NBA on Sling: Breaking Down the Midseason MVP Race

Jan 17, 2017 by Sling Staff

You have to go back to 2011 to find a year in which the voters parted ways with the stat nerds on the MVP award. That year, Derrick Rose took home the trophy, despite ranking sixth in the league in win shares per 48 minutes with .208. Rose was a hometown boy made good, leading the Bulls to a league-high 62 wins, and the writers had gotten sick of handing out the LBJ award. It came right in the middle of LeBron James’ run of four MVPs in five seasons, a time when he also led the league in WS/48 each season.

So the WS/48 leaderboard seems like a good place to start out search for this season’s MVP, and atop the heap is none other than Chris Paul at .295, followed by Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Rudy Gobert, Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter (!), Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook.

Leonard won’t win because too much of his value is on the defensive end, and for all their claims that defense wins championships, writers clearly don’t believe it wins MVPs. Antetokounmpo won’t win because Milwaukee. The last time an MVP winner average fewer points than Gobert’s 12.3 ppg was in the year nineteen-hundred and never, and the same goes for Jokic. Kanter? Stop it. Hayward does everything well, nothing amazingly. Thomas has raised his game to the next level, with career highs in shots, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and points, and he doesn’t have a ton of help, but Boston’s on pace to win just 52 games, which doesn’t feel very MVP. Nobody seems to take the Raptors seriously, despite they’re being on pace for another 55-win season, so there’s no reason to think they’ll take Lowry seriously.

That leaves us with the big dogs: Paul, Durant, Harden, Butler, LeBron, Curry and Westbrook. Curry and LeBron are obviously out, as neither is playing anywhere near their MVP-peak, and Curry has been relegated to being his team’s second-best player. Love me some Jimmy Butler, but you don’t win an MVP while playing for a .500 team.

Among true point guards (sorry, Andre Iguodala), Paul has the best turnover-to-assist ratio in the game, at 4.06, is tops in steals per game and steals per minute, but his 18-5-10 averages just aren’t eye-popping, and the Clippers remain on a year’s-long slog of unmet potential and expectations.

Nobody could’ve guessed that Durant’s joining the Warriors would serve as a reminder of just how truly great he is but here we are. KD leads the team in scoring, blocks, field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, and minutes. And after his team honored the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy by putting a 126-91 hurt on the Cavs, the Warriors’ point differential is +12.6, putting them on pace to break to mark set by the ‘71-’72 Lakers. But it’s hard to be voted MVP when you’re on a “super team,” unless you’re shattering records or changing the shape of the game, the way Curry did the previous two seasons.

Really it come down to Westbrook vs. Harden, two former teammates who are among the most dynamic, explosive and frenetic players the game has ever seen. On Sunday they became the first duo since at least 1978 to each record a triple-double with 7 assists on the same day – that’s just the type of game these two play.

Russell Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double, with 31-11-10, as he continues to chase Oscar Robertson, the only man to do it for an entire season, back in ‘61-’62 – in fact Robertson averaged a triple-double for the first five seasons of his career. But his Thunder are limping along at 25-18 without Durant around to lead the charge, and though Westbrook has picked up a big part of the slack, it’s come with a price, as his field goal percentage is at a seven-year low, and his turnovers are up 25% over last year.

Harden recently reached 1,000 points and 500 assists in just his 43rd game, joining Tiny Archibald and Oscar Robertson for the second-fewest games to reach that mark. And Harden has the Rockets winning games at the fastest clip in team history, their .744 winning percentage besting even Hakeem Olajuwon’s ‘92-’93 squad that won the title. The turnaround in Houston has been due a number of factors: the departure of Dwight Howard, and the arrival of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, as well as head coach Mike D’Antoni, but Harden’s ability to elevate his game this year has been huge.

Harden’s got the advantage, but if Westbrook manages to finish the season averaging a triple-double, it’s gonna be awfully hard for the voters to ignore the shiny pretty thing they’ve never seen before.


Milwaukee Bucks (20-20) vs Houston Rockets (32-11)
8pm ET on ESPN

Oklahoma City Thunder (25-18) vs Golden State Warriors (35-6)
10:30pm ET on ESPN


Washington Wizards (21-19) vs New York Knicks (18-24)
8pm ET on TNT

Minnesota TImberwolves (14-27) vs Los Angeles Clippers (29-14)
10:30pm ET on TNT


Golden State Warriors (35-6) vs Houston Rockets (32-11)
8pm ET on ESPN

Indiana Pacers (21-19) vs Los Angeles Lakers (15-30)
10:30pm ET on ESPN


San Antonio Spurs (31-9) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (29-11)
8:30pm ET on ABC

Watch the NBA on ESPN by subscribing to Sling Orange, on TNT by subscribing to Sling Blue, or on ABC in select markets subscribing to Sling Orange + Broadcast Extra

All stats courtesy ESPN and Basketball Reference.

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