Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda | 2016-17 MVP

Senior NBA writer Vince Goodwill looks back at the 2016-2017 NBA season and debates whether or not the MVP went to the most deserving player.

Video Transcript

VINCE GOODWILL: Welcome to "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda" where we put the NBA's MVPs under the microscope to see if it holds up to history. Sometimes emotion, sometimes narrative can lead the day, and it affects how the media votes for NBA's MVPs, the most prestigious individual award.

A lot of times it seems foolish. Many times, though, it can make you think someone else should have went home with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Should Jordan have more than five? How about Larry Bird and his three in a row? Should Steve Nash have his two decorated awards at the start of the millennium?

First up, 2017. That's right, the MVP, Russell Westbrook, had his name etched on starting from the day Kevin Durant announced his next chapter was taking him to the Bay Area. We all knew Russ had his eye on the MVP for years anyway, right?

2017 was a historical numerical year for Westbrook-- all those triple-doubles, the spellbinding moments, the box scores that looked unreal. But did he deserve it?

Westbrook was on a mission after Durant shockingly left Oklahoma City following the '15-'16 season, a mission to keep the Thunder relevant and in the playoff picture. He averaged a triple-double for the entire year, a feat unseen since Oscar Robertson accomplished it in the 1960s. 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 42 triple-doubles.

What was his best moment? That's easy, a 50-point triple-double in the season's last week against the Denver Nuggets capped off by a buzzer-beating 3 from well beyond the line.

- Thunder is out of timeouts. Adams gets it back to Russ. Deep shot. [INAUDIBLE]!

VINCE GOODWILL: Denver's fans actually gave him a standing ovation following the aftermath. But who else was in the conversation? How about Kawhi Leonard. It was his first year as the headliner for the Tim Duncanless Spurs. He average a career-high 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and was still coming off his two Defensive Player of the Year awards. He was the game's best two-way player and scoring more for a team that won 61 games and was poised to give the eventual champion Golden State Warriors a nice run in the Western Conference Finals. But then Zaza.

MIKE BREEN: And Leonard goes down again. And he's in pain again in front of the Spurs' bench.

VINCE GOODWILL: Thanks, Zaza. Speaking of that, Kevin Durant was probably the game's best player. He was efficient, mature, and downright unstoppable on the league's most unstoppable team, a nuclear weapon finally deploying at his best considering he was finally away from Westbrook. So many couldn't admit it because Durant shifted the competitive balance going to a team that won a championship in 2015 and won 73 wins the next season. But they needed him as much as he needed them or else the Golden State Warriors would have never won another championship, let alone the one they won in 2017.

The strongest case, though, belongs to the man with the beard in Houston, James Harden. He moved to point guard for the first time in his career and had a monster of a year-- a monster. He led the league in assists, average 29 a game, and averaged 8 rebounds for a 55-win Rockets team. Not the pretty triple-double numbers but still also impressive.

His best moment, 53, 17, 16 against the Knicks at the Garden on New Year's Eve, going 9 of 16 from 3. Yeah, it's the Knicks, but it's still impressive. You can't take that away from him.

Playing for Mike D'Antoni unlocked Harden at his best at the time and five other Rockets averaging double figures that season. Consider this. Besides this year, every MVP played on teams that averaged 64 and 1/2 wins. That's Derrick Rose. That's LeBron. That's Durant. That's Stephen Curry. That's James Harden later and Giannis last season.

Russ's Thunder, 47 wins. Now you can argue he carried the Thunder to those 47, but that roster was not punchless. Steven Adams was coming into his own. Enes Kanter was a load on the offensive end. They acquired Victor Oladipo from Orlando and added Taj Gibson at the deadline.

Precedent was broken in the voting. Since 1980, 50 wins was the mark. Michael Jordan did it in 1988 for a Bulls team that won exactly 50, but consider this. Jordan was also Defensive Player of the Year.

Russ's triple-doubles were seductive. Who knew the number 10 would mean so much? Apparently not so considering he went 5th and 10th in the next two years in MVP voting. His stat hunting was sometimes shameless, and it was impossible for the Thunder to function unless he was orchestrating everything, and I mean everything.

So with the benefit of hindsight, should Russ have gone home with the MVP that season? Nah. Harden's numbers were almost as impressive on a better team by nearly 10 games, and his numbers didn't come at the expense of everybody else succeeding. Harden probably feels he should have three MVPs in his trophy case, and that's the discussion for another day. But 2016-17, that was his best woulda, coulda, shoulda.

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