NBA announced the finalists for the six awards that recognise the best performing players of the 2017-2018 regular season. These include the coveted MVP award, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man Award, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year. The winners will be announced on the 25th June, with the finalists having been chosen via a combination of both a sports writers and broadcasters. Below is Broadsport’s look at who the potential winner of the MVP award will be and a look ahead to the Conference and NBA Finals.
NBA Most Valuable Player Contenders: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), James Harden (Houston Rockets), LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Starting off with the all important one, there is one notable absentee. Last year’s winner and Mr Triple Double himself Russell Westbrook is nowhere to be seen despite yet another similar showing. Perhaps there is a recognition that Westbrook’s inability to guide his Oklahoma City Thunder side past the first round of the play-offs is more of a relevant factor than previously thought. Westbrook may dominate individually but like the others on the list he hasn’t carried his franchise to relative success.
Anthony Davis has been a dominant presence on the glass yet again this year and New Orleans have been accustomed to his alley-oop finishes. He averages a double-double in points and rebounds and stepped up for the team in the absence of an injured DeMarcus Cousins. He may not be as well known as his contemporaries, but the man affectionately known as ‘The Brow’ for his trademark unibrow, is a defensive anchor and will no doubt win the Defensive Player of the Year award. But the MVP award might just elude him this year.
From the Cavs, King LeBron averaged higher than his career figures with an impressive 27.5 points per game to dispel the notion he may have been slowing down. Add that to his 9 assists and 8 rebounds per game, James has ensured the Cavaliers haven’t missed Kyrie Irving as much as they really should have. There’s been such a huge turnover of players that it is remarkable James has led this mismatch team to the NBA Conference Finals and is certainly deserving to be on the list.
Yet, it’s James Harden who looks the early favourite after enjoying another stellar campaign and would have been disappointed to miss out last season. But Harden has come back hard averaging a shade over 30 points per game and fourth in assists with 8.8 per game. His ball handling and perimeter shooting has never been in question but he’s added an extra layer of selflessness that has perhaps caught the eye the most. With the canny addition of point guard Chris Paul, Harden has been allowed to relax and share the workload around and has benefitted no end. He’s fell short at this hurdle twice in the last three years, but it feels like third time might indeed be the charm for the man from the Houston Rockets.
With both conference finals now two games in, neither match-up is going according to script. And that may well be the greatest thing to have happened for the neutral. When the finals were set and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors were again in their respective Conference finals, it felt inevitable that we would be seeing yet another repeat of this classic rivalry. But both the Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets have had other ideas.
The Celtics in particular have been the biggest surprise package of the play-offs. After Gordon Hayward’s season ending injury so early into his Celtic career after his moving from the Utah Jazz, the Celtics were written off. Led by point guard and signing from the Cavs, Kyrie Irving, they defied the odds and made the play-offs. But before the play-offs started Irving was ruled out with injury for the remainder of the regular season and the entire play-offs. The Celtics were written off for the second time. And yet, their younger players including Jayson Tatum who is on the shortlist for Rookie of the Year, stepped up to the plate and cut down the Milwaukee Bucks and ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo to size in the first round before disrupting the Philadelphia 76ers and ‘The Process’ Joel Embiid. With Al Horford holding the team with his experience and stretch shooting, the Celtics have taken advantage of home court advantage and are currently 2-0 in the Conference finals against the Cavaliers. A Celtics win against a LeBron James inspired Cavs, without their two best players Irving and Hayward, may see it go down as one of the greatest NBA upsets of all time.
In the other Conference final, after Golden State snatched Game 1 in Houston and the sighs of disappointment and resignation of another Warriors clean sweep began to creep through, the Rockets produced a stunning shooting performance to blowout them out in Game 2 by 127 to 105. Harden, who seems likely to be awarded the MVP award, was instrumental with a 27 point and 10 rebound double double, and will have to be consistently excellent if they are to defeat the reigning champions. Rockets fans will argue that a win for their side against arguably one of the greatest sides to ever play basketball, and certainly the most potent three point shooting team in history with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, would match any Boston victory. They have their work cut out though after that defeat in Game 1 and will have to produce their best performance of the season to claw that home court advantage back.
All in all, the conference finals have started off promisingly. Just when you thought you were going to see the same old same old again, the underdogs have decided to bark their loudest. Only time will tell if their bite matches it.