As the NBA season enters its final month, we’re going to take a look at four players we consider to be at the top of the list of MVP candidates. First off, let’s acknowledge guys like Lamarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard in Portland and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, all having stellar seasons, but all lose some MVP points due to the admittedly unfair fact that they’re playing alongside another All-Star having a great season. Same goes for about five of the Atlanta Hawks, who we’ll discuss more in a bit. As for a fifth candidate who didn’t crack out top four; Anthony Davis, the youngster out in New Orleans averaging a 25 a game while grabbing 10 boards and blocking 3 shots. So kudos to all these guys for the great years they’re having, but they didn’t crack our top four.
That said, simply listing our top 4 and their corresponding claims to the MVP trophy isn’t our style. Along with each write-up we’ll also be providing a Rap lyric that in one way or another speaks to that player and his MVP run. To keep the post PG, we’ve taken some liberties in editing out the swear words from our MVP lyrics of choice where applicable. Also, all quoted core statistics are per game and were pulled from http://www.basketball-reference.com. They are accurate as of the date of this post. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the NBA’s top candidates for the 2015 MVP title.
Lebron James – 26 points / 5.8 rebounds / 7.4 assists / 1.6 steals
“And I am one, of one. Can’t you see just how long my run?” / “They come, they go. Some real, some faux. Some friends, some [pros]. But no I, goes nowhere, it’s Hov.” — Jay-Z from “A Star Is Born”
Despite missing 9 games due to nagging knee injuries, Lebron James once again has his team near the top of the Eastern Conference as the Cleveland Cavaliers currently hold the 2 seed, though it’s worth mentioning that they’re a sizable 10 games back of the Atlanta Hawks. That said, save for a slight dip in rebounds per game (his 5.8 per game this season are his lowest since 5.5 per game during his rookie year), Lebron’s 2015 core stats are right on pace with his career numbers, including his output from his four MVP seasons. That said, perhaps in part due to those nagging injuries and/or adjusting to a new cast of characters in Cleveland, his shooting percentages are down a bit this year. From the stripe he’s down from roughly 75% over the previous six years to a hair under 72% this year. His field goal percentage from two point range currently stands at just under 55%, a stellar number, but 6% lower than his previous 2 year average of 61%, and from three-point range he’s under 35% for the first time since the 2011 season.
Are we nit-picking as far as statistics go? Absolutely, but when the bar is as high as Lebron’s raised it for himself, you almost have to. The main argument against Lebron James’ MVP candidacy this year seems to be that his production has dropped off slightly and therefore he can’t win it again. If he’s not producing at the same rate as his previous MVP years, how can we justify him winning it again? It’s almost like we’re so bored with putting Lebron at the top of the MVP discussion that we’re using his minor productivity drop to justify not doing so again this year. The flaw in that argument is that he’s not competing with himself and his past seasons, but rather his peers and their productions this year. And that brings us to our MVP lyric. Given that Lebron James and Jay-Z are fans of each other, it’s fitting the choice bars would come from Hov.
On his Blueprint III, Jay-Z speaks to his longevity as a prime time player in the Rap game. Given his track record, Jay can confidently declare that he is “one of one” (i.e. no other emcee is even comparable). He goes on to rap about how many come and go in Hip Hop, but not only is he still relevant today, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. This is exactly how we feel about Lebron’s MVP candidacy. Sure, his numbers are slightly down, but major injuries notwithstanding, is there any basketball player in the world who you would take over Lebron today if you had to build a team to win a Championship this season? If your answer is anything but “no,” you are crazy and you’re vastly undervaluing the best player in the world. Lebron is not only still a monster on the court, he’s still in the prime of his career, and as such, his MVP candidacy is alive and well, just like Jay-Z’s claim to the Throne.
Stephen Curry – 23.6 points / 4.4 rebounds / 7.8 assists / 2.2 steals
“This [here’s really like] a lay up. I been Steph Curry with the shot. Been cookin’ with the sauce, chef, curry with the pot.” — Drake from “0-100 / The Catch Up”
Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors have been going back and forth all season with the Atlanta Hawks for best record in the NBA. The Warriors are playing .800 ball this season thanks in large part to a deep roster built around Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green provide fire power on the starting unit while Andrew Bogut gives them a strong low-post presence on both offense and defense. Andre Igoudala and Shaun Livingston are talented role players who solidify Golden State’s bench. It’s undeniable however that Stephen Curry has been their best player. If we adhere to the long-standing NBA rhetoric that the best player on the best team should be at the top of the MVP hierarchy, then Stephen Curry is a shoe-in.
This is an appropriate time to apologize to the entire Atlanta Hawk’s fan base for not including any of the Hawks on this list. The truth is that with five players averaging between 12 and 17 points per game, including both Al Horford and Paul Millsap who also average just shy of 7.5 rebounds as well as Jeff Teague who leads the team with 7.2 assists, the Hawks are so well-balanced that it’s difficult to pick one guy as a standout MVP candidate. Also, and this next statement is in no way meant to discredit any of the Hawks, but despite their fantastic results utilizing a balanced team approach, no one on that team is as good as our top four candidates. We can’t justify picking Jeff Teague over Stephen Curry, or Al Horford over Lebron James for example, and as such the Hawks’ top players all find themselves on the short end of the MVP stick. That’s not to say we don’t like what Atlanta’s doing. If you held a gun to my head right now, I’d pick Cleveland to come out of the East, but I’d very much like to see the Hawks in the NBA Finals.
That brings us back to Stephen Curry and our choice MVP lyric from Drake’s “0-100”. Steph Curry’s shot is so pretty and so effective that even a long-range jumper may as well be a lay-up for him. He’s still relatively young and barring injuries will remain a force in this league for years to come. With career two-point, three-point, and free-throw shooting percentages that thus far top Ray Allen’s however, he’s already widely considered as one of the best pure shooters the game’s ever known. Drake goes on to make a cooking analogy in our lyric of choice, fitting as Stephen Curry has a way of concocting the right recipe to get his shot off at any given moment, often in the face of heavy defense. Just watch the magnificent play shown below for a quick glance at what makes him such a special player. Simply put, Stephen Curry is the leader of the best team in the NBA and has contributed greatly on both offense and defense. His MVP candidacy is as strong as anyone’s on this list.
James Harden – 26.9 points / 5.8 rebounds / 7.1 assists / 1.9 steals
“You can’t get none of this, we’re runnin’ this.Well taker, earth shaker, 3 point gunnin’ this. Get out the lane, i’m comin’ through. And if you don’t wanna move then i’m comin’ right through you“- B-Real from “Hit Em High“
James Harden is in the midst of the best year of his NBA tenure, currently posting career per game highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and free throw percentage, while posting his second best three-point field goal percentage to date (.370 this year vs. .390 in 2012). With Dwight Howard having missed 34 games to date, Harden’s performance in carrying the Houston Rockets to the 4 seed in a typically loaded Western Conference deserves the utmost praise. Sure, the Rockets have seen steady play from Howard when he’s been in the lineup, and have gotten good contributions from Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones, with Josh Smith and Patrick Beverly solidifying the bench, but “The Beard” has certainly been the workhorse out in Houston. His value to the Rockets this year cannot be overstated.
Our MVP lyric from the soundtrack of the old Space Jam movie perfectly describes Harden’s high scoring, high energy, and aggressive style of play. He can certainly shoot the ball well; “3 point gunnin'” is one of his strengths. As much as you have to respect his shot however, you also have to worry about Harden putting his head down and driving to the basket, either scoring or getting the charity stripe. Good luck to you if you happen to be in his way, as he will get to the hoop one way or another. Harden’s bearded bid for 2015 MVP is just as strong as any of his drives to the basket. Given Howard’s injuries, we’re tempted to deem James Harden the favorite at this juncture in the season.
Russell Westbrook – 27.5 points / 7.2 rebounds / 8.3 assists / 2.1 steals
“Get me on the court and I’m trouble. Last week [messed] around and got a triple double. Freaking [brothers] every way like MJ. I gotta say, today was a good day.” — Ice Cube from “It Was A Good Day”
As great as Harden, Curry, and Lebron have performed for their teams this year, where would the Oklahoma City Thunder be without Russell Westbrook? Similarly to the situation in Houston, Westbrook has had to carry the load in the absence of his team’s other top player. With last year’s MVP, Kevin Durant, having missed a total of 39 games thus far and with his numbers down as a result of his injuries, Russell Westbrook’s importance to the Thunder has been amplified two-fold. Not to poop on the rest of their team, but after Durant and Westbrook, OKC suffers from a shortage of All-Star caliber talent. Westbrook has been the driving force behind the Thunder’s climb back into a strong Western Conference playoff picture, despite early season injuries and a slow start left them on the outside looking in. This speaks volume to what Russell Westbrook has meant for this team in 2015. Is that not what a Most Valuable Player is?
Russell Westbrook’s numbers this year are spectacular. In fact, over the past few weeks, they’ve been nothing short of historic. He finished February with per game averages of 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 10.3 assists in becoming just the second player in NBA history to post such averages in a calendar month (with a minimum 10 games played). Oscar Robertson is the other, having accomplished that feat 8 different times. Westbrook currently leads the NBA with eight triple-doubles, six of which have come in the last eight games including four straight to begin that run. Those four consecutive triple-doubles were the longest such streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. He’s only the fourth player in the last 30 years to record at least six triple-doubles with a minimum 25 points scored in each. The other three are Michael Jordan, Lebron James, and Magic Johnson. How’s that for company?
Simply put, Westbrook has been a machine. Our MVP lyric echoes that notion. Not only does Ice Cube’s classic lyric capture the triple-doubles he’s been putting up, it also mentions Michael Jordan. That fits nicely with the historic nature of Westbrook’s output. He’s been having good day after good day after good day over the past two months and as such boasts a very strong case for Most Valuable Player. In fact, given the historic nature of his productivity in a season where OKC needs everything he can offer just to make playoffs in a stacked Western Conference, if the season ended today, Russell Westbrook would be our MVP.