The 2018-19 NBA season is about six games from its conclusion and the start of the 2019 NBA playoffs.
Every year, there are a handful of star players that set themselves above the play of everyone else.
In this era of the NBA, the usual suspects to be named the MVP are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephon Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Only two of these individuals should be considered as the 2019 NBA MVP. LeBron James had injury troubles and when he returned could not lead the Lakers into the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard has been played sparingly by the Toronto Raptors even though he has great statistics.
Curry and Durant have had great seasons again but everyone expects greatness from the Warriors. Russell Westbrook is again averaging a triple-double for the season but his OKC Thunder is the 7th or 8th seed in the West.
This leaves us with a choice between James Harden of the Houston Rockets or Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Both are deserving but only one can win. This is a look at why both are serious contenders for the MVP and a conclusion as to who should win the award.
The Case for James Harden
What an amazing season James Harden and the Houston Rockets, by extension, have had. This team has gone through some turmoil this season with roster changes that removed Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute from the roster.
The free agent signing of Carmelo Anthony was a bust by early November and defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik was rehired.
By December 8th, 2018 the Rockets were only 11-14 after a loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Rockets also went through a period around Christmas and into the new year where Eric Gordon, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela all missed significant time due to various injuries.
James Harden did not complain or give up on the season. He quite literally put the Houston Rockets team on his back and has led them into being the current 4th seed in the NBA’s Western Conference.
Since the 11-14 start, due to James Harden’s unbelievable play, the Rockets have gone 37-14 with just six games left to play. As of December 13th, 2018, Harden went on a 32-game record-setting stretch scoring 30 or more points.
During that streak of absolute dominant play, he scored a career-high of 61 points against the Knicks and scored 50 or more points four times. Ultimately, out of any player considered MVP quality, James Harden has been the superstar who has done more with less.
Also, consider Harden’s importance to the Rockets offensive philosophy. The Rockets this season average 84.2 field goal attempts per game and Harden alone is responsible for 23.8% of that total. Out of the 38.7 field goals that they make per game, Harden is counted on for 9 made field goals per game about 23.2%.
The Rockets assists per game totals are low at 21.5 per game, 26th in the NBA but Harden alone averages 8.8 assists. In other words, he is directly or indirectly responsible for nearly 18 made field goals per game.
This now means he actually is responsible for 46.5% of the Rockets offensive output every game. With Chris Paul, Capela, and Gordon all healthy there isn’t as much pressure on Harden. However, if he did not step up, this season could have gone very differently for the Rockets.
As it is, they are 4th in the Western Conference and will at least have homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Case for Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Milwaukee Bucks have had a great 2018-19 season. They are 57-19 with just six games to play. It’s been a meteoric rise if not unexpected but just not this soon. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been an enormous contributor to their cause.
He is sitting on the edge of being a superstar in the NBA if he isn’t already. The bucks have surrounded their supreme scorer with an array of good shooter who he can kick out to when he collapses defenses with his constant attacks on opposing rims.
The only thing that could mar this season is that Antetokounmpo hurt his ankle Thursday night in a 128-118 victory over the Clippers this late in the season. He is listed as day-day.
However, the Bucks have superseded everyone's expectations for them. The East was supposed to be a battle between Philadelphia, Boston, and Toronto. The Bucks have inserted themselves into that debate and Antetokounmpo played a large role.
As things stand, the Bucks hold homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs once they start and are currently 32-6 at home this season.
So far this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.4ppg, 6apg, and 12.5rpg for the Milwaukee Bucks. In considering the 43.2 field goals the Bucks make per game, Antetokounmpo is responsible for 16 directly or indirectly.
This represents 37% of his teams offensive outbursts per game. His field goal percentage is 58% because he dominates the game by getting into the paint at will by using his size speed and length.
He has a devasting euro step combined with his length and speed that defenders just cannot contain. Antetokounmpo has this season improved his three-point shooting which in early December was around 11.5% to 24.5% now.
If he does develop a consistent long-range stroke, he will be next to unstoppable in the near future.
There are a number of factors many consider when declaring who they believe is the MVP. Many think it’s the best player on the best team. Some may say it’s the guy with the best offensive stats.
However, a lot of consideration should go to how that player’s elevated play lifted his team to higher levels. It is absolutely clear that Harden and Antetokounmpo have elevated their teams to places no one expected until the season unfolded.
However, in this case, one player had to overcome adversity and rose to the challenge while the other led a good team with little adversity to speak of to heights not expected.
It is for this reason that James Harden should once again be named the NBA’s 2019 MVP as he was in 2018. Harden simply had to have a 32-game stretch scoring over 30 points a game to pull the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
There is also the fact that a deep inspection of the stats also reveals Harden, as a single player, is more valuable to his team’s offensive output. He is, by the numbers, 46.5% of the Rockets offensive production nightly while Antetokounmpo represents 37% of the Bucks offensive output.
Any way you decide which player was better and more deserving of being the MVP there is no question the debate about who is better, Harden or Antetokounmpo, will be discussed for a few years yet.