Things will start to heat up when the NBA resumes action on Thursday as teams will be jockeying for playoff position.
Six teams separated by just six games are battling for the best record in the entire league and home court advantage throughout the entire postseason. In the East, five teams separated by just 6.5 games are fighting over the top four spots while the 11th ranked team is just 5.5 games behind the 6th seed. Out West, only four games stand between the Top three seeds while teams 6 to 12 are just six games apart. With the win-loss records close, expect an exciting finish to the current NBA season.
Likewise, the race for the league’s Most Valuable Player is also heating up. Reigning MVP James Harden is having a historic scoring season while trying to will his team back into title contention. The top players from the best teams in the two conferences-Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors are right behind Harden. Breathing hard behind the Beard is also OKC forward Paul George who is on a tear as the teams headed to the break.
While it’s still too early to pick the next Champions, the field for the next MVP has been narrowed down. Let’s take a look at the updated list and see who deserves to win the next Maurice Podoloff trophy.
Here are the latest odds (as taken from bet365 as of 2/20/19) to win the 2019 NBA MVP Award:
2019 NBA MVP Award Odds
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The obvious choice to win MVP is none other than the odds on favorite himself James Harden. Harden is the reigning MVP and the story on him is that he is bucking incredible usage to will his team back from 14th place to 5th in the current Western Conference team standings. Harden’s Rockets had the best record in the league last season but injuries to key players have hounded them this year. Despite their woes, Harden refused to lose and took matters in his own hands. It remains to be seen up to where Harden can single-handedly carry his Rockets. It also remains to be seen how long can he keep up his incredible pace. One thing is sure though. Harden’s exploits have made him the MVP favorite.
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is also having a phenomenal season. The Greek Freak has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the league at the break with their 43-14 record. Considering the Bucks won just one game more the entire season last year, that’s impressive. So Giannis being the best player on the best team gives us enough reason to consider him as the next NBA MVP.
But Giannis isn’t just the best player on the best team. He may be the best all-around player in the entire league given his statistics. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. The Greek Freak is also shooting the ball at a high 58.1% clip. If that’s not impressive enough, then I don’t know what is.
Paul George has risen in the oddsboards as the OKC Thunder forward has been playing outstanding as of late in leading the Thunder to the 3rd best record in the Western Conference. Likewise, Steph Curry has been on a roll since returning from injury and has been key in Golden State reclaiming the West from the Nuggets. LeBron is 5th in the oddsboard but as his Lakers continue to tumble, so does his chances to become this year’s MVP. Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic can also make their claim but as far as I’m concerned, the MVP race has been narrowed down to James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Who Wins MVP?
There are a couple of historical facts that make us second guess Harden as out bet for MVP. One is that of the 10 players in NBA history who finished the season with a scoring average of 35 or more points, only two of them went on to win the MVP award. These were Wilt Chamberlain in 1960 and Michael Jordan in 1988. The other one is the fact that 33 out of the last 35 NBA MVP winners have come from the Top 2 teams of either conference. Again, the exceptions were Michael Jordan in 1988 ( Bulls were #3) and Russell Westbrook two years ago.
When you take a look at the next names on the oddsboard, you can make a case for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Jokic and Steph Curry because their teams are from the Top 2 teams in each conference. Among the four, it’s Giannis who stands out because the Bucks are surprising everybody with the best record in the league at the break and Giannis is putting up staggering numbers across the board as well.
But when you take a look at James Harden’s 2018-19 season, it’s not just about scoring points and winning games. While it’s true that Harden is scoring points, he’s doing so efficiently. Advanced metrics say that the Beard has a true shooting percentage of 62% this season. In comparison Kobe Bryant had a true shooting percentage of 55.9% when the Black Mamba averaged 35.4 points per game during the 2004 season. Likewise, Michael Jordan’s last two 35+ scoring season netted MJ a true shooting percentage of 56.2% and 60.3%.
Aside from his offensive efficiency, we’ve also seen Harden improve so much defensively. The Beard used to be a pure offensive machine but this season, he is averaging 2.2 steals per game this season. No, he’s nowhere near Gary Payton or even Klay Thompson category but there have been games where he made crucial defensive plays that helped his team win. And yes, speaking about his team. Harden’s supporting cast isn’t as solid as the supporting cast of Antetokounmpo, George, Curry and Embiid. Sure, he has Chris Paul in Houston but CP3’s missed plenty of games due to injury and even if CP3 didn’t get hurt, there isn’t a big name after him in the lineup. Harden has had to carry a bunch of role players just to put the Rockets where they are right now. And while he’s doing that, he’s also assaulting the record books with his string of 30-point games.
At one point in December, the Rockets were 12-14 and Antetokounmpo, Leonard and LeBron James made noise as MVP favorites. Then Harden had that 50-point triple double against the Lakers. Since then, he hasn’t slowed down and has averaged 41.5 points per game in his last 31 games played. Harden’s 30-point streak is now at 31 points, tying the 2nd longest in NBA history. I’m not sure where that streak ends but I’m pretty much sure that if nothing significant happens the rest of the way, James Harden should be walking away with his second straight MVP award.
I’m picking James Harden to win the 2019 NBA MVP award.