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NBA MVP Power Rankings: James Harden Goes On A Tear

Credit: USA Today

Credit: USA Today

It seems that every year there’s a growing amount of controversy about what should define the most valuable player. Here’s the situation: LeBron James has been the greatest player on the planet for the past decade and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Over that span, he’s relocated three times and immediately turned his new team into a contender.

Nonetheless, King James hasn’t won the award since he was back on the Miami Heat in 2013. This tells us that it’s clearly a regular season award, but otherwise, the NBA hasn’t clearly defined the parameters of the MVP. So here are our MVP power rankings, keeping in mind individual statistics, team success, sustainability, and efficiency.

10. Paul George

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Paul George has had an extremely solid season so far and it’s hard to believe that his chances to win MVP are so slim. He’s finally showing us the complete arsenal that he had pre-injury back in Indiana – he’s a major shooting threat from pretty much anywhere inside 30 feet, whether or not he’s behind a pick, and he can take it to the hole creatively or ferociously and finish with a slam.

At 26.6 points a game, he’s up almost 5 points from last season and if the season ended today it would easily be a career-high in scoring. He’s also averaging career highs in rebounds (8.1) and steals (2.3). George is obviously still one of the best defenders in the game, and his length and footwork create a nightmare for perimeter 2’s and 3’s. Unfortunately, an underwhelming FG% of 44.2 won’t help his chances at MVP this season, in addition to games like last night, where he disappeared in the fourth quarter and allowed a Lebron-less Laker team to seal the deal in Oklahoma City.

9. Nikola Jokic

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This probably won’t be the year that Nikola Jokic wins MVP, but it’s extremely likely that he will eventually. He plays the game as if he’s got eyes in the back of his head, slinging passes that most wouldn’t see if they were watching the game in slow motion.

Jokic leads the league in passes per game (71.2), ranks fourth among all players in assist percentage (38.4) and is currently averaging more assists than LeBron James. That’s all while putting up 20 points a night. Not to mention, the Nuggets are sitting pretty at the 2 spot in a loaded Western Conference and were in 1st for most of the year until the Warriors finally started Warrior-ing. One aspect of his game that he could improve is his defense, but somehow the Nuggets are still getting it done on the defensive end (6th in scoring defense).

8. Joel Embiid

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This season, Embiid has been able to successfully back up all the trash talking he’s done throughout his career, having the type of monster season the 76ers expected when they drafted him. He’s averaging 27 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2 blocks, a statistical benchmark only 5 NBA players - all Hall of Famers – have matched. His inside dominance has been comparable to Shaq, in addition to intriguing mid-post footwork and a somewhat serviceable 3-point shot for a center (31.1%).

In the past two seasons, people were concerned that his gaudy numbers might not hold up over larger sample size, but his per-36 minutes from those seasons equal almost exactly the output he’s produced this season in 34 minutes a game. He’d easily be a top-5 MVP candidate in a season where there wasn’t such heavy competition, and he may even be able to work into that conversation as long as he isn’t affected by back issues.

7. LeBron James

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Before his groin injury, LeBron was a serious frontrunner for MVP in the eyes of many. Not only was he averaging 27 points, 7 assists, and 8 rebounds, but he took a Lakers team that finished 11th in the West last season and had them at the 4 seed prior to his injury. With LeBron this season, the Lakers went 20-14, scored 113.2 PPG, while shooting 48% from the field and 35% from 3. Without him, they’re 5-7, scoring 108 PPG, shooting 44% from the field and 31% from 3. That’s an enormous difference for a single player to make, probably something only LeBron could accomplish.

He’s visibly adapting his game in order to increase his longevity, shooting the most threes of his at a 36% clip. The only thing we can knock LeBron for at this point in his career is laziness at times on defense, an area where the Lakers rank 16th, which isn’t quite as concerning as it was when he was in Cleveland. LeBron’s always in the MVP conversation, but his stock will seriously drop because of this rare injury.

6. Stephen Curry

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As of late, Curry has been pulling the same ridiculous antics from beyond the arc that we’ve seen from him his entire career, and oh, by the way, he’s doing it at a career-high rate of 45.9%. The case for Steph Curry making MVP is similar to LeBron at this point, where he makes a team (one of the greatest teams of all-time at that) so much better offensively that you wonder where the three-time champs would be without him. Even with KD, they’d probably be only a good playoff team in the Western Conference, maybe a second or third round out every year.

This season, Curry’s offensive rating is a whopping 119.5 and his defensive rating is 105.7, which essentially indicates that if it was up to him, the Warriors would be outscoring teams by 14 points during his minutes. Additionally, he’s averaging 6 more points than he did when he won the MVP back in 2015 (23.8 vs. 29.8). The only reason that he’s not higher on this list is that the NBA clearly favors players who haven’t won the award before.

5. Kevin Durant

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Like Curry, Durant is seemingly having the same incredible season he’s had over and over in the past and MVP voters will overlook him because of that. To put it in perspective, this is the 6th time in his career that he’s averaged at least 28 points in a season. He’s also at a career high from the free throw line (91.3%) and is averaging a career high in assists (6). When he made the move to Golden State, he stated that one of the main reasons they attracted him was because of the beautiful brand of ball movement that they employ, and it’s safe to say that he’s comfortably adjusted to it.

What’s not being talked about is his effectiveness at containing the opposing team’s best scorer, whether that be a wing or a guard. This ability has helped the Warriors win back to back titles since he’s arrived in the Bay Area, and it will probably propel them to another one this year. Don’t expect Durant to win the MVP this year, but he surely deserves an enormous amount of praise for consistently being one of the most effective and reliable scorers ever. I think him and Draymond should be able to sort out their differences, and that KD will remain a Warrior this Summer.

4. Kawhi Leonard

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After a brilliant offseason move by Raptors president Masai Ujiri that scored them, Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors seemed revived and youthful. Not that they didn’t have an incredible record with Demar DeRozan, but it feels like the playoffs will result very different this year. Much to the liking of the Raptors, they won’t have to see LeBron in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and even after being traded, Demar DeRozan still might.

Kawhi Leonard is a much more complete scorer than DeRozan and an annual DPOY candidate. Kawhi is averaging a career high in points (27.6) and assists, while the Raptors have more wins than anyone in the league this year, which bodes well for him in the MVP race considering how highly the NBA regards team record. Kawhi is in a good position to make a legitimate run for MVP during the home stretch of the season, but he’ll have to go on some sort of historic scoring run or winning streak to make it happen.

3. Anthony Davis

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Davis checks off all the boxes needed to win the MVP for this season: he’s averaging almost 30 points a game, he’s one of the league leaders in blocks (he’s also a lockdown one-on-one defender), collects 13.5 rebounds a game, and shoots over 50% on 20 attempts a game. But oh, his team is 21-24, and it’s looking like they don’t have a great chance to make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference.

The irritating thing is, sometimes you have to look past the Win/Loss column to see the whole picture. Anthony Davis ranks 2nd among MVP candidates in clutch scoring, only topped by Nikola Jokic who is tied for 2nd in the league when it comes to that category. For his own sake, it would be preferential for The Brow get that coveted trade to the Lakers so he could showcase his skills on one of the biggest stages in the league.

2. James Harden

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Take this ranking with a grain of salt, because no one can say for sure who has the edge for MVP between James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo at this point. Minus the Bucks’ recent win over the Rockets in Houston, Harden has been the hottest player in the league, and recently had a two-game stretch where he scored 115 points. He also has the longest stretch of games with at least 30 points since the NBA merger in 1977 and is averaging 35 for the season.

Harden’s game has consisted of an even more refined version of unguardable step-back threes, tricky rhythms and ungodly footwork that gives him the ability to be fouled on any play. Criticism for his reliance on free throws is warranted, but nobody seemed to criticize Kobe to this degree when he said that he used to study rulebooks to manipulate the refs. If Harden continues this ridiculous stretch of scoring and the Rockets find a way to reach the 50-win mark, it’ll be tough to deny him the trophy. Granted, those are two huge ifs, and as mentioned earlier, the league will usually favor someone who hasn’t won the award before.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It’s safe to say that Giannis has started to conquer his full-fledged superhuman abilities on a basketball court. He’s probably the frontrunner for MVP this season, boasting a stat line of 26.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 6 assists per game on an incredible 58% shooting (which is probably one of his biggest arguments for MVP). He’s also led the Bucks to the best record in the East at 32-12, which makes them 7 wins better than Harden’s Rockets.

The speed and strength in which he propels his extremely lanky body is unmatched, as he ferociously attacks the rim with a 7’ 3” wingspan and dunks as much as most centers. Except, he’s a point guard. Also, according to the Bucks, he went from 196 lbs on draft day to 222 lbs this season, which is almost all-lean muscle. He still struggles mightily to shoot the three-ball (17%), but it seems as that number can only go up from here. The Greek Freak has put himself in an excellent position to win the Most Valuable Player, and he’ll be tough to deny if the Bucks keep winning games at this rate.