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How these top 4 candidates can make a case for the MVP award

What does it mean to be the Most Valuable Player?

Going by its bare definition, it is a thing that is of great worth or something extremely useful or important.

While there are many different concepts and opinions of what it really means to be an MVP and who it should be this season, one thing is certain — this is one of the closest races in the last 10 years of voting, making every vote ultimately of great importance to the eventual recipient of this award.

Some argue it should be the best player, others the one who had the best statistical season, there’s the argument for the player who led his team to the most wins, and also for the gem that does the work at both ends — factoring in all aspects of a win.

Here is a breakdown of how each of these four players could make a case for being the 2016-17 NBA MVP.

Russell Westbrook

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Russell Westbrook:

An undeniable body of work throughout the NBA season, with 37 triple-doubles and countless game-winning performances that have sparked the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 42-31 record and a sixth place in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Westbrook’s brawn has been the one to carry a mostly inexperienced roster through the grind of an 82-game regular season, playing each and every one of the team’s 73 games thus far.

His biggest case for MVP rests in him doing the most with the least, with Victor Oladipo being the only other player in the roster able to get his own shot. An Oklahoma City team without Westbrook’s all-around floor game would be just as good as a bottom-of-the-barrel team in the West.

The historic factor of being the first player to average a triple-double for a season since Oscar Robertson does come into play. Most members of the media would be hard-pressed to let such a historical season pass without it being properly rewarded and remembered, even if OKC doesn’t hold a great chance of winning the NBA championship this season.

Robertson’s lone triple-double season (30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 10.4 assists) in 1961-62 came with him logging 44.3 minutes per game, while Westbrook has done so while playing only 34.7 minutes per game — nearly 10 minutes less per game, making this feat that much more impressive.

Westbrook’s gaudy line of 31.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals will be no joke in the eyes of voters, and neither will his soon-to-be second scoring crown — making him a top notch candidate to get this sought-after award.

james harden

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James Harden:

The Beard has taken his game to another level, not only averaging a career-high 29.3 points per game, but leading the league in assists with 11.4 a game — besting last year’s career-high average by almost four assists per contest.

While the deep-range artillery has undeniably improved with the additions of three-point bombers Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, the pairing of Harden with offensive mastermind coach Mike D’Antoni has been a match made in heaven, taking his game to greater heights.

The Beard is tied for third in the league with a usage rate of 34.1 — making him a key component in the three-or-free Daryl Morey stats-based offense that centers around getting shots close to the basket with a heavy dose of threes attempted per game.

Harden led the Houston Rockets to a 51-23 record, good for third in the West, besting the 41-41 record that saw them as the eighth seed in 2016, eventually losing to the Golden State Warriors in five games.

His greatest claim for this MVP award is the overall improvement of his team in the standings, going from an easy out at the eighth seed to a much more comfortable 3-vs-6 matchup in the first round — taking the Rockets as a real contender in the Western Conference.

Kawhi Leonard

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Kawhi Leonard:

Perhaps the most well-rounded player of the four, able to impact each and every area of the game as a player that excels in offense as well as defense. Leonard has made Tim Duncan‘s retirement a relatively easy transition for the franchise despite some growing pains in the frontcourt to start the season.

The Klaw has taken his offensive game to the next level, going from leading scorer to one of the best in the league. Averages of 26 points per game, along with 5.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.7 blocks make him a five-category stud for an aging San Antonio Spurs roster.

Leonard is the first reigning Defensive Player of the Year to average 26 points per game or more since Hakeem Olajuwon did it in the 1993-94 season and the first non-center to do so since Michael Jordan in 1988-89.

His well-rounded floor game factors into Spurs wins to a much greater effect, given his prowess at both ends of the court — making this his strongest case for MVP consideration.

lebron james

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

LeBron James:

A four-time MVP winner and 10-time First Team All-NBA mention, James is posting the best averages since his return to Cleveland with 26 points per game, along with 8.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game — the last two being career-highs.

James has been the only constant in a Cavaliers team that has had plenty of struggles throughout the season, ranging from contractual impasses to injury and chemistry issues. Yet despite no longer holding the No. 1 seed in the East, the Cavs are still the team with the best championship pedigree to come out of the Eastern Conference.

In his third year back with the team, King James has maximized the talent in his roster despite the constant injuries throughout the season.

Still widely considered the best player in the league, James always has a case when it comes to the Most Valuable Player award and should see some votes this year as well, though the recent team struggles are likely to play a factor in his consideration.

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