I don’t have a vote anymore for the NBA awards. But if I did, this would be my MVP ballot:
–James Harden, Houston Rockets: He earns the No. 1 vote by a sliver over Russell Westbrook. The reason: he’s turned the Rockets from a team you didn’t have to take seriously into a team you do. Houston certainly isn’t the favorite to win it all, but if the Rockets catch fire for a period of time, and Harden is doing his thing, they can beat any team in the league.
The Rockets have a shot at winning 55 games — in the Western Conference. That’s no joke … and we didn’t even get into Harden’s numbers, which, of course, are incredible.
–Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: If Westbrook wins the award, so be it. He deserves it every bit as much as Harden, it’s just that you have to pick one if you’re picking. The fact that Westbrook averaged a triple-double is incredible.
The fact that he did it in the context of his team winning is even more impressive. The Thunder went 33-9 in games Westbrook had a triple-double. Those are the opposite of hollow numbers.
Again, if Westbrook wins this award, he’ll have deserved it in big way. This thing is basically a coin flip.
–Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: There’s a case to be made for Leonard, who is probably the best “two-way” player in the league. He’s been the best player on the league’s second-best team, which, in theory, could elevate him above Harden and Westbrook.
The argument is that Leonard’s defense makes him more valuable than the previous two, and that may be correct in terms of practical value on the court. But the MVP has very seldom been about defense, otherwise Stephen Curry, Allen Iverson, Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, etc., would have never won.
–LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: He still can lay claim to being the best player in basketball, and his team would be nowhere without him. It’s all about the playoffs for James, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a hell of a regular season.
–Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics: There are several players you could have filling out the top five (John Wall, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or even Giannis Antetokuonmpo. But the Celtics are poised to be the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and Thomas’ 29.1 points per game are the biggest reason why.