In the latest edition of the NBA Kia MVP rankings, superstar big man Nikola Jokic was at the top. Trailing behind him are the likes of Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lebron James and Joel Embiid. With injuries sidelining the latter two, many might feel that there is no clear-cut favourite. Having said that, James Harden should be the leading candidate for MVP at this point in the season.
Harden has now played 31 games with the Brooklyn Nets and during that stretch, they have gone 23-8. Some might want to use the argument of the Nets being a super team against Harden, but during Kevin Durant’s 18 game absence, they have gone 15-3 and Harden has averaged 27 points, 11.9 assists and 9 rebounds. Behind his dominate play the Nets have surged to the 3rd place in the Eastern Conference and 5th overall in the league. Even with concerns about how bad they are on defence, they have been able overcome and dominate the league which cannot be overlooked.
When looking at the other contenders on the MVP list like Lillard and Jokic, my main concern is that their team records aren’t good enough. Their stats would certainly support their arguments to win MVP however, since 2000, only one player has won the MVP while being worse than the 3rd seed in their conference which was Russell Westbrook in 2016-17. Westbrook’s team ended up being the 6th seed with a 47-35 record. He had to average a triple double and have a historic season to win the MVP while having a decent team record. The Nuggets currently have the 5th seed while the Trail Blazers hold the 6th spot and with Lebron and Anthony Davis injured, they both have a great opportunity to leapfrog the Lakers and take the 4th seed.
Some might feel like the reigning back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has a strong chance to win his third straight MVP however I beg to differ. His stats this season are quite similar to his stats when he did win MVP as he is currently averaging 28.6 points, 6.4 assists and 11.6 rebounds. I believe that Giannis’s chances are hurt by the great teammates that he has around him. The acquisition of players like Jrue Holiday, Bryn Forbes, Bobby Portis and now PJ Tucker have been tremendous for Giannis and have helped lighten his load offensively and defensively. With the exception of Jrue Holiday who’s missed 10 games, the key players on the Bucks have been healthy all season. Harden on the other hand has not had that same consistency from his teammates as Durant has missed 26 games and Kyrie Irving 14 games. All those elements bolster Harden’s case to be the MVP favourite at this point in time.
Regardless of what some might think narratives do play a role when it comes to MVP voting and the biggest impediment against Harden is the fashion in which he parted ways with the Houston Rockets. Many felt as though he quit on the team, which may impact voters when the time comes for them to hand in their final ballots. If that is not an issue for voters, I believe Harden has a great chance to win his second MVP trophy.
Stats provided by NBA.com