James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook and Harden. Oh, and don’t forget Kawhi Leonard and Lebron James too.
The curious case of the 2016-17 NBA Most Valuable Player Award is not exactly uncharted internet territory. Our own Adio Royster, with a far more plugged in basketball mind than my own, has already weighed in on the NBA MVP Award madness himself. (If you follow him on Twitter, you probably even knew this before the column!) I promise that I will weigh in on that topic in a bit.
The real question at play here, in my opinion, is how we as a sports society define the Most Valuable Player Award. In most years, this is not much of a problem. However, during years such as the 2016-17 NBA MVP Award, battle lines are drawn two ways. Let’s break this down like we’re a pseudo-lawyer:
- The intent of the law: The best player (period) of the season.
- The letter of the law: One of the (if not the) best player(s) on one of the (if not the) best team(s) of the season. The truly “most valuable” player of the season.
The intent of the award, in my opinion, is to reward the best player of the season. Nowadays, we sports aficionados fancy ourselves quite a debate by basing the award off of the letters of the award, if you will. It seems to me that the award just has a nice fancy name “Most Valuable” that reads better than “Best.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.
For those that speak to the importance of winning in being a great player and having a great season, I agree with you… to an extent. No one can control when they are truly saddled with a high-lottery bound roster vs. a roster that could have legitimate playoff aspirations without its star.
Also, there’s a reason we already give out a team championship trophy at the end of the season. As a duly appointed Captain Obvious, I must leave us with two salient points on the MVP trophy:
- It is not a team-oriented trophy.
- It is an individual trophy.
Anyway, let’s put this into the perspective of the 2016-17 NBA Most Valuable Player Award.
If you’re going by the intent of the law (the player with the best season), then it’s got to be Westbrook’s award. As great as Harden seamlessly fit into Mike D’Antoni’s point guard motif, Westbrook fits even more seamlessly into his lone gunman’s outfit.
Averaging a triple-double and leading the league in scoring after losing Kevin Durant in the offseason to free agency? This was definitely his year to shine. No matter how well Harden or any of the other contenders played, everyone will remember the “nuclear athleticism” (copyright: Mike Breen) of the 2016-17 version of Russell Westbrook. (Even if he’s maybe a bigger ball hog than Kobe Bryant.)
However, if you’re going by the letter of the law, then the award could go to Harden. His team was significantly better, so his season was then “more valuable” by how it is defined.
Westbrook’s season was not valuable enough to his team to lift them to the NBA’s elite, but Harden’s team had the third-best record in the league. Not too shabby at all for the Beard, and it would be an award well deserved after leading the league in assists and nearly scoring 30 points per game.
Of course, one could argue that Westbrook’s teammates’ inabilities to knock down open three-pointers like Harden’s teammates, but another person could then argue that Harden “makes his teammates better” than Westbrook. As difficult as that is to define, there are many people out there that do not mind making that distinction.
I think it is impossible to do unless you’re the type of person that watches film, knows how the offense is drawn up, understands the abilities of all the players involved, etc. You better know what the heck you’re talking about here.
This is precisely why I disagree with defining the award by the letter of the law. It is impossible to quantify this when each player in question has a different set of players to deal with. You’re guessing at best, which is how our MVP races are currently decided.
Consider my vote for the intent of the law: Russell Westbrook for my 2016-17 NBA Most Valuable Player. I think his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates and offensive system were clearly inferior to the fit with Harden, his Houston Rockets teammates, and D’Antoni’s offensive scheme. This is not a knock in any way against the Beard, but I know how the Sports Illustrated 2017 Year in Review video (if they still had them) would remember this incredibly exciting season.
Mr. Triple Double owned the 2016-17 NBA season, which has to be the “Most Valuable” real estate a player can have in the regular season. Right?