Surprise: Russell Westbrook and James Harden are among the finalists for the NBA’s 2016-17 Most Valuable Player award.
The three-player list, which was unveiled on TNT Friday night prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, also includes Kawhi Leonard. Four-time MVP LeBron James, who put together his best statistical season since rejoining the Cavs in 2014, was left off.
The award finalists, and winners, are determined by a panel of NBA media members. Ballots were submitted before the start of the playoffs.
Westbrook, of course, became just the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season, while Harden led the high-octane Houston Rockets to 55 wins behind 29.1-point, 11.2-assist, 8.1-rebound averages. They were widely considered to be neck-and-neck at the top of the MVP race for the majority of the season.
Leonard posted 25.5-point, 5.8-rebound, 3.5-assist averages for the 61-win San Antonio Spurs and strengthened his case as the best two-way player in the league.
James averaged 26.4 points, 8.7 assists, 8.6 rebounds and shot 54.8% from the field, but the Cavaliers struggled at times throughout the season, particularly defensively, and finished as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. This is the first time James has been outside of the top three in MVP voting since 2007-08, when he finished fourth.
“My only job is to try to be the MVP for this team every night, put our teammates, put my teammates, put our franchise in a position to be successful and ultimately compete for a championship,” James said after Cleveland’s dominant Game 2 win, noting that he wasn’t aware he was left off the list. “I know what I bring to the table, this league knows what I bring to the table.”
Finalists for the league’s other regular…