Comparisons are a vital part of sports. We can't set our eyes on a new talent without immediately pointing to who that player reminds us of, like the Leonardo Di Caprio meme from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I do it too, so I wish I had an answer for why we can't escape the jaws of a player-comp,...
Harden or Antetokounmpo: The Repercussions of the NBA MVP Vote
This year's NBA MVP race may go down as the closest since the 04-05 season that saw Steve Nash win the first of his two in a row by beating Shaquille O'Neal in the MVP vote by a mere 3 percent. This year's vote will also most likely come down to a few percentage points but it really shouldn't.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the clear MVP and if James Harden wins it, the NBA is sending a clear message that defensive contribution does not matter.
The case for Harden is centered on his historic scoring season, with some claiming the NBA has never seen a performance like this . . . which is false. Harden's scoring average (36.1 ppg) is the second highest since the merger in 1976, one spot under Michael Jordan's 86-87 season (37.1 ppg) and one spot above Kobe Bryant in 05-06 (35.4 ppg). The Bulls finished 8th in the East that season and the Lakers finished 7th in 2006.
Two historical season from two historical greats, so how did it translate to their respective MVP races? Kobe Bryant finished fourth in 06 and Michael Jordan finished second in 87 . . . Harden's impressive scoring average should not be the sole factor in determining the MVP. What it should come down to is who has made the most impact on both sides of the ball and when you take that into account Antetokounmpo runs away with the award.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is not only the favorite for MVP, but also the front runner for DPOY. While Harden has improved from the days where he went viral night after night for hysterical defensive lapses, he is still far from having a productive impact on that side of the ball. Antetokounmpo finished the season 2nd in defensive rating, a stat that measures a player's contribution to defense, Harden finished 50th. Defensive and offensive contribution accounted for, Giannis has been by far the most dominant player this season.
Giannis's averages of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks go down in history as the only season with such averages. Not LeBron, not Jordan, not Kareem, not Wilt but Antetokounmpo on that list by his lonesome. So wait, while putting up a historic defensive season, Antetokounmpo is also historic on the offensive side of the ball and yet somehow there are people out there who would rather give the award to Harden? That is unbelievable to imagine.
Not to mention the Rockets have won 12 less games than they did last season while the Bucks have improved their record by 16 wins.
What it may ultimately come down is the NBA media's refusal to cede the league to an international influence. If Antetokounmpo sweeps MVP and DPOY and Doncic wins the rookie of the year then the three major individual awards will have been won by international players despite representing less than 25% of the league. The players and the media have a clear vendetta against this and have spent the past week campaigning for Harden and Trae Young to undeservedly win both MVP and ROY. It's okay for an international player to win an award every once in a while but it's a whole different look if they sweep the NBA awards. People are treating it as an assault on American basketball and Antetokounmpo is suffering the consequences.
Whatever the reason maybe, if the NBA awards Harden the MVP over Antetokounmpo, a player who did it on both sides of the ball . . . then they are sending a clear message that defensive contribution does not matter and that could change the landscape of the NBA for years to come.
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