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Was James Harden Robbed of an MVP Title?


Giannis Antetokounmpo was rewarded for his best season to date with the 2019 NBA MVP award, marking an incredible rise from former G-League player to the best of the NBA. He had to fend off some serious competition from Oklahoma City’s Paul George and Houston’s James Harden, with Harden having the better claim to the award over George.

It is safe to say that the Greek Freak carried his team well through to a solid performance in the playoffs, falling to Toronto during the Conference finals. James Harden, for all that he did during the season wasn’t able to get quite as far, losing in 6 games to Golden State at the Conference semi-finals.

With that being said, it is the regular season that matters the most for the MVP award and arguably, James Harden had the better regular season. Don’t take my word on it though, allow the Houston Rockets social media team to vouch for the man known as “The Beard”.

There’s a 3 tweet thread that Houston put out on Twitter and Instagram, in which the Rockets do make some good points. One could argue that the Rockets social media team are “sore losers”, but let’s take a look at the numbers and see if the Rockets main man had an MVP title robbed by a Greek Freak.

James Harden played 78 games over the course of the NBA season, scoring over 30 points in 57 of them. The tweet above shows the rest of those scoring stats over the season for Harden, however that was not the only statistic in which Harden dominated.

Not only would Harden score at will, he would distribute the ball nicely and average a solid 7.5 assists per game. He would eclipse 10 assists 24 times, with teams having to pressure one of the most notorious 3-point shooters at all time. It would leave Harden to drive into the paint and swing out into the corners or just distribute to anyone on the court.

He wasn’t a mug under the rim either, grabbing 6 rebounds a game. James Harden would eclipse 10 rebounds in 17 games, including a 15 rebound effort in which he also scored 61 points against the New York Knicks.

One could argue that Houston relied way too much on James Harden, and that may have been his downfall in the MVP race. On the other hand, you can most certainly argue that without Harden in the line-up this season, Houston would have been lucky to even make the playoffs. On that point alone, you could say that Harden should have won the award for the second straight year.

We move on to looking at the stats of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the winner of the MVP award this year. His impact is undeniable in a Milwaukee team that had vastly improved in the last year. A huge threat driving into the paint, this year teams had to recognize that Antetokounmpo could and would be able to hit a couple of 3-point shots.

Using the same means of analysis to that of James Harden, Antetokounmpo had 30 or more points in 31 games. Now, here we have to take into account that Harden is a much more natural long-range shooter, as well as the fact that Harden has this uncanny ability to draw fouls when charging to the rim.

We then go to rebounds, where the Greek Freak had a career best year by averaging over 12 rebounds a game. Previously to that, his career high was an average of 10 rebounds a game in the 2017/18 season. You have to acknowledge that Giannis played as a power forward, who could at times go into the center role as needed.

The assists category is where James Harden makes ground on Giannis, with the Greek national averaging a touch under 6 assists per game. Giannis didn’t quite have the same dual threat that Harden did, however Giannis drove into the paint hard and attracted two defenders. It almost always ensured that there was a free man.

You can not just look at the face value of statistics over the course of a season. Harden does have an advantage at face value by averaging more in points and assists, however Giannis has a higher number of rebounds and double-doubles. You have to look at the impact that a players has on their team, with for both players is for the better.

When James Harden was on the court, he would be in almost every play that the Rockets would run. For better or worse, Harden on the court more often than not and for a solid 3 month span, he would dominate almost any opponent in his way. He averaged 40+ points for 3 straight months from December 8, 2018 through March 8, 2019. It essentially created the 28-12 run that pushed the Rockets up into the finals and kept them there.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was dominant in the paint, with a plus/minus of 12.5 when he was on the court this season. While he didn’t have a crazy scoring run, he was incredibly consistent in being able to score 20+ points, grab 10+ rebounds and dish out 5+ assists. He had help in taking the Bucks to 60-22, but without Giannis, the Bucks become a 50 win side.

So who should have been rewarded with the NBA MVP award? You can easily make a case for both players. James Harden averaged higher than anyone since Michael Jordan in 1986/87, the 7th best season of all time. Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated the paint like no other this year, evolving his game under and in front of the rim. No team could defend either player, and each respective team would be worse off without these two on the court.

If you look at the defense of both players, Giannis Antetokounmpo was a blocking machine. His presence under the rim would force missed shots from close range, and he would dominate the board with Brook Lopez. James Harden was second in the league in steals, however his lack of effort during certain plays in games might have left a sour taste in the mouths of the voters.

As much as James Harden had a career year offensively and in transition, Giannis Antetokounmpo was definitely the better of the two players in defense. You can understand why Giannis ended up with the award, however one can definitely see how James Harden and the Rockets may feel hard done by.

Main Picture Credit: Medium

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