“There’s a lot of speculation about who should get the award, but we all know who the real MVP is.”
These were the words of Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith after he and his team defeated the Detroit Pistons last night. The topic of who should win this season’s MVP Award has been bandied about for most of the year, and Smith believes the most deserving candidate was sitting in the same locker room as he was last night.
It’s no surprise to hear the words “MVP” and “LeBron James” mentioned in the same sentence. He’s only won said honor four times in his 11 years in the league. Still almost unanimously seen as the best basketball player in the world, James will likely always be a popular pick for most valuable player.
This year, though, he doesn’t appear to be the most prevalent contender.
The two most talked about names are Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets star James Harden. Each has absolutely excelled this season, with Curry helping make Golden State the league’s best team, while Harden is averaging a career high 27.5 PPG. Additionally, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has earned some consideration, thanks to his string of triple-doubles keeping the Thunder alive despite the team dealing with injuries all year.
However, despite all of this, Smith isn’t sold. He continued to stump for James last night, making the claim you could “give it to him every time.” Of course, it’s hardly shocking to hear one of James’ teammates campaigning for him in the MVP race. You’d assume everyone on the Cavs’ roster would vote for James (barring Kevin Love, of course).
But, as the regular season winds to a close, you can’t help but ask whether or not James truly should be in consideration for 2014-15 MVP.
You could certainly put up a good debate in picking James to win the award. He’s currently third in the league in PPG with 25.3 – behind only Westbrook and Harden – while shooting .488 from the field. Some of the best reasoning for considering James for the award, though, comes from another Smith postgame quote.
“You see one year removed from a team like [the Miami Heat] — and they probably won’t even make the playoffs — to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he left and then, all of the sudden, we’re a 52-win team.”
In this regard, Smith is dead on. As it states in the name of the award, the MVP goes to the player deemed most valuable to his team. When you look at the ungodly mess Cleveland was last year compared to the title-contending unit taking the court this season, it’s easy to see James as a big reason for the turnaround. And, if you remember how the Cavs played this year during James’ two-week hiatus in January, you’ll find further evidence of his value to the team.
That said, is it enough to merit giving James the award over Curry, Harden or Westbrook?
This is where things get a little more difficult. Clearly, the Warriors, Rockets and Thunder are in the same position as Cleveland: neither would be seeing the kind of success they’ve had this season without their respective MVP candidate.
Oklahoma City’s injuries should’ve derailed the team if not for Westbrook defying logic on a nightly basis. They’ll still likely miss the postseason, but they hung in ‘til the very end thanks to their star point guard. Likewise, Curry has helped turn Golden State into a juggernaut, while Harden is easily the biggest reason for Houston’s success this year.
So, while the Cavs would be struggling without James, the situation is no different with the other nominees.
If there’s anything which might hold James back in the MVP race – and may explain why his name isn’t mentioned as often as the other players – it’s likely the early-season swoon Cleveland endured.
We all remember how things didn’t exactly start as planned for the Cavs this year, with sloppy play and curious losses coming along far more often than the dominant displays we’re seeing now. James, too, just didn’t look like an MVP candidate early on. He wasn’t attacking the rim, sticking with contested jumpers instead. Additionally, much was made about his mopey attitude and miserable body language through the early half of the year.
As we found out, most of this was accounted to both lingering injuries and unhappiness with Cleveland’s roster at the time. An injury sabbatical and some crucial mid-season trades changed everything, and soon James was back to his aggressive ways. Suddenly, the discussion went from “James is on the decline” to “should we be talking about him as MVP?”
In the end, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if James’ play from the first half of the year may factor into whether or not he gets enough consideration for the award. Yes, his second half performance is almost entirely why he’s even being discussed in the first place. At the same time, you have to consider the full season when deciding who to give the award to.
This is why, in my opinion, it’s going to come down to the same two names we’ve been discussing all season: Curry and Harden. Don’t bother asking me who my pick would be, as I’ve gone back and forth between the two at least 26 times since I started writing this.
Yes, I still think James is the best player in the league. No, I’m not using his early season struggles as a slight on him. I just think this award is going to end up being a two-horse race.
At the end of the day, James deserves to be recognized as a potential nominee, but I can’t say I believe he should be the one who takes home the hardware at season’s end.