A few months into the season, there were a number of candidates on a shortlist for the MVP race. With just over one month left, there is only one.
In December, I wrote that James Harden was the best candidate for MVP as he matched LeBron James’s scoring numbers and almost single handedly revitalized a Rockets franchise that came into the year being labeled as a team in rebuilding mode. But since, Harden’s excellence, like all the other candidates I mentioned in that article, has paled in comparison to that of the reigning MVP.
James’ numbers have held steady throughout the year at 26.5 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game, but in the month of February he completely turned his opponents on their heads by scoring 30 points or more in 8 out of 13 games. He’s had help from cohort Dwyane Wade, but nobody has fueled Miami’s current 19 game winning streak like James.
His opponents in the race haven’t waned in their production, but they simply haven’t been able to keep up. Now, I understand that James’ production is down a bit in March, but taking less shots and finding an open teammate to get the rest of your teammates going is part of what makes an MVP so special. This is commonly known as making your teammates better and is seen as a good thing if you’re not LeBron James living with massive expectations to have super human numbers.
Other candidates in Harden and Kobe Bryant are viable MVP candidates in any year where the league’s biggest superstar isn’t flexing his muscle like James is, but those players are unfortunate because those who decide which players win the awards are somewhat elitist. The idea that the best player on the best team deserves the award has stubbornly stuck around over the decades when it comes to how the decision is made and by that criteria alone, Bryant and Harden don’t even come close.
Carmelo Anthony’s injury troubles have removed him from the conversation. The Knicks star has compelling numbers, but in my opinion the success of his team without him somewhat dilutes the argument for him to contend with James even if you excuse the time absent from the floor.
The most heated combatant of James for the award is Kevin Durant, but Oklahoma City’s fall from the top spot in the West and Durant seeing a similarly slight decline in overall production to what James has experienced has him nowhere near James in the argument. His assist numbers don’t compare and he doesn’t outscore James by much.
It’s not even April and we know who the MVP is. Will he follow it with another championship and Finals MVP? Will he carry the swagger that he built up in 2012 into May and take another step toward putting himself up for 2013 Sportsman of the Year? Quite possibly, and for those of us who are lucky enough to watch, it might serve us well to appreciate what a fine athlete we’re seeing while he’s in his prime.