Storyline: MVP Race

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And you, Dwyane Wade, a former Finals MVP, who’s playing his fifth season alongside James. What say you of Antetokounmpo? “Obviously you could tell he’s put in a lot of work to his game,” Wade said. “He’s got the confidence early on from his coach when everyone was saying he couldn’t shoot, he couldn’t do this or that, his coach gave him a lot of confidence and his teammates believed in him. It took his confidence to another level. He’s at that point now where he’s just figuring it out. He’s being nasty. He’s dunking everything down by the rim.”

In a phone interview Saturday, Rockets GM Daryl Morey raised questions about the MVP voting process, which involves a panel of 100 media members casting their votes at the end of the regular season. “I don’t know if this is a good process,” Morey told The Crossover. “The ones that are decided by players or executives or media, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I honestly don’t think there’s a good process. You could argue for eliminating the awards altogether. I don’t really see a good way to do it that doesn’t have major issues. I like clean answers. If there’s not going to be a set criteria and there’s going to be issues with how it’s structured, for me it might be better to not have it.”
5 months ago via ESPN

Westbrook made the 2016-17 season a memorable one, putting his name in NBA record books as only the second player ever, and first since Oscar Robertson in 1962, to average a triple-double. Westbrook also broke Robertson’s record for most triple-doubles in a season with 42. “I remember growing up just being home, playing the video games and stuff with my pops, and my mom sitting there and my brother and just talking about maybe one day I could be the MVP. Obviously I was joking at the time,” Westbrook said. “But now to be standing here with this trophy next to me is a true blessing, man, and it’s an unbelievable feeling, something that I can never imagine.”
6 months ago via VICE

VICE Sports: You’ve mentioned Thomas as a fringe MVP candidate before, where do you think he ranks among point guards in today’s league, and where would he actually land on your MVP ballot? Isiah Thomas: He’s definitely on the MVP ballot, with what he’s done for that Boston franchise, and the type of season that he’s had. His season has been just as good as the Hardens and the Westbrooks of the world. And the LeBrons of the world. You know all those guys have had spectacular seasons and they’ve lifted their teams up to spectacular heights over the course of this NBA season.

Our crowd-sourcing and canvassing has found 62 of the NBA’s 100 first place votes for 2017 MVP. There was no announced list, so we identified the votes and that a voter had a ballot using Twitter, interviews, podcasts, articles and TV broadcasts. And Westbrook will edge Harden. And right now we estimate the MVP race, after 62 first place votes, to be at: Russell Westbrook: 522 James Harden: 456 View our comprehensive spreadsheet of votes and our methodology here A first-place vote speaks the loudest by carrying a three point margin with it. First is worth 10, second 7, third 5, fourth 3 and fifth 1.

Brandon Jennings recently wrote an article for The Players’ Tribune stating you deserve to be this year’s MVP. It seems like the main guys in the debate are Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. Despite your monster season, you haven’t been mentioned much. Does that frustrate or motivate you? John Wall: It just gives me more motivation to get to where I want to be. I want to be on top of that [MVP] list. That’s always going to be a goal for me individually. I ain’t worried about it, though. Those guys are each having a heck of a season too. All I can do is keep improving, keep winning, and eventually I’ll get there.

Stephen Curry: It’s just a matter of how you define MVP. That seems to kind of change from year to year just depending on your preference and what you enjoy watching on the court, what matters most to you in that kind of sense. I said [Harden] probably a month ago on what Houston was projected to do going into the season. But, obviously, I’m not voting on it. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds. What sucks about it is you have to wait so long now [NBA awards show is June 26] for the guys who are in that conversation.

You recently tweeted that Russell Westbrook deserves the MVP award. Is Russ’ campaign the best individual season you’ve ever seen? Blake Griffin: Yes. It almost blows my mind to think that anybody else could win MVP this year. That’s not taking anything away from James [Harden] and Kawhi [Leonard] and LeBron [James] because they’ve had excellent seasons too, but Russ’ production is crazy. And the things that set it apart are their record when he’s had triple-doubles, his PER and his PER in the clutch. As a player, those are all the things you look for – a player who’s going to make his team better, a player that wins games for you and a player who performs when you need him to. I honestly never thought I’d see someone average a triple-double. That’s why Russ’ run has been so mind-blowing. It takes an insane amount of energy to do that. You have to be involved in everything and have such a high motor.

Matt Bonner: Now, as someone who played for Coach Pop for the last 10 years … let me put that into a little perspective. The Spurs’ system is predicated on one of Pop’s favorite sayings: “Good to great.” Translation: Always pass up a merely good shot, or a merely good play, for a great one. Basically — move the ball, make the extra pass, and be unselfish. And since there’s so little ball domination in that system … it makes it pretty impossible for any one player to put up a huge scoring average. Even Tim Duncan — arguably the greatest power forward to ever play the game — never had a season in which he averaged 25.7. And that’s really all you need to know. To me, 25.7 points per game in the Spurs system … that’s like 30 plus on almost any other team.

Matt Bonner: As any sandwich lover knows, a great sandwich lives or dies by its bread. And as any NBA fan knows, defense wins championships. And Kawhi is the best defender in the NBA. This year, to be honest, it’s not even really that close. Kawhi has it all. He’s got the physical attributes — long arms, big hands, strength and quickness. He’s got the mental attributes — an off-the-charts basketball IQ, a next-level understanding of angles, the best sense of anticipation I’ve ever seen. He’s got the work ethic — the drive to absolutely work his butt off, night in and night out, to lock down his man. And he’s got the clutch gene — he quite literally wins games in the fourth quarter on the defensive end.

One player, however, disagrees. James Harden, Westbrook’s chief competition for the league’s top individual award, said people are focusing too much on stats and not enough on wins. He gave his thoughts on the MVP following his own triple-double performance in Sunday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings: “I think [team record is] the most important thing. I thought winning is what this is about — period,” Harden said. “I’m not going to get in-depth with all that, but I thought winning was the most important thing. If you set your team up in a position to have a chance, at the ultimate goal, that’s the most important thing.”

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.’’

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.’’

Around the 1:08:00 mark of the podcast, Lowe gave this critique of Westbrook, who is on the verge of breaking the record for most triple doubles in a season, as well as being the first in 55 years to average a triple double for the season. Lowe: “If you don’t think Russell Westbrook is stat padding his rebounds, you’re just blindfully ignorant or not watching. “He is stat padding his rebounds. So if you really care enough about 2 defensive rebounds to make that the deciding factor in who you vote for, more power to you. If you vote for Westbrook, you should not do it because of the triple double. Period.” Lowe then clarified that he does believe Westbrook is worthy of the MVP award, but for reasons other than the triple-double average. “I might vote for Russell Westbrook. I’m not going to tell you which way I’m leaning, but I might,” Lowe said. “It doesn’t have to matter to you that he is averaging a triple double. That’s not why you should vote for him.

Why does your teammate deserve to be MVP? Ariza on Harden: “He’s top five in scoring, No. 1 in assists, eight rebounds — almost averaging a triple-double. His team is winning. He gives his team unbelievable confidence to go out and perform every night. With all the things he’s doing, I don’t think the league has seen [this] for a very long time. His work ethic is unreal. Unmatched. The type of person he is, he’s all about basketball. And he’s been doing since I’ve been here, the past three seasons. He’s been very consistent about the way he carries this team.”

Ariza on Harden’s infamous defense: “Everybody has something that they have to work on. To me, I think that he’s improved in that area a lot. It’s not like people are out here having career nights every night against him. This is the NBA, so players are going to play well and have good nights, but it’s not like people are having career nights on him every night or even any of the time. And he’s improved in that area, if we’re talking statistically or defensive possessions.”

Adams on Westbrook’s high turnovers and low shooting percentage: “It isn’t just him in terms of turnovers. You can’t just blame it on him. Honestly, there’s times where — it’s still a turnover if it hits me and I’m not ready for the pass or cannot catch the ball. That’s still his turnover, which is not actually the case. It’s not actually his fault that it happens. Probably just lack of focus or awareness on his end. But either way, mate, in terms of efficiency, he’s doing the best job that he can. No one else can do his job. No one else can come into the Thunder and do what he’s doing at the rate that he’s doing it at. In terms of efficiency, he’s doing a perfect job, I think.”

“I think it’s comical that people were saying I’m having a down year,” Curry said. “To go black and white and say I’m not having as good a season as I was having last year based on just five points a game or shooting percentage or whatnot…there are other things that you try to do other than just the eye test to try and help your team win. This year has taught me that, for sure. The accolades and the attention and all that stuff, the hype is cool. But it’s really how you feel about your own game.

No one knows better than Curry that there is an individual gauge for how much a superstar wants to pour into the regular season. He also understands that that NBA MVP award is all wrapped up in storylines. “The narratives kind of take form in December of who’s winning, and it kind of takes a life of its own from there,” Curry said. “If you’re not in that conversation in December, it’s really hard to make up that ground with whatever accomplishments you’re making.

The NBA’s first awards show will be held June 26 at Basketball City at Pier 36 in Manhattan. The league will announce the winner of the MVP and its other major awards during the show, which will be televised live on TNT. The Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man Award, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year will be announced during the NBA Awards Show. The league says Monday that it will announce new awards that will be unveiled during the telecast in the coming months.
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November 23, 2017 | 7:05 pm EST Update
Joel Embiid is arguably one of the best players in the NBA. The 76ers center is one of five players to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Yet, he’ll tell you that he’s more than a double-double machine. “Not to be cocky, but I think I’m the best defensive player in the league right now,” Embiid said following Wednesday night’s 101-81 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. His comment came in response to being asked how good can he become, defensively. I’m still getting better,” Embiid added. “My blocks are a little down [compared to last season] I’m a better rebounder this year.”
A growing question inside the Trail Blazers’ early season has been the noticeable drop off in production from Maurice Harkless. The Blazers’ starting small forward is not scoring. He’s not rebounding. He’s not producing much of anything these days “I just feel like I’m just out there to be out there … I don’t know,’’ Harkless said Wednesday. “I’m just out there, and that’s frustrating,’’ Harkless said. “I’m just out there playing defense, which is cool … running back and forth. Out there running track.’’
Harkless, for his part, says he wants to contribute more, but is not sure how he can in this offense. “We gotta figure out ways … not only me, but ways to get other people going,’’ Harkless said. “Every game it’s the same thing … we play through three people.’’ Harkless was referring to guards Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic, who have combined to take 57 percent of the team’s shots this season. “Everybody else is just …. It’s hard to get into a rhythm,’’ Harkless said. “It’s that simple.’’
November 23, 2017 | 2:33 pm EST Update