The NBA regular season has come to a close but the debate about who should win the MVP award rages on. This year’s race has been the closest in years with many players having their names tossed around as a MVP contender at some point in the season.
At the end of the season, two players remain, both with very good cases about why they should win the MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden.
Giannis is putting up crazy numbers on offense this season: averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. Those are MVP caliber numbers even before you factor in his defensive prowess: he’s averaging 1.3 steals and a block and a half a game this season. However, Giannis only averaged 32.8 minutes per game and missed 8 games, if we wins the MVP he would rank among the lowest minutes played for any MVP in a non-lockout season.
Giannis has a lot going for him, he’s a better two way player (he’s a top candidate for winning Defensive Player of the Year as well as being in the top 2 for MVP), he’s the best player on the best regular season team, he could quite possibly be the face of the NBA in the next decade. All of this makes it easy to vote Giannis for MVP, especially for media members who love voting based on narrative. Voting for Giannis now shows you’re one of the smart NBA analysts, you knew that Giannis Antetokounmpo was the future of the NBA before he was even a household name. Giannis has all of the narrative power backing his MVP campaign, and perhaps having the better narrative and being a much better defensive player will be enough to get the 24 year old Antetokounmpo his first MVP.
It’s true, Harden’s narrative can’t compare. He’s already got his, winning the MVP last year. The Rockets struggled in the competitive West and finished with a measly 4 seed at the end of the season. And many find Harden’s game boring to watch, especially compared to the Greek Freak who can gracefully stride the whole length of the court with a single dribble. It’s easy to vote for Giannis but here’s the case for James Harden, who won the MVP and then GOT BETTER(!!!) the following year: he just had one the most historic offensive seasons of the decade.
Harden averaged 36.13 Points per game, making him 7th all-time in PPG, only Wilt and Michael Jordan have had seasons with higher PPG in the history of the league. Only nine players have ever averaged 35 or more points per game and the most recent 35+ ppg season from a player before Harden did it this year was when Kobe averaged 35.40 over a decade ago in his 2005-2006 season.
If you head over to the league leaders section on basketball reference for this past season you’ll see Harden’s name a lot. He lead the league in points, free throws, field goals, 3 point fgs, ppg, turnovers, win shares, box plus/minus, Offensive bpm, Value over replacement player, and had the second highest usage rate of any player ever.
The MVP is important. Winning it in a tight race doesn’t mean the winning player is definitively better than the player that got second, and losing doesn’t take away what you accomplish in that season. The MVP is important as a marker of history, a way for us to look back and get an easy snapshot of what exceptional basketball looked like. When we look back at this season 20 years from now, I just don’t want Harden’s historic offense be a footnote to Giannis great two-way play.