floor, executing key plays for his team to get the win. “Glad I don’t have to vote. Of course, you know who I’d vote for [Leonard]. Coaches are prejudiced,” Spurs coach Greg Poppovich told reporters about this MVP race.
While the rest of the NBA continues to debate the chances of each candidate, guys in Houston have already made up their mind. “There is no way he [Harden] can’t get it. It’s just absolutely no way," Harden’s teammate Eric Gordon told ESPN. Harden is averaging 29.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg (rebounds per game), 11.2 apg (assists per game) when the Rockets concluded the journey with a 55-27 record and clinched the third seed in the Western Conference. This player has generated a sort of collective improvement for his team; a factor that will be hard to ignore when rewarding the player having the best season.
However, the strongest case for MVP this year remains Russell Westbrook. After Kevin Durant left him hanging last summer and went to the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook was expected to have a kind of a slap in the face season. Well, he didn't. Russell went on a tear having one herculean performance after another on a nightly basis. He showed a belligerent attitude in every game played this season and never failed to weather pressure, temptation or other negative forces. Westbrook had the single greatest regular season in the league’s history, albeit his team finishing 6th in the West. This man averaged a triple double (31.6ppg, 10.7rpg, 10.4apg) in a year in which possessions are 30 to 40 a game fewer than in Oscar Robinson’s day (the only person to average a triple double in the 1961-1962 season). He did it while leading the league in scoring and in player efficiency rating. On Sunday night, Westbrook led a stunning rally at Denver capturing his 42nd triple double of the season to break the all-time record of 41 and capped it with an unbelievable shot from 30 feet to beat the buzzer and win the game leaving the crowd in awe. The OKC Thunder had a 33-9 record when Westbrook acquired the triple double with an overall 47-35. Russell was on a mission and put on a stellar performance this year which makes a compelling argument for him to capture that elusive MVP title he has so desperately coveted.
Simply put, this NBA season is a peculiar one. Four guys, four strong cases but only one will secure the MVP title. Whether it’s James, Westbrook, Harden, or Leonard, the winning player will have arguments justifying and exclaiming that they utterly deserved it.
The good news is that this year’s race is sure to entitle a sturdy winner as all four of those guys had a season for the ages. Bad news is, we will have to wait until June 26, 2017, when an official ceremony will take place in New York City to announce the award winners.
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