This season has been the year of the guard in the NBA. The top three MVP candidates are all dominant guards who love to score with the ball in their hand.
Stephen Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook have littered highlights with scoring binges and clutch baskets. With Curry’s Warriors currently holding the best record in the league, and both Harden and Westbrook in the playoff hunt, each player has done enough to keep their teams afloat while blowing out stat lines and rewriting NBA history.
Lost in all the guards’ glory has been the scary-good play of LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. James always asked for help in Cleveland—now he finally has it and we’re seeing results. James isn’t ripping apart stat sheets but he is averaging nearly 26 points, six rebounds and over seven assists per game. With the Cavs cementing their hold on the No. 2 seed in the East, James should be getting more pub in the MVP race than he’s currently receiving.
The competition is fierce and the trio of Harden, Curry and Westbrook has been spectacular on numerous occasions this year—but is it enough to knock James out as MVP? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: James has quietly kicked in another solid, playoff-bound campaign, but I fear the sporty highlights from the aforementioned contenders will be too strong to sway voters. Never mind the fact that the Cavs finished with the No. 1 overall pick in last summer’s draft and have improved to second-best in the East despite the fact that Cleveland’s lottery pick (which turned into Andrew Wiggins) was traded away before the season started. Yes, the pick did land All-Star forward Kevin Love, but it’s been a down year for Love and James has kept the team afloat. Cleveland’s 33-49 record helped them win the lottery and now they’re one game away from 50 wins. When you consider that neither Love or All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving have made the playoffs nor experience winning seasons, it makes James’ role look that much bigger. Cleveland is penciled in to make the Finals out of the East—and again, this is one year removed from having the top pick in the draft. James has been exceptional this year.
Green: Let’s not act like the cupboard is bare in Cleveland. Irving and Love haven’t had NBA success but J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have. The Cavs have an absolutely stacked team and James is just controlling it all. Both Harden and Westbrook have had to carry the load with injured superstars on the bench, while Curry has been the flat-out best player on the Association’s best team. We knew Cleveland was going to compete for the most wins in the East when they acquired Love after James’ arrival. Whether they’ve had team success or not, Irving and Love are still All-Star players who haven’t missed much time this season with injuries. James has obviously sparked a culture shift in terms of professionalism and hustle, but Curry, Harden and Westbrook have arrived as big enough dark horses that they’re each gathering NBA votes as the best player in the league. James was the clear-cut best player in the league for years, but each of the three favorites’ seasons have been too remarkable to reconsider.
Riley: The thing that groups Harden, Curry and Westbrook all together is the fact they’ve each dominated the ball and done too much one-on-one in my opinion. It’s been rare to see any of the three making a play to get the ball to their teammates. James is never going to be the bullish scorer that Harden, Westbrook or Curry are, but his feel for the game and team-first approach has totally revamped the mentality in Cleveland. While each player in the three-headed race has had experience playing with their current teammates, James is the only one who’s basically had to learn a brand new system and team on the fly in one summer. The Cavaliers haven’t had much time together, which means they’re super scary in long-term potential and James has been more instrumental than ever. Going from first pick in the draft to 50 or more wins is just too big of a turnaround for me to overlook. James won’t win it for his individual numbers, but his team presence has last year’s cellar dwellers in the role of contender.
Green: James’s command on the court has certainly changed Cleveland, but their talent was already in place as they stockpiled bodies over the years and maintained a need for the three position that only James could feel. I’m not surprised by their success, because they’ve been prepping for this for years. We saw it coming when the rumors started flying about James returning and we knew he would have success if and when he came back. No one could have imagined that the Warriors would run off 60-plus wins or that Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant would go down, thrusting Harden and Westbrook into primetime roles. The fact that much of the seasons delivered by Harden, Westbrook and Russell were unforeseen only adds votes to them. I would love for Westbrook to win the MVP, as his string of triple-doubles has been legendary, but Curry evolved into the ultimate NBA showman this year, and I think he may have just given the league a new face to market behind their brand.