Although we haven’t yet reached the halfway point of the 2017-2018 NBA season, it’s never too early for a debate.
Other than arguing over which teams are contenders or pretenders or who would win hypothetical NBA Finals matchups, the MVP award remains one of the most talked-about topics in the basketball world.
Last season, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder received 69 of the 101 first-place votes, followed by James Harden of the Houston Rockets (22), Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs (9) and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers (1).
Leading the league in scoring, averaging 31.6 points per game, Westbrook captivated audiences on a nightly basis, breaking a long-standing single-season triple-double record that Oscar Robertson set in the 1961-1962 campaign. The 6’4” Westbrook posted 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, leading the Thunder to a 48-34 record after Kevin Durant abandoned him to join the Golden State Warriors.
Despite James Harden’s incredible season in which he averaged 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and an NBA-leading 11.2 assists per game, Westbrook was the clear choice to win the honor due to the historic nature of his overall body of work.
If the season ended today, the voting would probably look something like this.
1. James Harden (Houston Rockets)
After dropping 51 points in Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Harden became the first player in more than a decade to score 50-plus points in back-to-back games. Averaging an NBA-leading 32.5 points per game along with 5.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists, Harden has led the Rockets to a 25-6 record with amazing consistency on a nightly basis.
Since co-star Chris Paul has been limited to 16 games this season, the Rockets have leaned heavily on Harden, who has built off of his MVP runner-up year. Since voters were captivated with the historic nature of Russell Westbrook’s accomplishments last year, it’s worth mentioning that Harden is in the midst of a historic season right now, as indicated by his latest feat.
If the season ended right now, Harden would likely be named the MVP.
2. LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
LeBron is perhaps the only NBA player in history who legitimately could have been named the MVP every season since his rookie year. Since he does so much for his club on both ends of the floor and always stays healthy, James has shown no signs of slowing down and is continuing to put forth mind-blowing numbers, averaging 28.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game.
Since the Cavaliers have dealt with a number of key injuries and turnover on their roster, LeBron’s leadership has guided them to a 24-9 record, good for third in the Eastern Conference. A true two-way player, James’ defense has been much-improved this season, as evidenced by the following statistic:
3. Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors)
Although the 26-7 Warriors have four All-Stars on their roster in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant, Curry and Green have dealt with injuries that have held them out of recent contests. In that span, Durant stepped up in a big way and is averaging 26.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game overall.
He has also made strides on the defensive end of the ball, averaging 2.21 blocks per game on the season which ranks second in the Association behind Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers. Seemingly in the middle of his prime, it’s easy to make the claim that he’s the most un-guardable offensive player in the league based on his size and refined arsenal of moves.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
In 29 games played this season, The Greek Freak has had 15 games with at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Averaging 29.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per contest, Antetokounmpo has led the Bucks to a 17-14 record and has been essentially unstoppable on both ends of the court. With an ability to play any of the five positions on either end of the floor, there is perhaps no more versatile player in the entire league. Although he’s still a small step behind Harden, James and Durant, he’s off to a great start and has a bright future ahead of him.
5. Kyrie Irving (Boston Celtics)
Averaging 24.9 points and 4.9 assists over 32.2 minutes per game for his new team, Irving has led the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 27-9 . After Gordon Hayward went down with one of the most gruesome in-game injuries in recent memory, many people wrote off the Celtics’ chances at competing for a title. But, Irving has made that a realistic possibility.
While he’s always be considered as an elite scorer and ball-handler, what’s made Irving stand out this season has been his improvement on the defensive end of the floor. It’s obvious that he has bought in to Brad Stevens’ system already, which only bodes well for his future in Boston.
Other players like Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers and Westbrook have had strong individual starts, but the five studs above stand out ahead of the pack.