The media has Antetokounmpo and LeBron James favored for the MVP, but it’s the Houston Rockets’ James Harden, once again, who is the real MVP.
The NBA’s announcement that postseason awards will be given based on play up to the March 11th shutdown put an end to an entertaining race for the league MVP. A media-driven narrative posed the hypothetical scenario where LeBron James storms through the last 20 games of the season to overtake Giannis Antetokounmpo for the league’s MVP. Meanwhile, the league’s leading scorer for the third straight season remains on the Houston Rockets.
The appeal is easy to see: the league’s best player over the past decade fighting to retain his crown from a new up and coming superstar has click-bait written all over it. With no ability to add to their resumes, the conventional wisdom is that Giannis will win his second straight MVP, and Lebron will have to settle for second place. The only problem with the narrative of a two-horse race is neither horse deserves it. The real MVP has been James Harden all along, and the numbers bear it out.
How the statistics favor the Houston Rockets’ James Harden
Since the NBA-ABA merger, 34 of the 43 MVPs have come from teams with the best record in their conference and 27 have had the best record in the league. This bias towards stars on great teams is a flawed method for determining who is most valuable. The best team in the league almost always has a collection of great players pushing them up the standings.
In many ways, the MVP is a team award. As an individual award, the MVP should honor the player that has lifted their team the furthest, regardless of the heights, and James Harden is that man. Harden has steered the Rockets, amid constant roster changes, to a 40-24 record.
He is at the controls of the league’s second-most prolific offense while shouldering the most substantial scoring load in the league. If you remove Giannis or LeBron from the Lakers and Bucks, they would no doubt be worse, but at the same time, they would almost assuredly be playoff teams.
The same cannot be said for the Rockets without Harden’s extraterrestrial offense. Even though the NBA media has treated it as such, the MVP is not an open and shut case.