WARR contributor Josh Hicks offers his thoughts on the Chicago Bulls and the NBA
So far this season, chants of M-V-P have made their way to several NBA stadiums housing some of the Association’s most productive stars.
There’s no lack of players who can make a solid case for the award in the first month or so of play, from already established award-winners (LeBron, KD, Steph) to contenders out of nowhere (league-leading scorer DeMar DeRozan), but this writer’s top three players so far are the ever-dangerous guard trio of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Damian Lillard.
When Kevin Durant shocked the world by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, critics had only one question for Russell Westbrook: can he lead the new OKC team? So far, that answer is yes.
Westbrook has elevated his already elite game to another level with very few people catching up to him. Last season, Westbrook averaged 23 points a game with 7 rebounds and 10 assists a game. This season, he has raised the bar of his excellence by averaging a triple-double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists a game.
Beyond the enormity of his stats, Westbrook has kept his team afloat with a 6-5 record. Russy’s high level of play determines the success of this team. With that in mind, can his level of play be a propellant into the playoffs for the Thunder?
The Houston Rockets have finally brought in the coach whose approach to offense best fits their franchise player in Harden, who has always excelled in the scoring department, but the Beard’s shocking ability to distribute the ball this season stems from the guidance and green light he’s received from Mike D’Antoni.
Coach D has Harden playing at an elite level solely within the point guard position. Harden’s assists have increased from 7 per game last season to 12 so far this season. With their play so far both Harden and Westbrook join the great Oscar “The Big O” Robertson as the only players to average 30 points and 10 assists through 10 games in a season. Also, Harden is carrying another winning team (6-4) in the always competitive Western Conference.
The Rockets barely made it to the playoffs last year to only be eliminated in the first round, and some of the blame fell on Harden for his lack of leadership and connection with his players and coaches when it mattered most. Moving on from last year’s roller coaster to this year’s new start, can his leadership continue to grow and make the guys around him better, especially come playoff time?
Damian “Dame DOLLA” Lillard has always been bold in conversations regarding his underrated ability and potential to be one of the games’ best players and a possible future MVP. At this point in the season, Lillard’s backed up his talk and has solidified his case against players who are normally worthy of MVP notification.
With the assistance of head coach Terry Stotts and the continued emergence of CJ McCollum alongside him, Lillard’s leadership reflects well through the increased level of play of his teammates as well as his personal game. Lillard has increased his point average from 25 to 31 and is adding 5 rebounds and 4 assists a game to his impressive resume while his Portland Blazers sit with a 7-4 record.
Lillard has to go deeper into the playoffs in order for his MVP worthiness to manufacture a trophy, its clear he has the talent and the team to achieve the success, however, can he out-do the many contenders in his conference?
Joshua M. Hicks is a sports writer and broadcaster and a recent graduate of Roosevelt University, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042