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NBA MVP Race

Adam Shay

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It has been quite the year in the NBA. This is the first time since 2005 LeBron James is not in the playoffs, this is Dwyane Wade’s final year, and this is the year when 12 different players had 50 point games, a new NBA record. As the season ends on April 10, there is a bare-knuckle fight for the most prestigious award: the NBA’s Most Valuable Player 

Through basketball reference, there has been an MVP tracker following ten players best fit to win the award. Atop the list, two players have been most consistent at the one and two spot: Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston Rockets reigning MVP James Harden. Their two styles are vastly different, yet have bolstered their teams to winning seasons. Here are some of their most significant stats:

Giannis Antetokounmpo:

  • .578 field goal percentage, 27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 14.4 win shares (second in the NBA), and 1.5 BPG. The Bucks are 60-21, the best record in the NBA and first in the Eastern Conference. 48.6 percent probability to win MVP.

James Harden

  • .442 FGP, 36.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 7.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 15.1 win shares (most in the NBA), and averages 9.6/11 free throws per game for 87.8 percent. The Rockets are 53-28, third in the Western Conference. 29.4 percent probability to win MVP.

So the debate comes down to the definition of an MVP: is the MVP the best player in the league, or is the MVP the most impact player to a team? Should the MVP have the most well-rounded and efficient game, or should the MVP be the most dominant at scoring? Also, how much should a team’s record play into deciding the MVP?

Antetokounmpo’s game is fantastic on both ends of the floor and has transformed a 2018 seventh place team to arguably the best NBA team. Not to mention, the Bucks have placed a great supporting cast around him and play their best through Antetokounmpo. To make it simple, statistics cannot emphasize enough on Antetokounmpo’s positive impact on his teammates. Plus, his offensive efficiency for 27.7 PPG is outstanding and has not been seen since Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. It’s clear why basketball reference has “The Greek Freak” predicted to win the 2019 MVP.

But then, there’s the other guy. On solely scoring, Harden is having one of the most explosive offensive seasons in NBA history. Only two players in NBA history have averaged more points in a game than Harden’s 36.09 PPG: NBA legends Wilt Chamberlain (five times between 1959-64), and Michael Jordan (37.09 in 1986-87). What makes Harden’s offensive game remarkable is his variety of ways to score. He is an electric finisher, can shoot the long ball well-enough (.368 percent from three-point range), a high two-point percentage (.529), and most importantly in close games, drawing fouls and excelling at the free-throw line. His most notable drawback though, five turnovers per game. 

The MVP should be rewarded to the best all-around player in the league, which would make Antetokounmpo the winner. However, when taking historical accomplishments and win shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player) into consideration, Harden should become the 14th NBA player with multiple MVP’s. The “Beard” has nine games this season over 50 points, six of those games being double-doubles and two of them being triple-doubles. For those who say Harden plays no defense and is lazy, his 2.0 steals per game is second in the NBA, so that somewhat settles the debate. 

Both players are the first and second best in the 2018-19 NBA season and equally deserving of MVP, but it’s doubtful for a shared award. Harden’s scoring dominance is a streak not seen since Kobe Bryant’s 35.4 PPG season in 2005-06 and even so, Harden’s season has been better. Even if basketball reference predicts Antetokounmpo to win MVP, it should be awarded to James Harden.

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Adam Shay is a graduate from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, During his four years at EIU, he wrote for the Daily Eastern News for two and a half years, covering multiple sports, news events, and writing feature stories. He was also on the rugby club team for two years, a member of the Society of Collegiate Journalists, and finished third in applying for his commencement speech. Currently, he runs a public relations system for a bar in Palatine, Illinois, and in his free time, he is always learning about music, sports history, and American history.

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