We are more than halfway through the 2016-2017 NBA season and all-star weekend is behind us.
It has been an interesting year for basketball, but perhaps the most intriguing topic this season is the race for NBA MVP honors.
The favorites in the running are James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Westbrook is averaging a triple-double and carrying the Kevin Durant-less Thunder who currently sit at a respectable seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
Meanwhile, Harden is putting up some otherworldly statistics himself with season averages of 28.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game.
He’s also leading a not so star-studded Houston Rockets roster to the number three overall seed in the Western Conference.
These two are clearly the front-runners to be awarded the MVP come season’s end, but Kevin Durant deserves the title.
Even though Durant left the Thunder, the franchise that drafted him 10 years ago when they were the Supersonics, to go play with the reigning MVP Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
The same Warriors team that won a league record 73 games and had their backs against the wall in the 2016 Western Conference Finals against Durant’s team before rattling off three straight victories to win the series in seven games.
The man who left a good situation for an even better one, and as a result has gotten a lot of ridicule for taking the easy way out.
The truth is, there is no such thing as the easy way out.
It undoubtedly would have been tougher for Durant to stay with the Thunder and try to get through teams like the Warriors and the Spurs in the playoffs, but what player isn’t looking for the best opportunity to win?
Especially a player like Durant, who is one of the greatest scorers the game has seen and is in danger of never winning a championship.
Also, as seamless as Durant’s transition has been with his new teammates and new organization, that’s more of a testament to how great of a player he is.
The reality of the situation is that Durant did not join the best team in the league to ride their coattails all the way to the NBA Finals. The Warriors are a lot different than last year’s 73-win juggernaut.
They surrendered a lot of assets and valuable bench pieces in order to acquire the perennial all-star. It has become obvious this season that Durant is the Warriors’ best player, with the reigning unanimous MVP in Stephen Curry taking somewhat of a backseat.
Despite all of the changes this team has endured, they’re still yet again the best team in the league, on pace for another 70-win season.
Harden and Westbrook are having phenomenal seasons. In fact, they are posting mind-boggling stats that the NBA doesn’t see often. However, the numbers that Durant is putting up in Golden State are nothing to scoff at.
Durant is averaging 26.3 points per game, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.7 assists according to ESPN. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like it compares to Westbrook’s season averages of 30.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 10.2 assists.
According to Yahoo Sports, Westbrook turns the ball over an average of 5.5 times per game. That’s more than double Durant’s average of 2.3 turnovers.
Something else that’s impossible to ignore is Durant’s incredible scoring efficiency this season. He is shooting nearly 55 percent from the field, which is easily a career high for the gifted scorer, and nearly 13 percent better than his ex-teammate.
Durant has taken on some new responsibilities with this team as well.
Whatever rim protection the Warriors had last season is gone as a result of signing Durant. The 6’11” small forward has taken it upon himself to control the painted area, averaging career highs in both rebounds and blocked shots, according to Fox Sports.
The NBA MVP has traditionally been awarded to the best player on the best team. Durant plays on the best team in the NBA and is clearly their best player. Despite Harden and Westbrook’s herculean efforts they have put forth this year, it’s Kevin Durant who is truly the MVP of the 2016-2017 NBA season.
Michael Alessandro is a junior journalism major from Charlotte, North Carolina