Breaking Down the NBA MVP Race

As the NBA season continues into March, the annual MVP conversation is happening more and more in the basketball world, whether it be at the bar, the dinner table, or the classroom. As with many MVP awards, it’s one that always brings debate and never seems to be unanimous amongst fans. Then again, hardly anything is unanimous amongst fans these days. Right now, the odds on favourite is the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s leading the Bucks to the NBA’s best record and is putting up some crazy stat lines while he’s doing it.  However, over the weekend, 35 year old LeBron James got some attention in the conversation as his Lakers pulled off two huge wins against the Bucks and then the L.A. Clippers. In this video, you can hear the MVP chants start for LeBron as he ices the game against former Raptor Kawhi Leonard and the Clips:

Before getting too far into why LeBron should still be looked at as a threat in the MVP race each and every year, let’s look at the year that reigning MVP award winner Giannis Antetokounmpo is having, as well another guy who seems to always be in the running. The 25 year old “Greek Freak” is easily averaging a double-double, with 29.6 points and 13.7 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting the 3 pointer a lot more frequently than previous years. Although not the league’s best shooter by any means, Giannis still puts up just under 5 3-point shots per game on average. If he can continue to improve this part of his game, his offensive arsenal will be basically unstoppable. As for his team’s success this year, it only helps his cause for grabbing a second MVP in a row, as the Bucks hold first place in the Eastern Conference with a league-best record of 53-11. 

Recently, Giannis got into a back and forth with another former MVP winner, Houston’s James Harden. After not picking Harden on his all-star team and then saying on live television that it was because he wanted someone who could pass the ball, Harden came back at Antetokounmpo just recently. Harden made comments about how he wished he could “just run and be seven feet and just dunk”, before telling reporters that he actually had to develop basketball skills, unlike the freakishly built Giannis. Even though the Bucks forward never really responded to Harden after those comments, it was good for the NBA to see some rivalry between two of its premier players, in an age where everyone seems to just want to be friends. After Harden said what he said, Giannis basically put an end to the storyline (for now) with this:

The reason I mention this is because Harden is quietly having himself another MVP calibre season as well. Although he may not be as well rounded as other guys in the league, there’s no denying that James Harden is one of the most talented offensive players in the game today. His average of 34.5 points per game leads the league and is 4.0 points above Bradley Beal, who’s second on the list. Harden averaged more than 36 points last year, and should probably stay above 34 this season. To put that in perspective, no player has averaged above 32 points in a season since Allen Iverson and the late Kobe Bryant both did it in the 2005-06 season. Harden’s crazy talents have him 3rd in the running right now according to the official MVP odds, and these highlights will show you exactly why he’s such a rare player:

Finally, there’s LeBron James. His point per game stats may not be as flashy as they once were, but this man continues to get it done at an extremely high level. In fact, he leads the league in assists per game by 1.5. For someone that’s not even technically a point guard, that’s an extremely impressive stat. Yes, he does handle the ball a lot for the Lakers as they move up the floor, but to be leading by the margin that he is while playing on a team with Rajon Rondo is still crazy. LeBron’s basketball IQ is really what sets him apart from most players, and it’s one of the reasons he’s been able to be so dominant for so long. Not to mention, he’s in better shape than any other 35 year old you could ever meet. Although he actually hasn’t won the MVP award since 2012, LeBron has always been the first name brought up when you’re talking about the best players in the NBA, and rightfully so. Right now he’s second in MVP odds and is still a large underdog if you were to be putting money on a player.

If you were looking to bet on the 2020 NBA MVP winner, there really isn’t a great option to take money-wise. Right now, Giannis is a big enough favourite to win that the money you would make on the return probably wouldn’t be worth the risk. If you bet on Harden or LeBron, the possible return is great, but the chances of getting that return look to be quite slim, accord to Vegas. It’s not about the fans making money off these great athletes though, it’s about their opportunity to be recognized amongst their peers as the most valuable player in the league. Although all three of these guys bring something different to the table, they’re all great players and previous winners of the award. If I had to predict a winner, I would definitely go with the Greek Freak, but if you ask me who I think the best basketball player in the world is, I’m still taking LeBron James. It’s an interesting debate and hopefully the race will tighten up as we go down the stretch. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the highly emotional speech from Giannis after winning the award last year:

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