The NBA MVP Narrative Has Changed This Season

Winning should still count for something

If you look at the past NBA MVP award winners you will find players with amazing stat lines. More importantly, you will find that these players helped their teams contend for an NBA title.

In the 2014–2015 season, James Harden had an amazing stat line averaging 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and seven assists per game. He led the Houston Rockets to a 56–26 record, the second best record in the West, behind the Golden State Warriors. During that season the average NBA fan should not have thought twice about supporting Harden for MVP.

Unfortunately, for Rockets fans, Stephen Curry had everyone’s attention, especially the media’s. In that season, Curry averaged 23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. This is a pretty great stat line, but obviously, Harden’s numbers were greater. Well, that didn’t matter because as long as the media slandered Harden for his lackluster defense and claimed he was playing with another “superstar” in Dwight Howard, Curry was the better option for MVP. To this day, many NBA fans wonder why Curry was chosen over Harden. Well, that was simply because of team success.

The Rockets were 11 games behind the Warriors, and that was a large enough gap to hand Curry his MVP award alongside his team success. Amazing stat lines plus a chance to contend gets you an MVP award, in most cases. In Harden’s case, it did not. With an amazing stat line and his team contending for an NBA title, it was not absurd to believe that Harden was robbed of the MVP award that season. But more wins though, right? That’s just how the NBA works.

In the 2015–2016 season, Curry led the Warriors to the best regular-season in NBA history with a 73–9 record. He had a stat line of 30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game. He improved for the most part, and his team simply dominated the NBA before blowing a 3–1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Curry was awarded MVP once again because he was simply the best player on the best team that season along with his amazing stat line. It was well deserved, to say the least.

Now, during this season, there are two clear candidates for MVP. Obviously, that’s James Harden and Russell Westbrook. This season the media has backed Westbrook, which only strengthens his case for MVP. Does he deserve it? Sure, can’t deny that. The man is averaging a triple-double with an amazing stat line of 31.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.6 assists per game, but his team is locked in as the 6th seed going into the playoffs. But since we have been following the MVP narrative, Westbrook should not be the MVP because MVP’s usually play on title contending teams (top four seeds). If that’s not the case, then Harden should have been the MVP back in the 2014–2015 season, not Curry.

This season Harden is averaging 29.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game. He’s basically two rebounds a game short of averaging a triple-double, but I guess since it’s only eight rebounds a game they do not count, at least that’s what the media thinks.

There is an MVP narrative the voters have been following for years and years. So let’s look at wins. The Rockets are currently seeded third in the Western Conference while the Thunder are locked in as the sixth seed. The Thunder are 7.5 games behind the Rockets. The Rockets have also had a great turnaround after barely making playoffs last season, while the media harshly criticized them before the start of this season. James Harden along with his new head coach, Mike D’Antoni have been outstanding this season, to say the least, and nobody saw it coming. Harden has led his team to a top three seed in the West after most people predicted they would not even make the playoffs. To me, that’s a great case for MVP, especially after being shunned and criticized by the media for the past three years.

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook has led his team to the sixth seed after his former teammate, Kevin Durant, left Oklahoma City to join Golden State and play alongside three other NBA All-Stars. A lot of people consider Westbrook the MVP due to the fact he has 42 triple-doubles this season. That is truly amazing, but to ignore what Harden has done in Houston would be absurd.

If we are following the MVP narrative as we have in the past, team success and a chance to contend is part of that award. Unfortunately, the media has moved away from that narrative and suddenly changed the rules to a “numbers” and “triple-doubles” game.

It seems as if the media is looking for the player with the most attractive story. If that is the case, then Russell Westbrook fits the role of the protagonist: All-star teammate Kevin Durant leaves the Thunder to chase rings in Golden State, Westbrook then responds by averaging a triple-double.

The media needs to take into account that they are the ones changing the MVP narrative, not the players. Both Westbrook and Harden are breaking historical records. So who would you choose for MVP, the player with two more rebounds per game or the player that has led his team to NBA title contention?