By Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley, AFRO Sports Desk
The NBA MVP race isn’t over but some are calling it a done deal. Houston Rockets guard James Harden has piloted his team to the top record in the Association and he is leading the league in scoring, averaging over 30 points per night. Harden had a strong case last season as well, but a magical run from Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook — that saw him become the first player to average a triple-double over the course of a season in 55 years — edged him past Harden. The Rockets and Harden, however, have been hard to ignore this year. But so has LeBron James. Sadly, James has been largely ignored this season because his Cleveland Cavaliers have probably been the most dysfunctional contending team in the NBA this season. At 49-31, the Cavs marginally sit as a fourth seed if the playoffs started today so the record isn’t impressive. But, James has been, averaging close to a triple-double on his own with averages of 27.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9.2 assists per night. Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley, of the AFRO Sports Desk, debate who’s the real MVP.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (l) and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James (r). (AP Photo/Michael Wyke and Tony Dejak)
Riley: For me, this has been James’ best season. James is 33 years old, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find another or a former NBAer giving this type of production this late in his career. It’s been remarkable. The Cavs aren’t the strongest version of a classic James-led team but, in my opinion, he has never had to do more with less since his inaugural Cleveland years. We’re a week away from the playoffs but James is already in postseason form, averaging a triple-double for the month of April and fresh off a 43-point, 11-assist, 11-rebound explosion against the impressive Philadelphia 76ers on April 6. James could’ve probably won MVP at least another two times in his career but was shut out. He needs another trophy, however, after this season.
Green: The MVP in the regular season is all about team record and individual performance and Harden checks off both boxes right now. His team has the top record, and he leads the league in scoring. It’s simple math, really. James has been the typical, normally dominant James, but Cleveland has been a sideshow this year. The surrounding stories have been more interesting than their play on the court and that hurts James’ case. And considering Hardengoame close to winning it last season, the NBA basically has to give it to him this time around.
Riley: If we’re going off who’s obligated an MVP trophy then how can we not talk about James? The NBA owes him more MVPs than America owes reparations. Harden’s crossover over Wesley Johnson in March really solidified his MVP award because it put Harden as the hero on a national stage for weeks, exposing him and giving him the popularity that draws fans away from the job that other stars are doing. For all of James’ dominance this season, he doesn’t have the flashy in-season move that replayed on ESPN for weeks at a time, just the stat sheet. This is one of the seasons where the team record and highlight reel should be cast aside and individual performances should hold more weigh and no one has been more impressive this season than LeBron James.
Green: The NBA is not going to rearrange its voting criteria to suck up to James, who probably can’t fit any more recognition awards in his trophy case anyway. I’m willing to wager that James might have more accolades than any player in the MVP running, combined. Westbrook has a case, Harden is leading and James is right there and neither of the aforementioned can even touch James on normal seasons. This year is different, however. Harden has been the star of the league—whether through ESPN promotion or whatever else you want to call it, Riley, but Harden has been the best. Houston has won nearly 15 games more than Cleveland this year despite playing in a tougher conference. Numbers don’t lie in this situation; Harden has earned the 2018 MVP.