The MVP Race this season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. There were 5 major contenders for the award at the start of the season, but now it only boils down to two superstar players: Nikola Jokic and James Harden. Kevin Durant had a hot start to the season but has missed a ton of time due to COVID protocols and injury.
Joel Embiid was the favorite at one point but he is out for a while with an unfortunate ankle injury. That leaves Jokic and Harden as the most dominant regular-season players right now, and one of them will lift the MVP Award at the end of the year. Here is the breakdown of who will win the MVP Award this season.
Nikola Jokic has been on a tear this season, having a spectacular year as a center. Based on this season alone, Jokic is the best passing big man we have ever seen. He ranks 6th in the NBA in assists, behind 5 guards, and also ranks 8th in rebounds. When it comes to scoring the ball, Jokic ranks 7th.
James Harden is also having his usual dominant year statistically, ranking 1st in assists and 20th in rebounds as a guard. His scoring comes in at 11th which is amazing considering he plays with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Overall, both players are putting up MVP numbers. What Jokic is doing as a center is legendary, and he might have a slight edge over Harden who we have (unfortunately for him) gotten used to his averaging of a double-double.
Advantage: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is the heart and soul of the Denver Nuggets and is the biggest driving force behind their successes over the past few years. Without Jokic, this Denver team is probably at the bottom of the conference. The Nuggets had a very poor start to the season, but the spectacular play of Jokic has them in a playoff seeding. Jokic leads his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals. He carried Denver every night and is a great leader for them.
Similarly, Harden has shown tremendous leadership for the Brooklyn Nets. Of course, he is joining a superteam but Durant and even Irving have missed many games this season for a variety of reasons. Even without Durant and Irving in the lineup, Harden has carried the Nets offensively. He is a special player and his leadership abilities have taken another step this season. But it is not enough to make him the winner in this category as there is no clear victor.
In terms of impact, it is hard to distinguish between Nikola Jokic and James Harden. Both are superstar players who are putting up MVP numbers and carrying their teams all season long. Jokic carries the offense and is also the main defensive focal point thanks to his size around the rim, which means everything that Denver does flows through the big man.
Harden carries the offense and is the main creator for the Nets who are without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant at the moment. Brooklyn is stacked, but Harden has been their most consistent player. Overall, that means there is no clear winner.
Perhaps the most important factor in determining the MVP of a particular season is the media narrative. The "story" of a particular season cannot be ignored, because it centers the facts and stats into reality.
Jokic is the heart and soul of the Nuggets, who do not have a consistent performer outside of Jamal Murray. Murray is a great player, but he has not made an All-Star Team yet and no one else can be relied upon to score 20 PPG. Jokic leads his team in all major statistics and can lead Denver to a top-3 seed in a crowded Western Conference if they win enough games.
James Harden is the best shooting guard in the NBA, but there is no denying he was traded to a championship contender with two Hall of Fame talents already on the roster. Harden had great stats during 8 games with the Rockets to start the season, but he quit on his team. Playing well for the Nets who have had Kyrie Irving and Durant racking up wins for the squad should factor against The Beard.
In all fairness, the narrative supports Nikola Jokic because of what he has done for his team without other superstars.
Advantage: Nikola Jokic
Nuggets vs. Nets Record
The Denver Nuggets hold a 28-18 record and currently sit 5th in the Western Conference. The Nuggets haven't been as consistent this season compared to last, and that doesn't necessarily have to do with Nikola Jokic either. But record matters and the fact that Denver is only in 6th place doesn't look very good for an MVP candidate.
James Harden and the Nets are 2nd in the Eastern Conference with a 31-15 record. It may only be a matter of time before the Nets grab the 1st seed in the East, which will greatly bolster Harden's MVP argument. For now, Brooklyn has a better record and thus the edge goes to Harden.
Advantage: James Harden
Winner: Nikola Jokic vs. James Harden 2-1
James Harden has a better record with the Nets, but he has not gone through the challenges that Jokic has had to ensure. Jokic has suffered from inconsistent teammates to start the season, and Denver looked far from a playoff team. His triple-doubles as a center is legendary, and he doesn't have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on his team either. That means Jokic should win MVP this season, as he edges James Harden.