A lot of players in the NBA are having terrific years, but let’s be honest: the MVP race is going to come down to two players: James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The funny thing about the two players is that they could not be any different in terms of style.
While Harden is a smooth scoring machine who can do virtually anything offensively, Antetokounmpo is a violent rim-rocker who can guard any position defensively.
What is similar about the two stars, though, is that the value that they have to their respective teams.
The Houston Rockets have surged to the third seed in the Western Conference, almost exclusively due to Harden’s dominance since mid-December. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks have essentially gone wire-to-wire with the best record in the NBA, with Antetokounmpo’s emergence as a legitimate superstar being the primary reason.
But who is the MVP?
That’s a very tough question, as both guys check off a lot of boxes.
The main thing you have to consider when deciding who the Most Valuable Player is is where their teams would be without them, but the problem is, you would have to imagine that neither the Rockets nor the Bucks would be playoff clubs without their respective MVP candidates, so that’s one factor that we can’t even really use to determine the winner.
I guess it then just comes down to the question of which player has been more special this season, and that is definitely a tough question to answer.
Harden, who won the MVP award last year, has been historically great as a scorer, going on a run where he dropped 30 or more points in 32 straight games, and during that span, he scored at least 40 points a ridiculous 18 times and dropped 50 four times. Oh, and he also had a 60-point effort.
While his streak is now over, he is still pouring it on in general, as he is coming off of back-to-back games in which he dropped 57 and 61 points, respectively. In the 61-point performance, he made 19 of his 34 shots, went 9-of-13 from three-point range and converted on 14 of his 17 free-throw attempts.
Overall this season, Harden is averaging 36.4 points, 7.5 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals over 37.2 minutes per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the floor, 36.5 percent from long distance and 87.8 percent from the free-throw line.
As far as putting the ball in the net, no one in the league comes close to Harden, who is about to win his second straight scoring title.
As a matter of fact, it’s hard to think of many players in the history of the game who were as adept at scoring as Harden, as the 29-year-old is undoubtedly one of the toughest covers to ever step on a basketball court.
Now, as for Antetokounmpo…
Due to Giannis’ complete lack of a three-point shot and his so-so efficiency at the free-throw line, he is not the scorer that Harden is, but all-around, you can make the argument that The Greek Freak is the better player.
On the year, the 24-year-old is posting 27.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, six assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals across 32.9 minutes a night while making 58.2 percent of his field-goal attempts, 24.4 percent of his triples and 72.5 percent of his foul shots.
Say what you want about his overall percentages being a bit iffy, but you can’t ignore that ridiculous overall field-goal percentage that is actually Shaq-like.
While Antetokounmpo certainly does not have the arsenal of low post moves that Shaquille O’Neal had in his prime, nor is he nearly as dominant, his ability to rule the paint has been paramount for Milwaukee this season and has made him an unstoppable force at times.
What makes Giannis truly so special, though, is his ability to handle the ball and create for his teammates. The kid is nearly seven feet tall and yet he has the ball-handling skills and court vision of many point guards in the league.
Oh, and of course, we must take Antetokounmpo’s defense into account, as he has the combination of size, length and athletics ability to guard basically any player in the league, and that is a quality that Harden absolutely, positively does not have.
But, again, the key here is which player has had the more special season, and the answer is Harden.
You just can’t overlook how heavily the Rockets have relied on Harden all season long and how much of a load he has had to carry in getting Houston to this point.
Yes, you can also say that the Bucks wouldn’t be going anywhere without Antetokounmpo, and that’s true, but what Harden has done is so exhausting and to taxing that it would almost feel like a crime not to give him the MVP award.
The scoring binge that he has gone on since mid-December is something that we haven’t seen since Kobe Bryant over a decade ago, and it’s something that we might not see again from anyone else for quite some time.
Sorry, Giannis, but Harden should be the MVP.