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Venkataraman: Looking at the NBA MVP field

The NBA regular-season MVP debate is generally one of the most heated arguments that anyone can get involved in.

With the exception of a few truly transcendent accomplishments that are universally acclaimed and heralded, most seasons devolve into the same tried and true arguments about what it truly means to be the MVP.

The safest bet is often for the best player on the best team or for the player with the most absurd regular-season statistics; filling out the runner-up spots are the sabermetric darlings, the quietly brilliant players who were overlooked, the young guns who appear to be stepping towards greatness, and finally, the guys who have either won before or been consistently excellent for a long time.

This season, the race seems tighter than usual. In no particular order, you have Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and a whole host of other viable candidates for a single award. Fuel, meet fire. Let’s run down each player’s claim to fame and see what we can make of their case for MVP, shall we?

Stephen Curry: The stereotypical best player on the best team. His scoring is up on a per-minute basis, he rebounds, he passes extraordinarily well and most importantly, you MUST put a body on him the second he crosses half-court. Few other players evoke as much terror as Stephen Curry when his shot is on, and this season, it has been on as often as the PlayStation 4 in my room (which is quite often).

He has also reinvented himself as a plus defender, doing enough to stay in front of his man and picking pockets like the Artful Dodger. Did I mention he broke his own record for 3-pointers in a single season and consistently flirted with a 50-percent field-goal percentage, 40-percent 3-point percentage, and 90-percent free-throw percentage season? And he led the Golden State Warriors to a league-leading 67-15 regular-season record in the wild, wild Western Conference. Simply, wow.

James Harden: Love or hate his style of play, you can’t deny its effectiveness. Harden, surrounded by a supporting cast that appears to be decaying before our eyes, dragged the Houston Rockets to the second seed out west, an achievement that seems even more ridiculous when you realize that Dwight Howard hasn’t been Superman since that time he won the dunk contest, Patrick Beverley is playing significant minutes and you can’t name a single other player on the Rockets’ roster. Yes, his style of play is infuriating, featuring flailing limbs, heavy flopping action and a disdain for defense that is (thankfully) an order of magnitude less severe than it was last season, but still severe. Yes, it is irritating to see him exploit the two “inefficiencies” in league (free throws and three-point shooting). But Harden, for all his frustrating tendencies, is easily one of the top three players in the game today, and his season has been nothing short of magnificent.

Russell Westbrook: Conventional wisdom suggests that a player who misses significant time due to injury cannot possibly compete for an MVP award. But conventional wisdom has seldom applied to Westbrook, who stormed his way onto the MVP scene with a triple-double bonanza that spanned many months.

Admittedly, Russ still shoots too much, and his usage rate is on par with the biggest chuckers in the entire NBA. But his manic style of play, particularly in the absence of Kevin Durant, was pretty much the only thing keeping the snakebitten Oklahoma City Thunder alive and in the playoff hunt until the final day of the regular season. You cannot possibly blink when Westbrook has the ball, because you may miss something fantabulous. It truly is a shame that he won’t be facing the Warriors in the first round, because anything that lets Russell Westbrook continue to play absurd basketball is a position I can get behind.

Anthony Davis: It is altogether fitting that Davis’ clutch game-winning jumper over Kevin Durant against the Thunder is what got the New Orleans Pelicans into the playoffs and kept the Thunder out, because Davis has blossomed into a bona fide star in this league. His player efficiency rating (PER) numbers, when put into a historic context, are quite literally in rare company, on par with some of the greatest individual seasons ever.

And if you want to make a case for a player dragging his team into the playoffs, Davis is your guy. He has a marketable facial feature (his unibrow), a developing mid-range game, insane hops and utterly annihilates opponents on the defensive side of the ball. Davis probably won’t win the award, but he will be in the conversation for years to come.

LeBron James: Ah, you thought I forgot about King James, didn’t you? By his own exalted standards, this season was fairly ho-hum, with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers failing to gel until the midseason trades for Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. He also took a nice, relaxing midseason break, during which his home-state squad faltered mightily. However, LeBron is still by and large the best player in the NBA, although the gap appears to be closing rapidly as age catches up to a guy who has played a patently absurd number of minutes over the course of his career.

Unfortunately for LeBron, the MVP award does not always go to the best player in the league, especially when voter fatigue sets in and people get tired of voting for the same guy over and over again. But LeBron’s already got MVP trophies — I think his sights are set on an NBA championship for Cleveland.

So, you may wonder, who am I voting for? I’m going with Steph Curry, for a few very simple reasons: Firstly, I am a Warriors fan and a huge homer. Secondly, he is my favorite player in the league and does things on a nightly basis that are positively inhuman (see: 77 threes in a row and 94 out of 100 threes overall during practice a few days ago).

Finally, I think he has had the most significant impact on any team in the league, leading the Warriors to one of the best point differentials of all time and putting them in rare company in terms of wins on the season. Curry is my MVP…but I’ll gladly listen to your arguments for why someone else should be.

Vignesh Venkataraman recently finished second in Daily columnist MVP voting to Nic Radoff, who posterized Viggy with a monster dunk in the season finale despite his meager 5-foot-8 frame (on a good day). For photos of the moment that will follow Viggy around for as long as he lives, ask him at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Vignesh Venkataraman

Vignesh Venkataraman

Vignesh Venkataraman (or Viggy, if you prefer) writes weekly columns for the Daily, unless he forgets. He is a computer science and mechanical engineering double major, with an unofficial minor in watching sports. Born in Boston but raised in Cupertino, CA, Vignesh is a diehard New England Patriots fan and has adopted the Golden State Warriors as his favorite basketball team. He was the backup quarterback for his high school football team and called Stanford football games on KZSU in 2014.