Dueling Dudes: MVP race is a hot debate

Sam Lounsberry

Collegian sportswriters and NBA enthusiasts Sam Lounsberry and Emmett McCarthy break down who should win the NBA MVP award next month and why.

Sam’s Take

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Sam Lounsberry
Sam Lounsberry

Lebron James will not be announced the NBA’s MVP next month. But he should be.

The award is going to either James Harden or Stephen Curry, who have by all means had outstanding years, but Lebron is still simply the best player in the universe, and in an ideal world – one that doesn’t get tired of giving the MVP to the same guy every year – that player would win it.

That’s the only reason Lebron isn’t the MVP this year. The writers are bored with the same guy winning everything, just like they were with Michael Jordan when the award went to Charles Barkley in 1993 and Karl Malone in 1997. (LBJ already got screwed once when Derrick Rose was named MVP in 2011 because he won it the previous two years and people were mad at him for switching teams to play for a championship – which is even more of a joke than this year.)

If people try to make the argument that James missed too many games to be the MVP when he took a two-week break in January, that’s ridiculous because Russell Westbrook has been in the conversation – and taken more seriously than Lebron – and he missed 15 games.

Plus, LBJ logged nearly as many total minutes as Curry this season – only 2.5 games’-worth less – despite Steph playing in 80 of 82 games. His presence on the court was much more important for the Cavs than Curry’s to the Warriors, evidenced by Steve Kerr’s luxury to sit Steph for quarters at a time in games down the stretch and still win. Lebron, on the other hand, had to be on the floor for his team to be successful whatsoever. During his time on the sideline in January for a back injury, the Cavs played eight games and lost seven. After his return, the Cavs notched 34 wins for the best record in the league during that period. They won a total of 55 games, one less than Harden’s Rockets in spite of the Cavs’ horrendous record without Lebron.

And Lebron’s record is more incredible compared to Harden’s or Curry’s league-best when considering all Lebron’s dealt with while leading his team to a No. 2 seed in the East. The Warriors’ core has played together for several seasons, improving the whole way. They were supposed to be great this year. The same goes for the Rockets.

The Cavs were a mystery heading into the season. They had a rookie head coach and a core of guys who had never played together in the league before. Then they endured an injury to starting center Anderson Varejao, and then a complete overhaul of the roster after mid-season trades. Not to mention supposed locker room issues with Kevin Love, the media attacking Kyrie Irving as a selfish point guard and everyone questioning David Blatt’s capability to coach Lebron. LBJ was the unquestioned leader who held it all together through all of that and got the best out of his teammates in the first year they played with him. He is the glue. He is the undoubted most valuable player to his team.

And he’s third in scoring at 25.3 per game.

Though Harden outscored him by two points per game, he shot nearly three more free throws due to his silly playing style of constantly seeking contact. LBJ averaged just 0.3 assists less than Curry, who plays point guard, and outrebounded both other candidates.

Oh, and he plays defense, a feat which the other two just started to learn this season. According to Synergy via Fox Sports, LBJ’s in the 74th percentile as an isolation defender, and 79th percentile defending spot-up shots, both of which blow Curry and Harden out of the water.

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He both demands the most attention in the league when he has the ball and is one of its elite defenders. He is the best player in the NBA, and everyone knows it. When the MVP goes to players other than the guy who’s at the top because he’s won it before, it fails to speak to the longevity of his dominance. Lebron James should get the MVP because everyone should know he was still undoubtedly the best player on the planet when they look back at this year.

Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @samlounz.

Emmett’s Take

The NBA’s Most Valuable Player is usually pretty clear cut. Whether it’s LeBron’s consistent dominance, or Durant’s monster season last year, there is usually a pretty clear consensus on which individual player had the best NBA season.

Emmet McCarthy
Emmett McCarthy

This year it’s completely up for debate: Harden or Curry.

Look past LeBron’s body of work from previous years. The MVP award is a reflection the season that just happened and nothing more.

Forget the two-month tear Westbrook went on after the All-Star break. It was not sustainable, his team missed the playoffs, and he missed a fair share of games early.

What Harden and Curry each did during the regular season was demonstrably more impactful than what any other superstar did for their team (including Chris Paul and Anthony Davis).

But still, there will always be those clamoring for LeBron to take the the award yet again. His arrival in Cleveland turned the Cavs from a 33-win experiment to a 53-win juggernaut.

But James was not the league’s alpha dog in 2014-15. His shooting numbers were the worst they have been since before he won a ring, and his rebounding numbers were the worst they have been since his rookie season. The 3.9 turnovers per game (that’s a lot!!) were a career high.

LeBron is asked to do a lot, hence the drop in efficiency, but this year was also possibly the worst season of James’ career on the defensively. He’s still a great on-ball defender, but he was unengaged at times and gave minimal effort on that end for the most part.

And don’t forget, a two-week rest and complete overhaul of the roster essentially revived James’ season. Harden and Curry did not have the same luxury, appearing in 81 and 80 games respectively, compared to James’ 69.

Harden had to do just as much this year for the Rockets as, if not more than, James did for his team. Dwight Howard missed 41 games and yet Houston won 56 games and nabbed a 2-seed in the stacked Western Conference.

Harden carried that team to unexpected heights with the big man out for half of the year. The rest of the players on that team either: a) can’t create their own shot, or b) can create their own shot, but you would rather they did not.

Despite the lack of playmakers, the Rockets were able to run one of the league’s most efficient offenses this season thanks to Harden’s diversity as a creator, shooter, passer, ball handler and finisher.

“The Beard” shot and made 169 free throws more than any other player in the league. Whether or not you like his style, there is no denying that it takes a physical toll on your body to consistently draw contact at the rate he does. Yet, he only missed one game (due to suspension) and never faded late in the season.

If Westbrook were not a maniac, Harden would be the scoring champion as well.

Steph Curry’s case is pretty obvious too; just check the Warriors’ win column. He was the best player on the best team in the league.

Actually, the Warriors weren’t just good compared to the pack – they are one of the best regular season teams of all-time. Golden State’s 10.1-point average margin of victory is top-ten in NBA history.

Ironically, that seems to be the misguided case against Curry. He has better pieces around him than Harden or James, supposedly.

The numbers tell a different story though. Curry’s plus-18.9 point swing in the plus/minus differential from when he is in the game versus on the bench is second only to Chris Paul. More shockingly, the Warriors have actually been outscored with Curry on the bench, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe.

That’s why I give the nod to Steph. He was the key to the Warriors’ historical success.

When we look back on this year, the first thing to come to mind will be a plethora of Curry highlights. He left his stamp on a thrilling NBA season in so many different ways.

But so did Harden. The case for him is just as strong. No matter how much the Rockets were down, as long as he was on the floor, you knew the Rockets had a chance.

It is a shame that one of them will not take home the MVP award, but at least it is possible we will remember the race between the two more than we actually remember who won it.

Once again, James will not be named the MVP. But unlike 2011 when Derrick Rose won, it will not be an injustice. No one went searching for Curry or Harden as new MVP candidates just to shake things up. They forced their way into the discussion, and eventually took command of the race.

James is probably still the best player in the NBA. This season though, he was only No.2.

The No. 1 and No. 1A spots belong to Curry and Harden, in either order. You can’t go wrong.

Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22