Who is it going to be? Who is leading their team by example? Which NBA player is playing the best basketball right now?
I wrote this blog to talk about who the early candidates are for this season’s Most Valuable Player Award. There are a couple guys that jump right out at me. Guys that not only are putting up the flashy numbers but the ones who are leading their team night in and night out. The most valuable players are the ones that can be counted on during crunch time.
I know the season is still very early, but the writing is on the wall. We all know the teams and players that are going to contend for a Championship this year. I want to focus and give praise to the guys that have been tearing it up in the early going.
Even though there are plenty of games left in the season, I have a feeling these early season nominees will be considered at season’s end. Let’s take a look at who is standing out right now.
Like him or hate him, its time to appreciate James Harden and what he is doing for the Houston Rockets. The NBA is a game of “what have you done for me lately”. Well, all James has done recently is play the best basketball of his career and lead his team to a Western Conference-leading 13-4 record through the early part of the season.
I know the NBA MVP Award isn’t handed out on Thanksgiving, but I want to point out and recognize what Harden brings to the table for his specific team. The reason I consider James not just a great player, but an MVP Candidate, is because he goes out and does exactly what his coach and organization ask of him.
Clearly, he isn’t the most premier defender in the league. Does he turn the ball over too much? Yeah, I’d like to see that number go down. The point is, Mike D’Antoni’s coaching style in Houston isn’t the same as every other coach in the league. While most coaches preach hard defense, D’Antoni focuses his energy on pushing the ball up the floor. Creating extra possessions and outscoring you is the way the Rockets want to attack.
I am not excusing Harden’s occasional lack of effort on the defensive end, but that fact of the matter is Houston knows their key to being effective and winning games is to continue shooting 3’s and pushing the ball. Allow me to point out some facts to illustrate my point.
If you took the Rockets out of the equation, this is what the team leaders in three-point field goals made and attempted would look like. The Warriors make 12.6 3’s per game and the Brooklyn Nets attempt 34.0 3’s per game. Those are league highs-until you include the Rockets.
D’Antoni’s squad makes 15.6 three-pointers per game and shoots 44.4 of them each night. Now do you see what I mean when I say they are less concerned about playing stout defense as long as they get their shots up?
James Harden is the leader of the barrage. His 11.05 attempted treys per ball game lead the entire NBA. Fortunately, he shoots a respectable 40.4% clip from downtown, allowing him to succeed on 4.5 three-point shots per game.
What else does the man they call “The Beard” in Houston do for his team? What else qualifies him as an NBA MVP candidate?
How about a league-leading 31.6 points on a nightly basis? Did I mention he also tops the entire league in assists per game with 9.9? If you sit down and actually watch the Rockets play a game, you will see why this “run and gun” approach is what they “shoot for”. James Harden can speed the game up and score at will. He can also slow the game down, break down his opponent and get his teammates the ball in the correct spots.
If these stats and characteristics aren’t evidence of an MVP-type of player, then I must be looking at the wrong definition. Being the best player on the team with the best record in the Western Conference has to count for something. Count James Harden IN as one of the names on the shortlist for the NBA MVP Award this year.
Just like clockwork, here we are mentioning Lebron James’s name in the MVP conversation mid-season. You are more than used to it by now, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. He’s had to work even harder this season, as the Cavaliers are adjusting to life without Kyrie Irving. With newcomer Isiah Thomas still nursing a hip injury, Lebron has had to carry the load even more than normal.
Tyronn Lue is playing Lebron a league-high 37.9 minutes, however, Lebron continues to answer the bell each time. Let me explain exactly why we need to take notice of what Lebron is doing and not just take it for granted. As good as “Bron Bron” has been in his illustrious NBA career, he is simply better this season. As you know with me, I don’t make claims like that without having the evidence and data to support it. So here I go:
|Lebron James||Career Numbers||2017-2018 Numbers|
|Points per Game||27.2||28.3|
|Rebounds per Game||7.3||7.4|
|Assists per Game||7.1||8.5|
|Field Goal %||50.2%||58.2%|
|Free Throw %||74.0%||78.3%|
|Player Efficiency Rating||27.6||29.9|
As mind-boggling as it is, Lebron James has actually improved across the board. It is a scary thought for opposing NBA players and coaches knowing this man is just getting better and more complete.
It sounds as if Lebron is trying to take a page out of Tom Brady’s book.
Now, with all that being said, where does that leave Lebron James in terms of this year’s NBA MVP race? He is right where he should be and right where he is every season: right at the top.
It is hard to quantify with just statistics how much Lebron means to the success of his team. For example:
When Lebron left Cleveland 2010, the Cavs went from being the best team in the East to essentially the worst. As he joined the Miami Heat, he took the franchise who was an afterthought in the league to 4 straight NBA Finals. Now back with the Cavs, Cleveland went from worst to first immediately.
Lebron has been to an astonishing 7 consecutive NBA Finals. People don’t appreciate it as they should as it has just become the industry standard for James to be playing huge games in June. I don’t expect this year to turn out any different.
Lebron James makes it look effortless. The way he glides around and powers his way to the hoop leaves defenders scratching their heads. His talents and basketball IQ are unmatched in the league, which is why he sits on the pedestal he is at. They don’t call him the King for nothing. He has earned his nickname by being an NBA MVP candidate year in and year out. No breaking news here folks, just more of the same from the league’s best player.
Who Else Is Making Headlines?
Don’t get me wrong, I am watching and observing other players in the league. I am fully aware of what Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing in Milwaukee. I see his numbers. I recognize his athleticism and ability to get from one end of the court to the other in three dribbles.
I also see a Milwaukee Bucks squad hovering at .500, at 8-8 in the decrepit Eastern Conference. I don’t care how good your numbers are- if your team is on the outside looking in at the #8 seed in the East, you aren’t seriously going to be considered for an award as prestigious as the NBA Most Valuable Player.
I think “The Greek Freak” will have a plethora of chances to win the award in future years to come. I just don’t think the time is now for Giannis nor the Milwaukee Bucks. Keep an eye on Jason Kidd’s squad and their 22-year old stud out of Athens, Greece over the next few years. He will only get better.
With the way NBA teams are built nowadays, we see multiple superstars on the same team. This is terrific for the overall success of the team. I just don’t think it is beneficial for one of these player’s having the opportunity to win an MVP Award. Two examples really stick out to me.
These two guys are without a doubt special players. They are two of the premier talents in the entire National Basketball Association. The problem when it comes to voting for an NBA MVP is- who the heck do you pick. It is extremely likely that the Golden State Warriors end up with the league’s best record. But when you have two guys putting up such huge numbers, it is difficult to decipher which guy means more.
If you take Curry or Durant out of the picture in Golden State, the Warriors still have a legitimate squad. You can’t say the same thing about Lebron in Cleveland or Harden in Houston.
I respect Kevin Durant and there is no denying what Steph Curry is capable of. I just don’t see a scenario where either Durant or Curry can separate himself from the other and say he is the best player on the team.
Again, same issue here, but perhaps even more confusing of a situation. In New Orleans, here we have a Pelicans team that features two of the upper echelon big-men the league has to offer. Unfortunately, they don’t have much else to fall back on.
Both of these guys are putting up video-game like numbers. Cousins clocks in at 26.6 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. He also chips in by dishing out 5.5 assists each night.
Davis, meanwhile, is no slouch. His line of 25.8 points 11.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per contest stuffs the stat sheet with the best of them. So how in the world can you single one of these two guys out and give him the award over the other?
That’s just it ladies and gentlemen. You can’t. As silly as it sounds, having a teammate who is putting up similar numbers will make it almost impossible for either Cousins or Davis to capture an MVP Award this year.
Yes, I discussed the primary candidates. However, there is plenty of time for someone to emerge and join the race. One of the pre-season favorites to capture the MVP trophy, Kawhi Leonard- is yet to play a game.
Last season’s winner Russell Westbrook has seen his numbers dip across the board. When you are coming off a year when you average more than 30 points and a triple-double, that tends to happen. The Thunder added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
While Leonard and Westbrook may not be throwing their hats in the ring this year, other young stars have entered the fray. Kristaps Porzingis is playing fantastic basketball in New York and is proving that he is a star-in-the-making.
These two kids in Philly, Simmons and Embiid- WOW. We are still a year or two away from seeing the 76ers be a force in the Eastern Conference, but I’m most definitely taking notice of what the rookie and second-year player are doing. Playing the point guard position at 6’10”, Ben Simmons is putting up rookie numbers unlike anything we have seen since Magic Johnson himself.
Joel Embiid is averaging 22 and 11, all while playing under 30 minutes per game. Be very aware- the 76ers are a team to look out for in the future. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are the reasons why.
Now for the fun part: you are a sports bettor, aren’t you? Did you know that the best online betting sites allow you to place wagers on NBA games in the form of proposition bets, such as who will win the Most Valuable Player Award? The reason betting on this prop this season is so exciting is because we’ve never had such a wide-open field to start a season.
I will show you what I mean.
Let’s look at what the odds were for the top seven players winning the NBA MVP before the season started.
Russel Westbrook +350
Kevin Durant +450
Kawhi Leonard +650
Lebron James +750
James Harden +800
Giannis Antetokounmpo +850
Steph Curry +1100
Any of you who caught James Harden at 8:1, I’d make sure to hang on to that ticket. As for Westbrook and Leonard fans, I wouldn’t rip the ticket in half just yet, but I wouldn’t have my hopes up.
The best advice I can give you at this particular point in time is to invest in Lebron James and James Harden. The reasons why are mentioned throughout this post. Not only do their statistics speak for themselves, but there’s a high likelihood that their teams finish at or near the top of their conferences. Golden State and Boston are right there too, but the overall balance and abundance of talent on each squad hurt any individual’s chances at winning the MVP trophy.
Like everything in sports, “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings”. In the case of the NBA MVP Award this season, I expect either Harden or Bron Bron to be hearing the music loud and clear.