There is only one MVP debate, not just the NBA’s
MVP debates are one of those fun sports arguments. There are usually multiple players who could make a strong case for being deserving of the award.
In every sport, every year, it’s really the same argument. Look beyond Westbrook vs Harden vs Leonard vs LeBron. How do you, personally, define the phrase “most valuable player” in a sports context?
There are multiple ways to approach this. Some people want to award the player who had the single best regular season. This year, that’s Russell Westbrook. He averaged a triple double for the season. The Thunder are in the playoffs because he played this well.
James Harden supporters would fall into the category of the player who means most to his particular team that particular season. The Thunder are in the playoffs because of Westbrook, but they won’t be there long. Harden has brought the Rockets to a position where they might be able to scare the top teams in the league. LeBron can say that, but the East is a more shallow conference.
Some people would want to give it to the best player on the best possible team. This year, Kawhi Leonard has been the best player on a Spurs team with a real shot of winning the title. The Cavaliers and Warriors have multiple stars, the Spurs only have Leonard and one of the best coaches of his era.
Then again, it would be near impossible to argue any of those three are the single best player in the league, a view many people believe the MVP should hold. If that’s the case, we could give it to LeBron James, but of course if that were the case we could have given it to LeBron before the season started.
Look through all the advanced metrics in MVP debates, all the arguments about how good teams need to be, or how much the playoffs matter, or how much one on one would matter. It’s all the same question.
How do you define “valuable?”
Usually, I would cite the player who means most to their specific team, but this year I have to believe that the NBA’s award winner should be Westbrook. This season will become part of NBA history as long as people care what triple doubles are. In hindsight it will look foolish if it goes to Harden, even though outside of that one milestone Harden is every bit as good, and as valuable if not more to his team.
This is one of the things that makes talking about sports fun. If we had a rigid definition, there wouldn’t be much room for discussion.