With the regular season now in the books, attention turns to the hotly contested battle for the coveted NBA title. As of April 25th, defending champions Cleveland Cavaliers are looking strong but the Golden State Warriors, led by controversial free agency signing Kevin Durant, might just be THE team to beat in the championship fight.
Plenty of questions will be asked between now and the end of the playoffs but one thing is for sure: the regular season MVP is still up for grabs. It sounds bizarre to suggest this after the campaign is over but there are a handful of viable candidates for basketball’s prestigious individual award.
Right now, you’d have to put Russell Westbrook at the head of the field. When Durant left Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason, fans went into meltdown. Westbrook has coped with the added pressure incredibly well, recording career-high statistics in a number of very important categories. To put his form into perspective, he has notched 42 triple-doubles; 20 more than his nearest challenger.
Statistically, he is the MVP and the man most widely expected to win it. Westbrook has matured into an elite, consistent star at the top of the NBA and he knows it. He is confident and carries a swagger but remains grounded and that is key to his success; both on and off the court. Averaging 31.6 points per game, he is in a class of his own and he deserves the MVP award.
You could argue that Harden is Westbrook’s main rival for the Most Valuable Player honor this year. The Houston Rockets man has been simply sublime at Toyota Center and a playoff series win against Westbrook’s City Thunder could bolster his chances of pipping his peer to the award. At the time of writing, the Rockets are just one win away from reaching the next round and Harden, who played through injury in Game 4, can lead them to glory.
He has recorded career-high figures in terms of points per game, rebounds and assists this year – showing just how important he is on both offense and defense. Any other year and Harden probably wins the award with ease but Westbrook’s stat-line is solid. Every Houston fan will have their fingers and toes crossed ahead of June’s announcement.
A legend of the sport, LeBron James is still up there with the best in the business. At 32 years old, he is approaching his twilight years but the Cleveland star is still able to influence matches on a regular basis – and that is what separates great players from the good. The four-time regular season MVP winner has had an exceptional year but his previous efforts could work against him; he has been even better in the past.
Whether you like James or not, you have to respect his achievements. He has been there and done it all in the NBA and a second Cavaliers success could be on the cards. Would he trade individual glory for a shot at back-to-back NBA titles? Of course he would. His main goal this year is to ensure that the championship stays in Cleveland for another year.
The outsider of the quartet, Kawhi Leonard has really stepped up to the plate since Spurs legend Tim Duncan retired last season. The San Antonio man has carried Gregg Popovich’s men through matches at times this year and his 25.5 points per game average is almost 10 points per game higher than his career median; a statistic that shows just how influential and effective he has been in 2017.
Leonard doesn’t receive the same recognition as say James or Golden State star Stephen Curry but that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t. If the Spurs go deep into the postseason, the 25-year-old might make a stronger impression and that can only help his chances of earning a shock MVP success.