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, also includes Kawhi Leonard. Four-time MVP LeBron James, who put together his best statistical season since rejoining the Cleveland Cavaliers 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.
Finalists for the league’s other regular season awards, which are listed below, were also announced during the 90-minute segment prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Rookie of the Year
- Joel Embiid (center, Philadelphia 76ers)
- Malcolm Brogdon (guard, Milwaukee Bucks)
- Dario Saric (forward, Philadelphia 76ers)
Defensive Player of the Year
- Kawhi Leonard (forward, San Antonio Spurs)
- Rudy Gobert (center, Utah Jazz)
- Draymond Green (forward, Golden State Warriors)
Sixth Man of the Year
- Eric Gordon…