Russell Westbrook is the 2016-2017 NBA MVP and, frankly, that is a defensible decision. The Oklahoma City Thunder guard averaged a triple-double over a full NBA regular season and, given the immense workload that Westbrook carried on a nightly basis, it makes all the sense in the world that he would be the MVP. Even beyond that, Houston Rockets guard James Harden, who would have won the MVP award in any “normal” year, put together a historic campaign that honestly deserved more hardware than he received.
With that on the table, Kawhi Leonard should have won the MVP award. No, really, he should have.
This isn’t that wild of an opinion, especially given the fact that many respected voices in the sport (ahem, Zach Lowe) supported his candidacy. Still, this award pursuit seemingly turned in to a two-horse race at some point and even LeBron James (who was snubbed from the three-man finalist field) wasn’t immune to the blow-back of looking at non-Harden, non-Westbrook candidates.
Leonard, though, was the best defensive player on any reasonable ballot and it wasn’t particularly close. Defense is either wildly underrated (by most casual fans) or wildly overrated (by people who believe it is “half” of the sport) and, thus, it is tough to quantify the impact Leonard makes on that end.
Regardless, he is one of the three best defenders in the sport and both Harden and Westbrook struggle mightily in that area. For the record, it is utterly, well, defensible for both Harden and Westbrook to have defensive issues, simply because they carry incredible workloads offensively. In the end, it still matters.