Before you make your betting pick on who will win the Bill Russell Award as the most valuable player in these NBA Finals, you need to ask yourself one question:
Do I think this guy will someday be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame?
The list of past NBA Finals MVPs is a who’s who of basketball. Jordan. LeBron. Kobe. Wade. Duncan. O’Neal. Olajuwon. And that’s just the last 25 years.
In fact, of all the Hall of Fame-eligible players to ever be named Finals MVP (the award dates back to 1969, though it became known as the Bill Russell Award in 2009), only one – Cedric Maxwell in 1981 – has not been inducted into the Hall.
Steph Curry may only be 29 years old, but he’s already put together a resume that is worthy of inclusion in Springfield. Especially if the Warriors beat the Cavaliers to give him his second NBA title in three years.
But that’s not the only reason I like Curry to win the award. I like the Warriors to win the series (Jerry West is the only NBA Finals MVP in history whose team lost the series), and I like their top scorer to make a statement of his own. For a two-time defending regular season MVP, Curry has got a lot to prove.
Here’s more of my argument for why Curry will win the 2017 Bill Russell Award, along with a look at the other contenders for NBA Finals MVP and their current odds at Bovada.
Steph Curry (+230)
Kevin Durant wasn’t on the Golden State team that choked away the 3-1 series lead last year. Curry was the figurehead of that squad, and he probably feels like he was a big reason that series got away from the Warriors.
The sharpshooter was an embarrassing 6-for-19 in Game 7 of that series, including 4 of 14 from 3-point range, and managed just 17 points. In Game 5, Curry shot 8 of 21 from the field. Of the 22 players in history to appear in the Finals in the same season as winning regular season MVP, Curry’s scoring average and field goal percentage in the Finals ranked dead last.
Curry also struggled in the 2015 Finals, turning the ball over 28 times in the 6-game series. If you take away a 37-point performance in Game 5, he averaged 23.8 points per contest in those Finals, hardly an MVP-caliber performance. It’s a big reason why Andre Iguodala was able to become the first-ever NBA Finals MVP not to start every game in the series.
Another clunker in these Finals and Curry will become known as a bit of a choke artist. After deferring to Durant a bit on offense at the start of the year, Steph has taken over the bulk of the scoring again, averaging a team-high 28.6 points per game in the playoffs. Look for him to make a statement in this series.
LeBron James (+220)
The Cavaliers aren’t favored to win this series, but LeBron heads the favorites for NBA Finals MVP because if Cleveland does win, it’ll almost definitely be on James’ back.
James and Kyrie Irving basically split up the scoring chores for the Cavs during the regular season, with James averaging 26.4 points per game and Irving not far behind at 25.2. However, in the playoffs, the Cleveland offense has relied much more heavily on The King. He’s averaging 32.5 points per contest in the postseason, 8 more points per game than Irving, who ranks second on the Cavs.
Scoring average seems to be what NBA Finals MVP voters pay attention to the most. When the leading scorer in the finals has been a member of the winning team, he’s claimed the MVP award 22 straight times.
Not that James is a one-trick pony. He also leads the Cavaliers in assists per game in the playoffs (7) and is third in rebounds (8). Don’t forget about his defense, either. LeBron has averaged a team-high 2.2 steals per contest in the playoffs, and who can forget his incredible block to set up Irving’s game-winning shot in Game 7 last year?
Kevin Durant (+220)
Durant winning the NBA Finals MVP in his first year after joining the Warriors would be a storybook ending for the former Oklahoma City Thunder superstar.
He’s more than capable of providing the scoring numbers. Durant put up 30.6 points per game in a losing cause for the Thunder in his only career appearance in the Finals, when OKC lost 4-1 to LeBron and the Miami Heat.
Durant has taken a bit more of a limited scoring role in this postseason, averaging 25.2 points per game. If he starts taking more shots in the Finals, that scoring average could go up quickly, with Durant shooting a torrid 55.6% from the field and 41.7% from 3-point range this spring.
He’ll definitely be motivated. Durant got a ton of criticism for his decision to join the Golden State super team, and he’d love to silence his detractors with an MVP performance.
However, KD will be matched up with James a lot in these Finals, which will probably hurt his MVP chances more than help them. Durant could struggle to score against LeBron and will also have to work harder on defense. On the other hand, if he can shut down James on the defensive end of the court, that will go a long way in voters’ minds if the Warriors win the series.
Draymond Green (+800)
Green is another Warrior badly in need of redemption. Though Curry wasn’t himself in last year’s Finals, most people point to Draymond’s suspension following Game 4 of that series as the turning point. Even when Green returned to the lineup for Games 6 and 7, he wasn’t himself.
Green is obviously not the Warriors’ first choice on offense, or second, or even third. But in a series that will be filled with emotion, it will be interesting to see how much credit Golden State’s emotional leader may get if the Dubs win the title. How well Green defends and rebounds will also go a long way towards his MVP hopes, but they remain a pretty big long shot in my opinion.
Kyrie Irving (+1000)
Irving is really the only other legitimate NBA Finals MVP contender here. He handles the ball the most for the Cavaliers and with the Warriors likely to focus their defense around stopping LeBron, he could emerge as Cleveland’s top scoring option.
However, Irving hit the most important shot in last year’s Finals (and one of the biggest in NBA history), and still didn’t come within a sniff of the MVP honor. Kyrie can enjoy some big moments in this series, but he’s nowhere near the complete two-way player that LeBron is. If the Cavaliers win the title, it’s James’ trophy to lose.
Other options on Bovada’s NBA Finals MVP odds include Klay Thompson (+1600), Kevin Love (+2500), Andre Iguodala (+6600) and the field (+1600).
Thompson can be a high-volume scorer but he’s struggled badly in these playoffs, averaging 14.4 points per game on 38.3% shooting. There’s simply too many scoring options ahead of him on this team for Klay to emerge as a MVP contender, and he won’t win any votes for his defensive play.
Love’s got the best potential of this group in my opinion, and may be worth a small bet at 25:1. He’s stroking it from 3-point range at a 47.5% clip in these playoffs and also averaging 10.4 rebounds per outing.
Though Iguodala earned the MVP honor two years ago, I see no value on him here, even at 66:1 return. He can come off the bench to play defense on James at moments in the game, but he’s too banged up to be a consistent difference-maker. Iguodala averaged just 12.8 minutes per game against San Antonio in the Western Conference finals.
The field doesn’t look like it carries much value, either. Outside of James, Durant, Curry, Green, Irving, Love and Iguodala, you’re left with guys like Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, David West, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson. Korver and Smith could be big factors in a game or two because of their abilities to get hot from behind the 3-point line, but I don’t see them being able to outshine the bright stars in this match up throughout what could be a long series.
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