Who’s a more worthy NBA MVP candidate this season: Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets star James Harden?
The theme for this 2014-2015 NBA season so far has been parity, and that also applies for the MVP race.
For the first time in years, the NBA MVP race features players that do not fit the “superstar category” as serious candidates to win the NBA’s most coveted individual award for the first time in their careers.
Names like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin have been the usual suspects in past MVP discussions. However, this season, the NBA has witnessed a new crop of star players that have entered the MVP conversation and have made headwaves all year for their standout performances.
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Players like Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and John Wall have all been in the mix, yet the names that are on top of the leaderboards — and have been for the last two months — are Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry and Houston Rockets playmaking extraordinaire James Harden.
Stephen Curry is averaging 23.8 points (6th in the league), 7.9 assists (6th in the league), 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game (1st in the league) on the year. His shooting splits are 48 percent on field goals and 40 percent from behind the line. Curry has a free throw percentage of 90 percent.
Curry just recently won the 3-point Shooting Contest, was the Western Conference’s leading vote-getter in the All-Star Game, was voted an All-Star starter for the second year in a row, and, most importantly, has led Golden State to a 44-11 record – which it the league’s best record at the moment. Meanwhile, James Harden has been simply off the charts.
Harden’s creating his own shot at will with his patent step-back jumper, slicing through opposing defenses with ease, stroking shots from all areas on the court, getting to the free throw line numerous times a game (averages 9.5 free attempts per game), setting up teammates for wide-open perimeter shots off defenses zeroing in on his penetration and his defense has even stepped up a notch.
Harden is currently leading the league in scoring (27.2 ppg), while putting up 6.9 assists , 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. His shooting is no joke either, with marks of 45 percent from the field, 38 percent from three-point range and 86 percent at the foul line.
The man with the magic beard has carried Houston to a 39-18 record – which is third best in the league.
Both players are having career years, have their teams in the title hunt, have elevated their game to extreme measures, and that has led to the dup becoming the top two MVP candidates.
While Curry and Harden duke it out for the award, the narrative surrounding this debate is: who do you chose “The Best Player on the Best Team (Curry) or The Best Individual Player (Harden).”
Curry has clearly been remarkable this season and the Warriors best player, but statistically he hasn’t really been overwhelming compared to other MVP candidates. Despite that, he’s led his team to the league’s top record and has them in position to clinch home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference (and maybe through the entire playoffs).
Harden on the other hand, has done a swell job carrying the Rockets into the top four of the West standings, but it’s his spectacular offensive game that has folks around the league and fans lauding over him. Plus, he’s the league’s leading scorer and has the staggering numbers that wildly support his case as MVP.
Wiz of Awes
It’s a hot topic and one media voters have dealt with before in past “Best Player on Best Team vs. Best Individual Player” MVP debates.
The latest debate we had took place in 2011 when Derrick Rose walked away with the MVP trophy as the best player on a Chicago Bulls team that captured the best record in the league at 62-20. Many analysts and critics believed Rose won the MVP, because it was such a feel good story and thought he wasn’t as deserving as Orlando center Dwight Howard (who finished second in the voting and team finished with seventh best record) and Miami Heat forward LeBron James (third in the voting and team finished with leagues third best record).
That season, Rose’s overall individual play didn’t match Howard’s (best center in the league at the time) and James’ (one of the two best players in the game and first year becoming a villain by the basketball world) during the regular season. Rose and LeBron would face off in the Eastern Conference Finals that spring and LeBron outplayed Rose for much of the series and led Miami to victory in five games. To many, winning that series validated that LeBron deserved to win the 2011 MVP.
2007 is another year that stood out.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (24.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 50% FG, 41% 3P, 90% FT) took home MVP honors that season, while Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash (18.6 ppg, 11.6 apg, 53% FG, 45% 3P, 89% FT) finished as the runner-up.
While both Nowitzki and Nash performed at a high level that season, the central reason they finished 1-2 in the voting was because they both played on the top regular season teams in basketball. Nowitzki’s Mavericks had the best record at 67-15 and Nash’s Suns had the second best record at 61-21. No shame in those two finishing 1-2 in the voting.
However, Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (the best player in basketball at the time) had something to say about that. Bryant finished third in the voting, mainly because his team finished with a 41-41 record.
The record factor definitely favors Nowitzki and Nash largely because they were playing with much more talent than Bryant was during that season. Kobe played with inferior teammates that year, so it was understandable that the Lakers only won 41 games and barely snuck into the playoffs in the deep Western Conference. The fact that Kobe was able to put his team on his back and get them to playoffs should have been recognized more.
Plus, there was no player in the league that year that was a better two-way player (offense and defense) than Kobe. He averaged a league-leading 31.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.4 apg, on 46% shooting, played stout perimeter defense, had an insane streak of four games in a row where he scored 50 points or more (only Wilt Chamberlain accomplished that in more games), and was unbelievable at finishing games down the stretch.
Also, he was the only player that season who made the All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team that season.
There was no way Nowitzki and Nash performed better than Kobe in 2007. Just no way. Kobe’s all-around season was easily superior to those two, plus if you add in the fact that he did more with less than that justifies (at least to me) that the MVP trophy should have been his.
So, as we transition to the 2015 MVP race, Harden has clearly had a greater individual season than Curry has and there might not be a tougher player to defend one-on-one than him. Yet Curry, with his slick ball handling, masterful shooting display, exciting game, and command that he’s had on his team makes a legit case as well that he’s the MVP.
It’s going to be a tight race down the stretch with both players one upping each other game by game and week by week, but if I had to make a pick right now, Curry would take the slight edge. He’s on the verge of elevating himself from a star to superstar real soon. But it’s really a toss-up. All I know is that I totally expect the Best Player on Best Team vs Best Individual Player argument to play a key factor with voters when it’s time make to make their selections in the spring.
Until then, enjoy the race.