MVP Carousel: The Three Man Race
With a little over 20 games left for each team in the NBA regular season, the MVP race is tighter than it has ever been. This deep into a season the league’s Most Valuable Player is generally well-known, with maybe one dark horse challenger. In a season chock full of Lebron drama, back-to-back champs seemingly on cruise control, and a more competitive Eastern Conference, the MVP race would’ve been placed on the back burner. This year, though, the debate is more exciting than ever, as we have three legit contenders with James Harden, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo all having spectacular seasons. The debate is heating up, and today I will make a case for each one of the three NBA superstars.
James Harden's Case:
Since joining the Rockets days before the 2012-2013 NBA campaign, Harden's star has shined bright—and he’s been one of the very best players in the league. However, this year the Beard has truly outdone himself and helped Houston bounce back from a slow start that saw them under .500 midway through December. At that point, with stars like Chris Paul (and later, Clint Capela) slowed by injuries, Harden embarked on a unprecedented 32-game streak of scoring at least 30 points or more. With Harden assuming one of the biggest roles we have ever seen in NBA history, the Rockets went 21-11 and put the team back in the mix in Western Conference. If Harden's scoring average holds until the end of the season, he will join only Wilt Chamberlain and the G.O.A.T Michael Jordan as the only players to average over 36 ppg in a season.
During this historic run, Harden has been leading the NBA in 3s per game at a jaw-dropping 4.9 per contest. Harden also ranks 3rd in PER behind only Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo, while still being 8th in assists per game at 7.6. Despite the critics’ constant dwelling on his below-average field goal percentage (44%), Harden is in the top 20 in True Shooting Percentage — which also takes into account 3 pointers and free throws, and is a more comprehensive way to assess a player’s shooting efficiency.
The general narrative of Harden as a defensive player has been negative; However, the Beard has made strides to debunk this perception by leading the league in deflections and is 2nd in steals per game. It's hard to dispute that James Harden is a top 3 offensive weapon in the NBA. The question that voters must ask themselves is whether Harden's historic offensive run and marginally improved defense is enough to name him as the back-to-back MVP recipient.
Giannis Antetokounmpo's Case:
Where do I even start with the pride of Greece? After entering the league at a slight 6'9” 196lbs, Giannis devoted himself to his craft and his body. Now six years later, the Greek is one of the best players in the league—and oh, by the way, is now a 6'11” 242 lbs physical freak. In somewhat of a coming out party for Giannis, he has led the Bucks to not only the best record in the Eastern Conference, but the entire league.
Giannis' stats and how they rank with the rest of the league would make the great Wilt Chamberlain blush. The Greek Freak is 7th in the league in scoring (27.2), 5th in the league in rebounding (12.7), 9th in the league in field goal percentage (58%), and is tied for 13th in the league in blocks (1.5). Using advanced metrics, the Greek takes it to another level. He’s 2nd in PER (30.4) just behind Anthony Davis, 9th in True Shooting (64%), 8th in defensive rebounding rate (30.3), 18th in assist rate (30.3), 4th in usage rate (31.9), 1st in defensive rating (98.1), 4th in offensive win shares (6.6), 1st in defensive win shares (4.5), 1st in total win shares (11.0), 2nd in plus/minus per (10.8), and 2nd in value over replacement (5.9). Now you can see why the Milwaukee Bucks have went from the 7th seed a year ago to the best team in the NBA this season.
The Bucks team success is hugely credited to the Greek's performance as they are not just winning, but they are doing it in dominating fashion. Not only are the Bucks the best home team, they are also the best on the road in the NBA. They have the best division record and best conference record as well. Their point differential is nearly 2 pts higher than the next closest team: Golden State. Generally, with only some exceptions, the MVP is awarded to the best player on the best team. When it’s time to for writers to punch their ballots it will be very tough to overlook the performance of not only Giannis, but also the Milwaukee Bucks.
Paul George's Case:
In a shocking move in the summer of 2017, the Indiana Pacers traded Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Almost exactly a year later, in the summer of 2018, something even more shocking occured: George re-signed with the Thunder. The Pacers moved on from George due to his well-known desire to play professional basketball in Los Angeles, and with it seemingly looking like a rental for Oklahoma City, it was widely speculated that the Thunder must go on a playoff run for George to consider re-signing. The Thunder were bounced in the first round by somewhat of a no name Utah Jazz team, in a series that saw both OKC stars Russell Westbrook and George struggle. But Instead of running off to LA, PG-13 stayed — and is now using that loss to the Jazz to fuel the greatest year of his career.
George is enjoying career highs in scoring (28.6ppg), assists (4.2apg), steals (2.2spg) and threes per game (3.9). Only Harden and Curry have hit more 3s than Paul George this season, and his 28.6 ppg is almost 5 points higher than his previous best. It's hard to make a case for a guy with a teammate of Westbrook's caliber, but make no mistake: PG has taken over this Thunder team, and at times winning in spite of Russ' performance. The Thunder are clearly a better team with George on the floor on both sides of the ball, as their offensive rating and opponents’ ORtg swing significantly when he hits the bench.
Maybe the biggest case I can make for George (which most writers with votes will overlook) is that he has the hustle of a role player fighting for minutes. George is 2nd in the league in deflections, 2nd in the league in defensive loose balls recovered and 1st in total loose balls recovered. He’s doing this all while putting in major minutes and pacing the Thunder to the third best record in the Western Conference. Paul George is the guy you truly have to watch to really appreciate his play and his candidacy for the MVP award. I hope the writers from across the country take the honor of voting seriously and give Paul George a fair shake before they cast their vote.
First things first, and I just want to say: All of these guys are deserving of being the MVP, and in my opinion nobody should feel slighted if they don't win. With that said, I think Giannis Antetokounmpo will win the Most Valuable Player award.
Hold on, now! That is not who I think should win it. I believe that Paul George should get the award this season. PG truly deserves this award if you look at everything in whole. From not leaving OKC and having the unfinished business mentality, to overtaking Westbrook as the team leader, to playing both sides of the ball at a high level, look — this man is in serious contention to win Defensive Player of the Year as well. Couple that with some legit scoring ability and his performances closing out games, and Paul George is my pick for MVP.
The fun part about all of this is we still have 20-plus games to go in the regular season, and these guys are so close the pick could flip before it’s all said and done. And no, that's not hedging my bets — it is literally that close of a race. So i suggest you fans buckle in, and enjoy the ride all the way to the NBA playoffs!