The NBA announced the top three vote-getters for its individual awards on Friday. The list for Most Valuable Player was Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.
The NBA shouters on television responded with the traditional yelp: “LeBron James is the best player in the world. He is the MVP every year!”
James has four MVP awards (2009, ’10, ’12, ’13) and it was the first time since 2008 he wasn’t among the top three.
The fact the list came out with the Cavs steamrolling through the Eastern Conference playoffs and LeBron playing in marvelous fashion gave extra volume to the shouts.
We get this in every sport: MVP information is announced with the playoffs fresh in mind, and there’s a clamor that postseason stardom proved such-and-such was the “real MVP.”
Wrong. These are regular-season awards. The votes must be in before the first playoff game.
Once again in 2016-17, LeBron was not the MVP of the regular season. He was fourth in the voting; I would have had him fifth, behind Westbrook, Harden, Leonard and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas.
The over-and-under on team wins in the sports books before the season had Cleveland at 56.5. LeBron and the Cavaliers put it in neutral for several weeks and finished at 51-31, and two games behind Boston in the East.
The difference in talent between the teams is now being demonstrated as the Cavaliers blow out Boston in the East finals. You want to tell me LeBron did more to get the Cavs to 51 wins than did Thomas to get the Celtics to 53?
The win-total forecasts were 58.5 for San Antonio, 44 for Houston and 43.5 for Oklahoma City. Pau Gasol turned out to be stiff for the Spurs and Westbrook had less help in OKC than anticipated.
Still, the Spurs won 61 mostly due to Leonard, the Thunder won 47 completely due to Westbrook and Houston won 55 as Harden led the leap to third in the West.
The MVP is a regular-season award, and the voters got it right (assuming Westbrook wins).
PATRICK'S PLUS THREE
Other notes on NBA awards:
• The NBA’s first MVP was selected in 1956 (St. Louis’ Bob Pettit). The Minneapolis Lakers never had an official MVP, with their dynastic run ending in 1954.
• Elgin Baylor, the Lakers superstar who played his first two seasons in Minneapolis, never won an MVP award. I demand a recount.
• Two of the three finalists for the 2017 Sixth Man Award, Lou Williams and Eric Gordon, played for Houston. As NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner observed, that math doesn’t work.
Read Patrick Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.