We’ve made it past the trade deadline and the All Star break and that means we’ve officially reached the second half of the NBA season. Now it’s a race to the playoffs where we’ll not only find out who’s the best in the East and the West (and whether Lebron’s Lakers make the cut), but we’ll learn the answer to questions like this one:
Who is this year’s NBA MVP?
Sure, things could change, but right now there are only two obvious names in the mix. We’ll break down what everyone’s saying about James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP here…
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Will James Harden be the MVP again?
If you’re a gambler, the odds are in Harden’s favor… by a long shot. (Harden sits at -250 while Giannis is at +350.) After that, you’ve got Steph Curry, Joel Embiid, and Lebron, but they’re way back there. And simply based off the fact that Harden averages 36 points per game, you can’t really argue that he’s not a top MVP candidate. That’s just silly.
Harden won the 2018 MVP Award after leading the Rockets to the best record in the NBA last season. This year, he’s shooting even more freely and scoring more easily. If you haven’t heard, he’s kind of on a streak right now, scoring more than 30 points in 31 consecutive games. Oh and BTW, and he’s been averaging over 42 points per game during these streaky 31 games. Of course, Harden hasn’t really bragged about all this because he says”The Streak” was a product of necessity… and it still may not be enough to carry the Rockets this season.
In his own words, Harden explains, “The scoring streak is obviously amazing, but it’s something that I just had to do because of our situation. We had all the injuries and guys in and out of the lineup and things like that. So I think the streak just started happening, and now it’s like something to talk about.”
So the MVP race this year is different for Harden, because if his team doesn’t pull through and snatch a top(ish) seed in the playoffs, it doesn’t feel like he really took them all the way as a leader. Which is kinda what we’re looking for in an MVP, right? As it stands, the streak has been wild. Before it began, the Rockets were out of the playoffs and now they’ve got a five-seed in the West. But should that in itself be enough to tap Harden as our MVP?
One thing to remember: Harden shoots A LOT. And he only makes 37% of his three-pointers and 44% of his buckets from field goal range. Also, what happens to the streak as Chris Paul and Clint Capela get healthy? Will he keep shooting like a maniac with them back on the floor? In reality, however, Harden’s ability to draw the foul is his secret sauce. Even if you disregard the drama surrounding the streak, he is still impossible to guard and once he gets to the line, he makes those free throws about 80% of the time. So you can’t deny that he’s good at putting points on the board for his team… one way or another.
One final thing in Harden’s favor? “The Streak” is a great story – it’s perfect for the media… and guess who decides who wins the MVP Award? That’s right, broadcasters and sports writers…
Is Giannis Antetokounmpo the real MVP here?
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the leader of the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the best record in the league this season. You’d think that fact would speak for itself, right? After all, didn’t we say that it’s one of the reasons Harden won the MVP Award last year?! Even if it’s not, then putting your team on the map (out of nowhere) and then leading them to the top of the NBA with little support from fellow superstar players is surely an important deciding factor. Sorry, this All Star captain (captain!) just seems deserving of the title of MVP… doesn’t he?
The Bucks are not a primetime premier franchise, yet Giannis has managed to make his team one of the best in the basketball right now. Whether they can go toe to toe with the best of the Western Conference in the Finals remains to be seen, but for now, we’re impressed. Giannis is averaging 27.2 points, 6.0 assists, 12.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game… without any help from another big-name player. He’s an all-around star and crowd favorite. He goes to the rim, he’s a team player, and unlike Harden, he’s a key defensive playmaker as well – he’s third in the NBA in steals per game. And those dunks…
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer kinda summed it up for us when he said, “What is the most valuable player? He sets the tone for our entire organization, our work ethic, our approach to every day. You can talk about stats and Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal and things. But when you’ve changed an entire organization, changed the way people come to work every day and set a tone, that’s value to me.”
Not that it matters – because at the end of the day, Harden does get the calls and the points that he gets – but some folks disagree with Harden’s style of play. They argue that he takes advantage of current NBA rules to throw his body into players to rack up fouls and maybe travels a bit on the step-back. And after scoring 304 consecutive unassisted points this season, some might also argue he’s not really a team player either. The stats seem to speak for themselves. The opposing argument, of course, is that Harden was just doing whatever it took to keep his injured team afloat.
Those in Giannis’s court would say he’s more of a classic, old-school ball player with a focus on teamwork. But what do you think? Is one style of play preferential to another when choosing an MVP?
Hey, either way, we’ve still got a third of the season left! In fact, these two guys play each other in Milwaukee on March 26th. If things stay neck and neck like this, it’s likely going to play a huge role in the MVP decision!
Get tickets to the Rockets-Bucks game! It’s going to be huge.