April 11 ended the 2017-18 NBA regular season and while you may be thinking that the MVP is already wrapped up we have some points that will make you think twice. Before we get into who is the most deserving we really need to have a discussion about the definition of MVP. If you’ve been an NBA fan for a week you should already know that no person has the same definition of MVP as another. We are all jaded by our personal subjectivity and each person values certain stats over others.
For this post I’m going to be upfront and let you know that I am not thinking about this things with perfect objectivity. This is what makes the MVP great. It can literally be anyone any season. The biggest beef NBA critics have with our sport is that you can easily predict who will be bringing home the championship trophy before the first tip ball. The NBA undoubtedly lacks more parity than most sports.
This is why allowing our own opinions and feelings about the definition of MVP is a really good thing. We need some aspect of this sport to be unpredictable. Every year there are players that have a season for the ages that catches us off guard and it is more than okay to reward them for doing so.
Even with my own subjective lens in focus I will still have a second lens to look through. It is important not to just go completely off of what we “feel” or “think”. We can make up arguments for why Brian Scalabrine should have won the MVP back in 2010 but in the end we all that not even one statistical category would compare with the most average of NBA players that season.
The objective lens I will view this discussion through is fairly detailed. I have included a complete explanation at the end of this article if you would like to read further into the statistics I am looking at for each individual player and how I am grading them on those stats. For now, let’s start with our 5th most deserving NBA MVP.
5 – Damian Lillard – MVP Score – 22
Damian Lillard has gone from an all star snub and rarely being recognized to being in the MVP conversation. I’m not sure how so many people have not recognized how great of an individual player Lillard is. The run that the Blazers went on after the all star break was in large part to Lillard’s phenomenal play. Over one 10 game span this season he averaged over 35 points a night. He is first in the league in points per game this year and the Blazers depend on that scoring every night.
Many small guards are going to have similar weaknesses. The common weakness Lillard shares with other guards is on the defensive side of the ball. He isn’t a horrible defender but certainly wouldn’t be in the conversation for best 2 way players. Damian’s defensive RPM is in the negatives and he doesn’t force a whole lot of steals. Without the Blazers grabbing the 3 seed it would have been even more difficult to squeeze him into the top 5 this year.
When all was said and done the 5th spot really seemed perfect for Lillard. Putting someone 5 still gives him plenty of recognition, but also with a little feeling of snubbiness for being ranked last on the list. In the end I didn’t feel right putting ahead of the other guys on this list. The Blazers have had a fantastic season in large part to Lillard’s offense. But, they still finished the season with just 49 wins and the 7th best record in the NBA. With a few more wins I may have felt more confident to move him up to 4 on this list.
4 – Kevin Durant – MVP Score – 22.5
The thing that makes Kevin Durant so valuable is his ability to score, defend, and distribute. I was really surprised to find Durant in the top 25 players in assists this season. Especially, with so many injuries to the team this season you think he would fall into the trap of leaning on his own scoring ability more and not involving others. Clearly, Kevin Durant is a force on the offensive end. He is averaging over 26 points a game on a team that maybe only needs him to average 10 with how many other offensive weapons they have.
KD would easily get into the top 3 conversation if he wouldn’t have missed so many games. With the record that Golden State has this year and how dominant they can be this is really the only glaring mark against Durant. He’s played in a total of 68 games this season and while that isn’t too terrible it really should be considered when determining how valuable a player is for the course of a single 82 game season.
Durant is obviously a valuable player. He has missed a lot of games this season and Golden State hasn’t been as dominant as they have in the past. If Curry had played as many games as Durant then he would have most likely replaced him here. When it’s all said and done you’ll be very hard pressed to find a player who has had both a better statistical season and led their team to a top 5 NBA record.
3 – Anthony Davis – MVP Score – 41
Some of this season’s most dominant games have come from Anthony Davis. In one game this year Davis had 53 points, 18 rebounds, and shot 55% from the field. He is the league’s best big man. He’s averaged over 28 points a night and when Cousins went down with an injury this year it didn’t seem to phase him. Losing a player like Cousins would make most teams throw in the towel. Instead the Pelicans, led by Davis, persevered through and wound up with the 6 seed in the west. Often in MVP discussions you’ll be proposed to answer a hypothetical scenario for what a given team’s record would be without their star player. I think that it would be safe to assume that The Pelicans record wouldn’t be close to what it is without Davis. After the loss of Cousins the Pelicans managed to go 21-13 to end the season. With Cousins the Pel’s were 24-24. Once Cousins went down Davis was able to take a now worse team and make them better than they had been with their 2nd best player healthy. This is a huge positive.
With most of these guys it is difficult to find negatives. With these last three players it is almost impossible. The one thing we can point to with Davis is the record. Even though he was able to win so many games without Cousins and earn the Pelicans a spot in the playoffs, it is still troubling to see the 24-24 record with Cousins healthy. Maybe it’s that Davis isn’t capable of playing alongside another superstar. If that’s the case then winning championships may avoid him for the rest of his career. Outside of winning the other troubling thing with Davis is his consistency. In a game in January against the Hawks he was only capable of putting up 8 points and grabbing 7 rebounds across almost 40 minutes of action. Obviously, this game resulted in a loss for a team that relies so much on his success. Davis can have some dominant games where he is the best player on the floor and still at times he can have nights where he looks like he just isn’t ready to be the league’s best player.
AD has probably been the best 2 way player this season. He plays the offensive and defensive side as well as anyone. He is going to be in these conversations for years to come as long as he can stay healthy. If he had one more games and proven a little more consistency he could have locked up maybe the 2 or even 1 spot. When it comes to being the league’s MVP you really need to have every area of your game down and then be dominant on the offensive floor. For now we will wait for Davis to make a more compelling case next year.
2 – LeBron James – MVP Score – 36.5
The case for the last 2 guys are both quite strong. You couldn’t go wrong choosing either of the final guys as your 2017-18 MVP. A few people are saying this is Lebron’s best season yet. He is in the top 3 in the league in scoring, assists, and RPM wins. He does just as much offensively for his team as anyone else in the league. When you look at ESPN’s best single game performances for 2017-18, LeBron is listed more than any other player. You can find his name 11 times. This means that just over 10% of the NBA’s top 100 games played this season are held by LeBron. I believe that the most valuable single season should be made up of a large amount of valuable single games. All of this is being done without Kyrie and at age 33. LeBron may be the most feared offensive player during the regular season.
I do believe that LeBron has a stronger offensive case for winning the MVP than any other player. You can’t find much negative in his offensive game. With that being said, you can see how important the other aspects of the game are. Offense is not the only important factor or thing we should look at. Obviously, his offense has not been enough to win more games than the Raptors, Celtics, and 76ers in the east. If you would have told me that the 76ers would have won more games than the Cavaliers at the beginning of the year then I would have assumed LeBron had joined them. When you have a player as polarizing as LeBron then he is going to affect every aspect of the game no matter what. If he is going hard on both ends of the floor then everyone else will follow suit. If he doesn’t seem to care on a given night, then that is going to affect how everyone else plays that night. He reminds me of how a mother can put a sense of either a dark cloud or a bright ray of sunshine over a household. The only team in the NBA with a worse defensive rating than the Cavaliers is the Phoenix Suns.
While team defense shouldn’t be the deciding factor for most MVP conversations I do believe it plays a huge role in this scenario. As we stated above, James is such a polarizing player that whatever he does affects his team. A team like the Cavaliers are so dependent on LeBron that he almost decides what kind of they will have. When it comes to the defensive floor in the regular season LeBron rarely gears up to play. He is at many times careless and lacks effort. When you get that from your most skilled and probably most talented defensive player that is going to cause you problems. When a player isn’t maximizing what their team could be in the regular season that causes them to lose value. LeBron could easily lift his team up toward the 1 or 2 seed every year with an increased effort on the defensive end. Only getting the 4 seed coupled with his lack of effort really makes it difficult to give him such a prestigious and important award that other players have worked harder for.
1 – James Harden – MVP Score – 42
Just like LeBron, Harden is in the top of the league in plenty of offensive categories. He is in the top 10 in assists, steals, overall RPM, and 3 pointers made. Not to mention that he leads the league in the following categories: points per minute, overall win share, offensive win share, points per game, offensive RPM, and RPM wins. The dude has led the Rockets to overtake the Warriors for best record in the league. This really is an impressive feat that needs to be at the least recognized if not rewarded. Without Harden the Rockets would probably have a really difficult time squeezing into the tight western conference playoffs. Not only this but he does crack the top 10 in a defensive category. That’s right, Harden is averaging almost 2 steals a night. The Rockets do not lean heavily on Harden to play defense but the fact that he is attributing in some noticeable way on that end is a huge positive.
The negatives with Harden are going to be similar to Lebron’s. Although, with Harden his team is one of the best defensive teams in the league. He is notoriously bad on the defensive end, but this really has improved quite a bit over the last couple season. Like said above he is forcing steals and he isn’t easy to back down. The most negative thing we can find on him is his negative defensive RPM. Outside of this the worst we can say about him is that he has a stigma as one of the worst defensive players in the NBA. One thing we do wish was higher was his 3 point shooting percentage. He takes more threes than anyone else in the NBA and hits them at a 36% clip. This isn’t horrendous but isn’t to the level of some of the league’s best. Gerald Green has shot better from 3 this year, although that is in much less time. James actually doesn’t even crack the top 10 for best 3 point shooting percentage. Granted, he is most likely shooting plenty of step back threes but this is still a little troubling for someone so offensively praised.
The final 2 spots between Harden and LeBron really were not easy to determine. Overall Harden bests LeBron in a number of categories. The offensive categories are really close and LeBron probably has the edge on him here. On the defensive side of the ball it is basically impossible to argue for LeBron since he doesn’t give an effort. Harden is producing steals and his team’s defensive rating is ranked 6th. The last category that Harden has a huge advantage in is that his team has been the best during the regular season. The Cavaliers didn’t have an answer for them when they played back in February. The regular season MVP should be capable of leading his team to beat the best teams. James Harden does this all while producing the gaudy statistics everyone is looking for. In the end your MVP needs to not just be dominant in one facet of the game. He needs to be dominant in all areas. The closest player we have to that this season is James Harden.