As 16 teams compete to become NBA champions, a smaller, elite group of players fights for an individual honor like no other. The Most Valuable Player Award for the NBA is the most prestigious prize for one player in basketball. The MVP races in the last few years have been very interesting, especially for the 2016-17 season that featured Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Harden averaged 29.1 points per game, 11.2 assists per game, and 8.1 rebounds per game that season. Westbrook racked up 31.6 points per game, 10.4 assists per game, and 10.7 rebounds per game. He became the second player, with Oscar Robertson, to average a triple double. This has become the norm for Russ, who has accomplished this feat the past two seasons as well. Westbrook won the MVP in ‘16-’17, despite losing a playoff series to Harden’s Rockets. It was anyone’s guess as to who would win, and the choice probably centered around Russ’s history-making. However, Harden avenged himself by winning the award last year. This year, there is a similar dilemma. James Harden is again putting up insane numbers, while a certain “Greek Freak” is tearing it up in Milwaukee.
Let’s start with Harden. He scored at least 30 points in 32 straight games. That streak is second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 1961-62 run. Yes, you read that right. He scored at least 40 points 18 times during the streak and he averaged 41.1 points per game during that span. Those are eye-popping numbers. Harden’s star teammates both missed significant time this year as well. So, “The Beard” had to carry Houston with his scintillating isolation play. Harden knocks down the three, but also gets to the bucket and draws fouls. He hit an NBA-leading 378 threes, while knocking down 4.8 threes per game (2nd to Stephen Curry). Also, Harden led the league in free throw attempts per game with 11. He converted on the majority of his attempts with 9.7 makes per game. Overall, Harden had a transcendent scoring season that none will soon forget.
Then, there was Giannis Antetokounmpo. This 6’11”, 242 lb. monster from Greece had a prolific season for the Milwaukee Bucks. He had the second most dunks this year with 279. He led the Bucks to the number 1 seed in the talent-packed Eastern Conference. He’s tall, but he’s slender, so he moves like a guard. If he shot 3-pointers like a guard, than he’d be truly unstoppable, but he’s not there yet. He has plenty of time, though because he’s only 24 years old. If Harden beats him out for the MVP, he should be fine because he’s the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. So, Giannis was electric on offense and defense this season for the Bucks.
The statistics these players put up were extraordinary. Head-to-head, they outdid each other in about the same amount of categories. Here’s a comparison of the numbers they contributed this season:
Powered by Microsoft OneNote (Don’t mind that they said “Antetokounmpo” isn’t a word. Trust me, I’ve practiced spelling it.)
As you can see, the NBA MVP won’t be an easy decision. You can argue that Harden deserves it for how he carried his team through adversity. His one-man show was unheard of for a player in this day and age. On the other hand, Giannis led the Bucks to a top seed and played stellar defense, while grabbing tons of boards. He’s truly a talent the NBA hasn’t seen before. Both sides have valid points, although I know who I’d choose.
My pick for the NBA MVP this season is James Harden. I just feel it’d be a crime to not give it to him after this incredible season. He averaged almost 6 more points than last year and he won the award last season. By this logic, it’s an easy decision, but it isn’t. Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves the trophy, too. However, Harden’s insane scoring prompts me to choose him. Barring unexpected circumstances, Antetokounmpo should win an MVP in years to come, if not this year.
There will be another finalist that could be a dark-horse candidate. This could be Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, or maybe Joel Embiid. However, only Harden and Giannis are legitimate prospects for the honor. Maybe the race will come down to playoff success. The Rockets rolled through the Jazz in game 1, while the Bucks followed suit with the Pistons. So, both teams are enjoying early success, but the continuation of this success for these teams and their stars will be crucial. It’s truly a toss-up between these two guys, and I’m very excited to watch the Awards Show in June. Both players deserve it, but who will win the race for the NBA’s most valuable player? Only time will tell.