We have arrived at the half-way point of the NBA Season and it has been a wild ride so far with both the Eastern and Western Conference still wide open. Whilst Luka Doncic seems to have locked up the Rookie of the Year Award, the race for Most Valuable Player has been heating up in recent weeks. Right now, it seems to be a two-horse race between Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and last years MVP James Harden of the Houston Rockets. A number of players are still in striking distance namely Joel Embiid, LeBron James and Paul George but will most likely not win the award.
Being the best player on the best team in the Eastern Conference means Giannis Antetokounmpo is the current frontrunner for the MVP Award. The Greek Freak has led the Milwaukee Bucs to a 32-17 record and the No. 1 Seed in the East without another star on his team. He is dominating on a nightly basis with his multifaceted game and unbelievable athleticism. Giannis is second in dunks with 138 (recently passed by Rudy Gobert) and first in two-point field goal percentage. If he is able to lock up the No.1 Seed with these Bucks it will be difficult for anyone to deny him the MVP-Trophy.
His offensive outburst is almost unprecedented and has cemented Harden as one of the best offensive players of our generation.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets had a terrible start to the season and were sitting at the 14th Seed in the West during early December. Since then things have turned around, or more accurately Harden has decided to go nuclear and destroy everything and everyone in his path. He has averaged 41.3 points and 9.1 assists per game over the last 15 contests in which the Rockets have gone 10-5 and have re-established themselves in the playoff race. The run has also included his insane game winning three against the Warriors, which was undoubtably his ‘MVP moment’. His offensive outburst is almost unprecedented and has cemented Harden as one of the best offensive players of our generation. All this screams MVP. However, it is questionable if he will be able to keep this up and the Rockets are still only the 6th seed in the West so it is going to be an uphill battle.
Nevertheless, there has been some controversy surrounding the MVP award after it has been accused of some highly ambiguous criteria. Is MVP the award for the best player or the player having the best season? If the award should go to the best player then why has LeBron James not won MVP since 2013? After all he has been the consensus number one player in the league for the past 10 years and has been consistently putting up some staggering numbers. More and more voices have been calling for the MVP-Award to be split up in to two trophies to accommodate for both. This means one award for the player having the best season and one award for the overall best player. This way all-time greats like LeBron James can be rewarded without neglecting great stories such as Westbrooks Triple-Double season in 2017. Nevertheless, other question marks would remain.
Russell Westbrook winning the MVP in 2017 set a new precedent in which a player won largely because of amazing individual stats.
Assuming the award is split up the issue of how much we should value team success versus individual accolades remains. Traditionally the MVP has always been given to the best player on the best team. Voters appreciated the mixture of individual greatness and team success. Russell Westbrook winning the MVP in 2017 set a new precedent in which a player won largely because of amazing individual stats. In his MVP Year Westbrooks’ Oklahoma City Thunder finished at a mediocre 47-35 and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Individually however, he enjoyed a historic season in which he averaged an insane triple-double on a team that had just lost Kevin Durant.
We could have a similar situation between Harden and Antetokounmpo this year. Harden is undoubtedly having a great year and has singlehandedly engineered the Rockets turnaround after CP3 went down with injury. However, his team will likely finish with a low seed and be bounced out of the playoffs early. Antetokounmpo on the other hand might not be having as great of an individual season but he is leading a team that has the best record in the NBA. The outcome of this years MVP race will be very meaningful as it could further cement the shift in focus from team success to individual stats set in motion by the award going to Westbrook in 2017.