Russell Westbrook or James Harden?
Or Kawhi Leonard?
Or what about Isaiah Thomas or LeBron James.
You can certainly make a compelling case for each of the aforementioned gentlemen to be the NBA Most Valuable Player this season.
Personally, my vote goes to Westbrook and not just for his insanely good season in which he’s already joined the legendary Oscar Robertson as the only players to ever average a triple-double. Harden’s offensive productivity is equally amazing.
For me, what differentiates Westbrook from Harden is that the former is a considerably better defender than the latter. That’s not to say Westbrook is going to make the All-NBA Defensive team anytime soon. But at least Westbrook has shown an inclination to be at least an adequate defender. The same can’t be said for Harden, whose defense is notoriously bad.
I recently queried a veteran NBA scout to rate Harden’s and Westbrook’s defense on a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being the best.
“I’d give Westbrook a 4, maybe a 5,’’ the scout said. “He’s not very good, but he’s gotten a little better.’’
“Negative 1,’’ the scout said. “He’s just not a very good defender.’’
Added an NBA executive: “James has never been a good defender and he’ll never be a good defender.’’
That may be the case, but that didn’t deter some NBA players from voting for Harden to share the award with Westbrook. In fact, of the 11 individuals surveyed, three voted for Westbrook and Harden as co-MVPs.
But Westbrook wound up being the overwhelming choice among those polled, collecting five votes. James received two and Thomas garnered one.
Here is what the 10 players and one head coach polled had to say about their selections:
TOBIAS HARRIS, Detroit Pistons:
“To me, It would probably be Westbrook. You see all his triple doubles and where he has his team. (After pausing for several seconds, he added). Actually, I would do a co-MVP. Those are my choices. He and James Harden. I would vote for both of those. Both of them are playing extremely good basketball.’’
JASON TERRY, Milwaukee Bucks:
“I got James Harden. That’s my pick. I like the way he’s playing this year. If I had my choice, I’d give it to both of them (Harden and Westbrook), but nobody seems to like the co-MVP idea. But if you want to talk about making history, you give it to both of them. What they’ve done will never be done again. That’s what this league is based on: guys making history. How many times are you going to have two guys playing at the level they’re playing at, the seasons they’re having? There’s no way you can’t give it to the other guy. How do I just say James? Or how do I just say Russell? That would be an injustice. I’m splitting my vote and giving it to both of them.’’
C.J. MILES, Indiana Pacers:
“It’s going to be between James and Russ and what Russ has done is flat out amazing. But I think I’d pick LeBron. I think I’d pick him almost every year. He does so much for the game, so much for his team. He plays every position almost. Take him off a team and … I was there (in Cleveland) when he left and then, when he came back, they go back to the Finals. I don’t think it’s a coincidence his teams are a contender every season. I’m not saying he didn’t have help, but LeBron changes the game. So, LeBron would be my choice.’’
GREG MONROE, Milwaukee Bucks:
“Oooh, that’s tough. Oh, man. You talk about the most triple-doubles in the history of the game in one season. And Russ has done it at the point guard position. The way he controls the game is amazing. I don’t think you could wrong with James, either. They are both having extraordinary seasons and their teams are successful. But I’d have to give the nod, a really, really, slight edge to Russ. I mean, it’s miniscule.’’
HARRISON BARNES, Dallas Mavericks:
“It’s tough. A lot of guys have had great seasons. Both Russell and James have had remarkable seasons and done a lot for their teams. I think it’s a tossup. I would probably have a co-MVP. It’s hard: You have one guy, Russell, averaging a triple-double for the season and then another guy, James and what’s he’s done for that team and where they were predicted to finish and how they are going to finish, and how he’s elevated all of his teammates, so it’s really a tough situation.’’
ANDRE DRUMMOND, Detroit Pistons:
“Probably Russell. He’s been the most consistent all year. He’s pretty much averaging a triple double. He’s very efficient, he makes his teammates better and he gives it his all every night.’’
LAVOY ALLEN, Indiana Pacers:
“I’ll go with LeBron James. He’s greatest player in the world, year-in, year-out. LeBron James is the MVP.’’
THON MAKER, Milwaukee Bucks:
“For my pick, I’d take away each guy from their team and see where their teams would be without them. Geez, this is tough. I’ll go with Westbrook. Anybody who can average a triple double and, if you look at his team and if he wasn’t on that team, how good would they be? Would they make the playoffs without him? Or would they be a lottery team, playing for ping-pong balls? So, I’d say Westbrook.’’
STAN VAN GUNDY, Detroit Pistons coach:
“Leonard, Harden, Westbrook, James … They’ve all been very good. But I’m going with Isaiah Thomas. I’m a little biased; I’m in the East (Conference). I’m not sure there’s a guy who has been more important to his team than Isaiah Thomas. He’s carried that team offensively and his team is in first place. He’d be my pick.’’
WESLEY MATTHEWS, Dallas Mavericks:
“It’s tough. We’re seeing guys have historical seasons. But it’s hard to go against someone who is averaging a triple-double. What he (Westbrook) is doing is unbelievable. We’ve only see it one other time (Robertson in the 1961-62 season). That speaks for itself.’’
JOHN HENSON, Milwaukee Bucks:
“Westbrook. They’re winning and he’s averaging a triple-double. It’s pretty simple.’’