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There Is No Wrong Answer to NBA's MVP Question

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 29, 2015

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

This season's NBA MVP race has almost everything: shooters, slashers and defensive stoppers; explosive athletes and crafty skill players; established elites and soaring stars.

But the one thing this field doesn't have is a favorite. And that's true regardless of what Daryl Morey, Kevin Love, Draymond Green or the thousands of others who have chimed on the subject seem to think.

Players, executives, analysts and fans can all vigorously defend their choice for who should walk away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy at year's end. Compelling arguments can be made on no fewer than six candidates: Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.

And all of those explanations are right in their own way.

Take Harden, for instance. Where would the Houston Rockets be without the Bearded One masterfully holding this offense together through radical roster changes and a slew of injuries? Dead in the water according to Morey, Houston's general manager.

"Take James Harden off our team, and we're nowhere," Morey said in late February, per Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman.

James Harden's Quantifiable Impact on Houston
SituationOffensive RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating
With Harden107.4101.1Plus-6.3
Without Harden92.797.5Minus-4.8
Overall103.8100.2Plus-3.6
NBA.com

In layman's terms, the Rockets play like the league's third-most efficient team when Harden is on the floor. When he's not, Houston's efficiency is a shade below the 25th-ranked Sacramento Kings.

Throw in the way the Rockets fared over the two months they were without eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard because of a knee injury—17-9, tied for ninth in efficiency—and it's easy to see why the Harden camp thinks he's the obvious choice.

But widening the lens to all six candidates shows the decision is far from that simple.

Curry's case has been filed away under the familiar "best player on the best team" label. Technically, the description fits. He's easily been the most productive player on the league-leading Golden State Warriors.

But the oversimplified title shortchanges Curry quite a bit. He's more than Golden State's best player; he's by far the Warriors' most important one. The Dubs go from outscoring opponents by 17.5 points per 100 possessions with him to outscoring them by only 0.9 points per 100 possessions without him.

That 16.6-point gap is larger than the one separating the top-ranked Warriors from the lottery-bound Kings (16.5). The chaos Curry's historically accurate three-point cannon creates sends defenses several steps beyond their breaking point.

There is no manual on how to stop a guy who can (and will) shoot from anywhere at any time.

"What he does for this team, he's the most valuable player," Green said of Curry, per Bay Area News Group's Diamond Leung. "To be the No. 1 player on the No. 1 team, that says a lot about an MVP to me, so I don't think it's close at all."

But if we're talking about the league's most valuable player, how can we not discuss the player who's been honored as such four times in his career?

No, LeBron James' numbers aren't quite as crazy as some he's posted in the past. But he's still excelling at the main ones that have traditionally defined value.

Like the Cleveland Cavaliers' 28-8 record since he returned from his two-week sabbatical—the second-highest winning percentage during that stretch. Or the swing of 16.2 points per 100 possessions that occurs when James takes a seat.

"LeBron James is the best player in our league in my opinion, and probably in the opinion of many, if not most," Cavs coach David Blatt said, per Pro Basketball Talk's Brett Pollakoff. "And LeBron James is our MVP."

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers returns to the court behind Head Coach David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers during a 109-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on January 15, 2015 in Los Angeles,
Harry How/Getty Images

But when Love, James' teammate and Blatt's starting power forward, was asked on The Dan Patrick Show if James or Westbrook was having a better season, Love went with his old UCLA running mate.

Love didn't give Westbrook a runaway victory by any stretch, but he still had the fiery point guard pulling out a narrow victory, via ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:

They're both having MVP-type seasons, but I'm going to go with Russell Westbrook because every single night you're looking at his stat sheet, they're fighting for a playoff spot even with Serge Ibaka going down now, Kevin Durant potentially being out the rest of the year and [Westbrook] still going out there and really fighting for his team and them winning and fighting for that seventh and eighth spot in the playoffs. I think Russ is arguably having the better season.

Westbrook's tour de force has been an incredible sight to see. Over his last 27 games—which Durant, now officially shut down for the season, appeared in only six of—Westbrook has averaged 30.6 points, 9.9 assists and 8.5 rebounds.

Gamers rarely post numbers like those, let alone actual NBA players. In fact, the only player in league history to hit those marks for an entire season is Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

Westbrook's stats surpass the threshold of absurdity. But every dog in this race has enjoyed his share of box-score brilliance.

Break out a measuring tape or hold up a magnifying glass; you'll still struggle to find significant separation in the stats.

All the numbers really show is that these six players are the ones who belong in the discussion. They each rank among the top seven in both player efficiency rating and ESPN.com's real plus-minus. They're all masters of their respective crafts.

Davis paces all players in PER and blocks (3.0). Westbrook currently leads the scoring race. Harden has a wide advantage in free throws made (621) and attempted (717). Curry has more triples (247) and steals (149) than anyone. Paul is closing in on the fourth assist crown of his career.

And James is still James—best player on the planet until proved otherwise.

With so little time left on the schedule and so many names still in the discussion, this is one of the greatest MVP races this generation of hoop heads has witnessed.

"Probably," ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh wrote when asked if it's the best he's ever seen. "Not to be a prisoner of the moment, but we have just so many players performing at a high level this season. For example, there are eight players with a PER over 25 this season, tied for the most in any season. In 2000-01, there were two."

That's why the answer to this season-long question really doesn't matter. Rather than tear candidates down to thin the field, fans should collectively raise them up and appreciate what's taking place.

Six different players have reasons to like their chances. No matter who takes home the hardware, it's sure to land in the hands of a deserving candidate.

Maybe this race isn't missing anything, then. The lack of a consensus favorite has created the perfect recipe of intrigue, excitement and suspense that will power fans through the final leg of this marathon.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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