NBA Most Valuable Player Finalists Annouced: The Case for Harden, James, and Davis

Yesterday, the NBA announced the three finalists for the league's Most Valuable Player Award. This year's finalists were James Harden from the Houston Rockets, LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans.

Without a doubt, each one has had a significant impact on their team's success this season and it should be a close race. Today, we analyze the case that can be made for each of the three finalists and my pick for this year's NBA Most Valuable Player.

PF LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James is without a doubt the best player in the league. He already has four MVPs under his belt in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. Should he win it this year, it would be his fifth NBA MVP which would tie him with Michael Jordan and Bill Russell for second-most all time. James played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career and led the Cavaliers to a record of 50-32 which put them fourth in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland was a streaky team this season, but LeBron James was about as consistent as you could get. He averaged 27.5 points per game and played an average of 36.9 minutes per game. Without LeBron, the Cleveland Cavaliers would likely have been a lower seeded playoff team or watching the playoffs from home. This was a team that traded away Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets' first-round pick.

When it became clear that these pieces were not working out for the Cavs, they traded away Thomas and Crowder for Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, and Rodney Hood in an effort to get younger. After the trade, the Cavaliers finished the season 19-12 and were in the playoffs as James has a shot to go to the NBA Finals for an eighth straight season. Needless to say, this Cavaliers team has been in turmoil throughout the season, but LeBron James has been able to keep them on track. His leadership and dominance on the court throughout the season not only helped his team tremendously, but it also helped his case for MVP.

SG James Harden, Houston Rockets

From the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 with the Oklahoma City Thunder to the leader of the Houston Rockets, James Harden has come a long way. He has been a runner-up for the league MVP twice during his career both last season and in the 2014-2015 season. The six-time All-Star helped lead the Houston Rockets to the best record in the NBA at 65-17, overtaking the Golden State Warriors for the top seed in the Western Conference. Harden set a career high of 30.4 points per game this season which led the NBA, but played in just 72 games. He missed some time due to a strained left hamstring and sore left knee. During the regular season, the Rockets went 6-4 in games he missed, 6-3 if you discount the final game of the season in which starters rested. Regardless, even though he only played in 72 games his impact on the court cannot be discounted.

This Rockets team as a whole improved with the signing of Chris Paul, but the heart and soul of the team was James Harden. Without him on the court, the Rockets may not have won 10 more games than last season and been the top seed in the Western Conference. Harden is vying for his first ever NBA Most Valuable Player Award, but could very well wind up finding himself as the runner-up for a third year.

PF Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis had a sixth year to remember in the NBA. Davis made his fifth straight NBA All-Star Game, set career highs in multiple categories, and led the New Orleans Pelicans to their first playoff appearance since the 2014-2015 season. He played in 75 games which tied a career high, played a career high 36.4 minutes per game, shot a career best 34% from three-point range and 82.8% from the free throw line, and averaged 28.1 points per game a career high that trailed only fellow finalist James Harden for most points per game. When the Pelicans lost DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending achilles injury, all seemed to be lost for New Orleans in their pursuit to make the playoffs. Sitting with a record of 27-21, the Pelicans were sixth in a tight Western Conference. Davis missed just one game throughout the remainder of the season and helped lead the Pelicans to the sixth seed in the West at 48-34.

In the final 34 games, the Pelicans went 21-13, a stretch that included a 10-game win streak along the way and a five-game win streak to end the season. A big reason for the Pelicans success after the Cousins injury was Anthony Davis. He was key during the stretch in leading the Pelicans to a playoff appearance, scoring more than 20 points in 29 of the final 33 games he played during the regular season. He averaged a double-double per game during the regular season with 28.1 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game. His leadership for the Pelicans was crucial to getting them to the playoffs after a year that seemed lost due to Cousins injury.

The MVP Vote Goes To...

The ability for each player to command an immense amount of leadership for their respective teams is impressive as is. But for me, what Anthony Davis did for the Pelicans this season had to be the most impressive. No doubt LeBron James had an amazing season, but his team did not remain constant throughout the entire year as they shipped off players to get younger talent. Following the Cousins injury, the only trade New Orleans made was for Rashad Vaughan from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Dante Cunningham which does not help fill the void Cousins injury left down low. The Pelicans roster stayed constant, forcing New Orleans and Davis to work with what they had, something they ended up excelling at doing.

No doubt James Harden had a great year as well, but he also had the supporting cast of Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and Trevor Ariza to assist the team along the way. While Davis and the Pelicans had role players as well, they were Nikola Mirotic, Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, and E'Twuan Moore. In my opinion, the Rockets boasted more quality depth to fall back on, something I do not think the Pelicans had as much of. In what was supposed to be a season in which New Orleans took a step forward, Davis helped lead the Pelicans to a playoff appearance after an crucial injury that could have derailed the team. For these reason, Anthony Davis has my vote for the NBA Most Valuable Player Award for the 2017-2018 NBA season.

Prediction: PF Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

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