If you do a quick search online for who is going to win the NBA MVP this year and you’ll see quite a few articles that will make it sound like it is a done deal. Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to win. It will not be James Harden, Paul George, Steph Curry, or anyone else that has been a part of the conversation.
The Greek Freak is going to be the MVP of the 2018-19 NBA season. But should he be?
Oddsmakers seem to think so. At 888sport.com, the odds on Giannis Antetokounmpo are -265 and for James Harden, +200. Paul George has the next best odds at +2000—so, yeah, he and everyone that comes after him can be disregarded.
Some would say you should go ahead and toss Harden out as well. But doing so could be a little premature. College football fans will recall how sure people were that Tua Tagovailoa was going to win the Heisman Trophy. But in the days leading up to the announcement you started to hear that Kyler Murray had a shot.
The same could be said about Harden and the MVP. Okay—so the possibility of Harden swooping in at the last minute exists. But that doesn’t mean that he will win.
So, why should either one of them get it?
It goes without saying that Harden has more of impact on the offensive side of the court (offensive rating 115.8; fifth best in the NBA). Antetokounmpo has a pretty significant impact on the offensive side as well (113.3 rating), but not as much as Harden. However, while Harden has become a solid defender (109.8 rating), Antetokounmpo (100.6 defensive rating; fifth best in the NBA) is easily the better of the two.
But we are not talking about the offensive or defensive POY. We are talking about the player that does it all and does it better than everyone else in the NBA. Who has made a more significant impact?
According to an NBA.com stat that takes a player’s total game into consideration (PIE or player impact estimate), the edge goes to Antetokounmpo (21.6 to 20.0).
So, from a statistical perspective, it looks pretty cut and dry. Antetokounmpo should win. But the award is not about statistics. Well—not entirely. Yes, it helps if a player is on one of the higher seeded teams, which both guys are (Bucks are the 1-seed, and the Rockets are likely the 3-seed).
Four of the last five MVPs were also the scoring champions.
Harden has the scoring title working for him, but will it be enough to overcome the overall statistical picture? Eh…
Die-hard Harden fans will not want to admit it, but Antetokounmpo is the better basketball player between the two. His level of excellence across most statistical categories is evidence of that. However, the award is not meant to recognize the best player in the game.
It is meant to recognize the most valuable. Had Harden not succeeded in turning the Rockets around almost single-handedly, the Western Conference playoff picture would not be what it is. Antetokounmpo may be the best, but Harden is the more valuable between the two.