Settling the Debate for NBA MVP
The NBA announced on July 17th that the race for all regular season awards was officially over. With most teams having finished around 63 games, Covid-19 essentially ended the regular season. According to an official press release, the eight “seeding games” that each team will play in Orlando will not count towards player’s campaigns for the awards. NBA President, League Operations Byron Spruell stated, “The decision to exclude seeding games from awards voting ensures a fair process in which players and coaches from all 30 NBA teams will have the same opportunity to be honored as top performers for the 2019-20 regular season.” Using only each candidate’s body of work through March 11th, let’s take a look at the top candidates and their respective cases.
In my eyes this year’s MVP discussion is a three man race. Last year’s winner, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has once again put up an eye-popping season both statistically and visually. Additionally impressive has been the year 17 year veteran, and perennial MVP candidate, Lebron James has pulled off. While the discussion for which player to include for the third spot in this debate is certainly open to interpretation, my choice is going to be to break down the case for James Harden. Harden continued his run of scoring and usage rate that we thought was once a thing of past eras. While it’s impossible to say what may have happened if the season hadn’t been cut short by around 19 games, let’s take a look at each player’s respective campaign and settle this debate.
The Case for Giannis
The Greek Freak has led the Bucks to a league best 53-12 record this season and is quite clearly the best player they have. The league’s defending MVP has also put up even better statistics in the three main categories (29.6 points, 13.7 total rebounds, and 5.8 assists) this season than last season. Based on points alone, Giannis is ahead of Lebron (25.7), and not far off from Harden (34.4). Meanwhile, Harden’s best case for winning the award this year is his prolific offensive impact on the game, yet he only averages 1.6 more assists per game. Antetokounmpo’s effect on the game isn’t limited to the offensive end like Harden’s most certainly is. While Lebron is still an above average defender at this point in his career, I believe that Giannis actually has a great case for Defensive player of the year as well as MVP which has only been achieved in the same year by Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) and Michael Jordan (1988).
The Case for Lebron
In his 17th season, The King has looked as dominant as ever, and seems to be moving into a new phase of his career. In his first season after teaming up with Anthony Davis, James is all but assuredly going to lead the NBA in assists (10.6) for the first time in his career. James’ effect on the game has always been stronger when he is facilitating rather than focusing on scoring in my opinion. While there is no doubt about his ability to take over games while putting up points, this season is an illustration of just how much he can elevate those around him. Lebron has led the Lakers to the leagues second best record this season (49-14) with his emphasis on lifting the team surrounding him. I believe he would actually have an even stronger case if his teammate Anthony Davis wasn’t also getting some of the credit for the Lakers’ success this season. This would be Lebron’s fifth time winning the award, and first since the 20012-13 season.
The Case for Harden
Look, I get it. I understand that people don’t find Harden’s style of play aesthetically pleasing. I even understand why. However, Harden himself said it best on Monday this week in a conversation with Allen Iverson: “I’m not here to explain myself or try to get people to understand where I come from, or what I do, or why I do it. I’m a killer, I work my ass off. Y’all are going to figure it out. Maybe when I’m retired, maybe when I’m done and gone, it’ll catch up to you.” Numerous clips on Youtube of Harden’s turnstyle brand of defense aside, what he has been doing offensively, this year included, is just different. Harden can score from anywhere anytime and is putting up scoring averages not seen since Wilt Chamberlain. He gets to the line at an obscene rate as well (11.8 FTA per game) The Rocket’s completely changed the way they played offensively before the stoppage by trading Clint Capela and putting P.J. Tucker at the five position. It will be interesting to see what Mike D’antoni and harden can cook up for the restart. This would be Harden’s second MVP since he won in the 2017-18 season in which he won with slightly lower averages.
With all that being said, I think it would be a huge upset if Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t the MVP this season. As I mentioned earlier, he has led his team to the leagues’ best record and his numbers are even better somehow than last year, when he also won the award. Another point to mention is that as much as I love Khris Middleton, he’s no Anthony Davis or even a Russell Westbrook for that matter. What Giannis has done with what he has around him is astonishing to me and he would be my pick for MVP despite what Frank Vogel might have to say about it.