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2016-17 NBA MVP race

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During an NBA season dominated by the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, the most exciting race still undecided is who MVP is. There are a lot of ways to approach it. You can give it to the best player; You can give it to the player whose team would take a huge drop off without him; you can give it to the player who is having an insane statistical season. Maybe you give it to the face of the league, or the up-and-comer. No matter how you look at it, the best part is arguing your pick.

 

Kevin Durant

By Parker Dangers Oncken

The list of players worthy of consideration for MVP is long and the competition is fierce. But it’s clear to me there is only one correct choice: Warriors forward Kevin Durant.

Durant averages 25.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the 63-14 first place Warriors. With him on the court, the team is 51-9 with a net rating of 12.5 points per 100 possessions.

He is unmatched in terms of combining volume and efficiency from every part of the floor. Hitting 61 percent of his two-point shots this season while shooting 37 percent from downtown and 88 percent from the free throw line. Durant averages just 2.1 turnovers a game, which is in stark contrast with other MVP candidates such as Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who average 5.5 and 5.7 turnovers per game, respectively.

Taking into account everything Durant does on the offensive side of the ball, you get the most dangerous scorer this side of Steph Curry, who does incredible damage with far fewer shot attempts than the prospective MVP frontrunners and who doesn’t cough up the ball at a record-setting pace.

Durant is so good offensively it overshadows  his defensive contributions, where he averages 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game as a part of the NBA’s most resistant defense. His unmatched combination of offensive production and efficiency, as well as his contributions on the less glamorous side of the court makes Durant the obvious choice for the 2016-17 NBA MVP.

 

James Harden

by Frank Sumrall

Deemed the frontrunner for the prestigious MVP award, Houston Rockets point guard James Harden looks to claim what was rightfully his two years ago.

While Harden’s play lacks the statistical onslaught of Westbrook’s game, his performance holds a much stronger and substantial impact. He’s leading a championship contender, not a squad of guys just happy to play an extra six games in May.

With a jump of nearly 20 percent in win percentage and a five seed ascension from last year, Harden accomplished all of this with a less talented team. Dwight Howard left in free agency and in came a flurry of journeyman sharpshooters with fast triggers. Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Lou Williams all flourished this year thanks to Harden’s position change from shooting guard to floor general.

Any player who successfully dominates a position change the way Harden did should be celebrated. Turning himself from a Kobe Bryant volume shooter into a Steve Nash assist king is nothing short of spectacular.

Playing 13 games better than their preseason expectations, Harden acts not as a simple cog, but as the entire machine that keeps the Rockets going. This three-point blitzing team needs a revolutionary point guard to keep the gears ticking, a role he mastered immediately. His work on the floor makes this team deadly and his value on the Rockets is second to none.

 

Russell Westbrook

By Will Mathis

Anyway you slice it Russell Westbrook is MVP.

He recorded his 42nd triple-double, breaking Oscar Robertson’s single season record set during the 1961-62 season. Westbrook’s season ends with a triple-double average, a feat not accomplished in 55 years.

Some people try to dissuade the triple-double argument by discrediting rebounds. Really? The last step in stopping a team on defense is with a rebound. Sometimes Westbrook will fly through the lane and steal a rebound that’s going to one of his teammates, but he’ll do the same thing to 7-feet-tall opponents. That’s Russ being Russ.

The Oklahoma City Thunder is 33-9 when Westbrook records a triple-double and 13-25 when he doesn’t. The team needs Westbrook to put up triple-doubles to be competitive.

People point to Westbrook’s turnover numbers, averaging 5.4 per game. But leading the league in player efficiency while committing the second-most turnovers in NBA history is crazy. His 30.6 PER ranks 16th all time.

No player adds more value to a team than Westbrook. It lost Kevin Durant last season and faired just fine in the Western Conference. Why? Westbrook. Don’t tell me about Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo. They’re role players, and a dime a dozen in the NBA.

With Westbrook, OKC locked up the sixth seed with close to 50 wins. Without him, they’d be a lock to have a top six pick in the draft.

 

LeBron James

By Albert Gregory

LeBron James is the NBA’s MVP every single year he steps onto the court. I don’t care if he rests too much or if he doesn’t average a triple-double. LeBron is the NBA’s most impressive athlete. He has played in six straight finals and will most likely make seven by this season’s end.

Go ahead and tell me what area LeBron doesn’t match up with against the other candidates. Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double this season but who cares. That’s an arbitrary stat. King James could average a triple-double in his sleep and he wouldn’t need everyone to box-out for him like Westbrook.

LeBron could put up whatever numbers he wants, but instead he chooses to help improve the players around him. LeBron’s presence on the court is the equivalent of a masterful +16-point differential per game.

Instead of putting up pointless stats, LeBron chooses to do the one thing Westbrook and James Harden avoid at all costs. LeBron actually plays DEFENSE. It might not show on every stat sheet but every night LeBron plays hard on BOTH ends of the floor.

LeBron is also MVP off the court. He is the only “true leader” in the NBA. He runs the Cavaliers, and whenever his players step out of line LeBron is there to call them out.

If aliens attack tomorrow and challenge us to a basketball  game, everybody’s first choice would be LeBron.

 

Isaiah Thomas

By Ali Benzerara

He’s 5 feet 9 inches tall, leads the NBA in 4th quarter scoring, averages 29.1 points per game and his team has a +15.3 percent net offensive rating when he’s on the floor. So tell me, why doesn’t Isaiah Thomas deserves to be MVP?

As a point guard, size doesn’t matter compared to being a center or forward, but it definitely helps. However, Thomas continues to thrive despite his height disadvantage.

One of the most efficient point guards in the NBA, Thomas averages the third most points per game with 5.9 assists and a 91 percent free throw average. His effective field goal percentage of 54.8 percent this season is fifth amongst point guards.

On top of that, Thomas knows how to play against bigs and is known for his craftiness down low, while being able to finish on both sides of the basket. Thomas is one of the league’s most consistent point guards. This season Thomas has a plus point differential of 266 when he is on the court.

Some may say his defense is sub-par, but for a small guy he does all he can. His level of defensive effort is ten fold compared to Russell Westbrook and there is no reason why he shouldn’t be in the front running for the NBA MVP title.

John Wall

Also by Frank Sumrall

John Wall continues to transform what was a simple yet explosive, break-neck-style of play into masterful dominance of the hardwood. Optimus Dime has reached his full potential and is soaring for the illusive MVP award.

The Usain Bolt of basketball continues to mature his game, reaching career highs in every statistical category. With Chris Paul injured and aging, Wall has taken the mantle as the best pure point guard in the league.

His defensive presence is still felt while his offensive game is climbing astonishing heights after barely scratching the surface during his previous All-Star campaigns.

With a new coach establishing a foreign system and little talent surrounding him, Wall’s value is unparalleled. The Kentucky alumni hoists his team to new elevations as teammates like Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat are all having career years in terms of efficiency

The ability to not only boost his own stats but to improve the play of an entire team as it continues to threaten the once untouchable Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference crown is the definition of MVP.

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2016-17 NBA MVP race