What had been looking like the best MVP race in years may not even be competitive at this juncture. Based on our ESPN Forecast survey results, the award will go to Stephen Curry, barring a miraculous end to the season by James Harden. Furthermore, it appears Russell Westbrook has little shot at the trophy.
When asked this question -- “Who WILL win the MVP?” -- 80.5 percent of respondents voted for Curry, 18.3 percent voted for Harden and 1.2 percent for Westbrook. Harden garnered more support on the question of “Who SHOULD win the MVP?” -- getting 32.9 percent of the vote to Curry’s 52.4 percent. It appears that many of those who believe Harden to be deserving, even after his 51-point performance against Sacramento on Wednesday night, also believe that Curry will win anyway.
How did this happen? It’s mostly about what Curry and the Warriors are doing of late. In the month of March, the Warriors lost only two times -- one loss coming on a Jarrett Jack game winner and the other attributable to Kerr resting starters against Denver. In that same month, Curry hit 75 3-pointers in a mere 17 games, doing so at a staggering 51.7 percent clip.
The Warriors claim the best point differential since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls to go along with a 10.5-game lead in the Western Conference. The Most Valuable Player award traditionally goes to a top-seeded team, and Golden State is having a historically great season.
Harden has the edge on Curry in minutes played but lags slightly in advanced statistics such as PER, real plus-minus, win shares per 48 minutes and net rating. There is an argument to be made that Harden’s aggregate stats amount to more because he plays more minutes. The counterargument is that Curry shouldn’t be punished for missing 16 fourth quarters on account of the Warriors killing the competition.
It’s difficult to find bad things to say about Harden’s fantastic season, but this might be slightly hurting his MVP push: Before his 51-point explosion against the Kings, he was on a 21-game streak of hitting fewer than half his shots. Of course, Rockets fans -- and GM Daryl Morey, who declined to comment on these recent poll results -- would be quick to point out that their candidate usually makes up for off shooting nights with free throws and 3s.
In any event, such arguments are probably moot. MVP voters reward the primary player on historically successful teams, with few exceptions. Harden has had a fantastic season, but as impressive as winning 50-plus games with an injury depleted roster is, it’s likely not enough in this particular season. Unless he has a few more 50-point games in him, the Beard is likely stuck at second.