Through the first quarter of the season, three NBA superstars have had what you would call a season for the ages. James Harden almost became the third player in NBA history to score 35 PPG and over 10 APG in any given month, coming up just short averaging 34.9 PPG and 10.1 APG in November. LeBron James has had his best statistical season of his career, and he’s in his 15th year, and Kyrie Irving has put up the best player efficiency rating in the fourth quarter, officially making him the clutchest player in the NBA. So with all of the athletes having such great season’s the question is, who after 82 games will win the MVP award? Here’s the case to be made for each of the three NBA superstars.
Let’s start with the most significant athlete of all-time, LeBron James. Here’s a guy who has been in his prime for 15 years, longer than the careers of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Just when you thought age might start to take its toll slowly, James has shown you through 24 games just how much of a physical freak he is. Somehow in his 15th season despite accumulating four MVP awards, three finals MVP, three championships and having been to seven-straight finals, The King has yet to relinquish his throne as the greatest basketball player in the world. His dominance and ability for longevity are taken for granted because he’s made it a routine. It has become expected because James makes it look so effortless, but what he’s doing is incredible. LeBron so far through the first quarter of the season has shot 59% from the floor, better than Shaq’s 57.4% FG during his MVP season in 2002 while he was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. It doesn’t stop there, and he also has a better three-point percentage (42%) than Kevin Durant’s MVP year (39.1 percent with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013-14. He has more points per game (28.6) then Kobe’s 28.3 that he recorded in his MVP year in 2007-08 as a Laker. His 8.5 APG is more than Derrick Rose’s 7.7 APG that he put up during his MVP campaign in the 2010-11 season, just his third NBA season with the Chicago Bulls. Those are four players who at the prime of their careers are worse then LeBron is 15 years later, and Kobe, one of the players above on that list ended up winning five rings, so there’s no reason to think James cannot win two maybe even three more. He has played so well this year that I believe when it is all said and done, he will be the unanimous MVP winner, but for now, his closest competitor is James Harden.
Harden this season had one hell of a month in November. During that Calendar month, he averaged 34.9 points-per-game and 10.1 assists-per-game, coming less than a point shy of becoming just the third player in NBA history to average more than 35 PPG and 10 APG in a calendar month. The only two who’ve accomplished this feat are Oscar Robinson and Nate Archibald. This year he’s averaging 31.7 PPG, 9.7 APG, and grabbing 5.1 RPG as well. Harden is averaging the most points-per-game in his career and has improved tremendously on defense, averaging almost two steals-per-game. He has blocked a shot 1.1% of the time, which doesn’t seem like much, but for Harden, a player who usually lacks on the defensive side of the ball, it’s the third-best percentage of blocked shots in his career. His efforts have been a huge reason why the rockets sit third overall in the NBA at 18-4. Don’t count the Houston Rockets out of contention to win a championship, especially with how well their new addition, Chris Paul has meshed with Harden.
Kyrie Irving is on the outside looking in terms of trying to win an MVP. It would be the first of his career, but it won’t come easy, as former teammate LBJ and superstar James Harden currently have a distinct edge over Kyrie. Irving has shown what the Cavs adored so much about through his first 26 games with Boston, and that’s his ability to take over a game in crunch time. Crunch time is defined as the last five minutes of an NBA contest, and during the Celtics 16-game winning streak, no one had a higher player-efficiency-rating in the fourth quarter than Kyrie did. When the score differential was five points or less, Kyrie, shot a ridiculous (24-39) or 61.5 percent from the field, and what’s more impressive is he hasn’t converted a turnover in more than 38 minutes of clutch time this season (according to ESPN’s Chris Forsberg). Additionally, Kyrie scored a total of 65 points, recorded 10 assists, and racked up a PER (player efficiency rating) of 73.6, which would be by far the best of any player over the last 20 years, that is if he can keep up his magician like tendencies during crunch time. (Stats are according to ESPN’s Chris Forsberg). It might be asking a lot to keep up these types of numbers, and most likely Kyrie won’t, but there’s no arguing he’s a clutch player. Just ask the Warriors about how it felt to lose a championship after being up 3-1, and Kyrie sealed the deal with a three-point dagger in the final minutes. My guess is they’ll say what I’ve said, and that is he’s about as clutch as they come.