Harden’s scoring may be impressive, but he’s not MVP

By SAMUEL FARRAR | January 31, 2019

luka-doncic
Cristina Ruiz/CC BY-SA 4.0 Luka Dončić has seamlessly made the transition from the Euroleague to the NBA.

The race for the season awards is as competitive as ever. At this point, most of the awards could go to any number of players. However, there are frontrunners for each of the trophies. Here are the NBA midseason awards, as of January. 

Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

Some might call it blasphemous to not name the Houston Rockets’ James Harden the frontrunner for his second MVP award in two years, and for good reason. His play over the last one and a half months has truly been remarkable. His current 30+ point game streak is higher than any player’s since Wilt Chamberlain. At 36.3 points (1st) and 8.2 assists (4th) per game, his dominance has drawn comparisons to Kobe Bryant. 

However, James Harden's scoring, albeit incredible in its own right, doesn’t directly translate to a W. Just last week, he put up 27 in the first half alone, but went into the tunnel with his team down double digits against the Philadelphia 76ers, a game which would result in a Houston blowout. A few days later, he put up 61 just to scrap by the tanking New York Knicks. Harden is a lock for the scoring title, but in terms of value to the team, there’s a better option.

That option is the Greek Freak, the Human Alphabet, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Averaging 27-13-6, he impacts the game in every way imaginable. With three-quarters of his shots coming at the rim, the league hasn’t seen a player without a jumper dominate the way he has since Shaq. His season +/-, a measure of how many points his team scores versus how many the other team scores when he’s on the court, is 12.3, compared to James Harden’s 3.3. His defense is vastly underrated-- with his length and athleticism, he can guard any position. 

His physical prowess is unbelievable. He can cover 10 feet in one step, going from half court to the rim in one dribble on a nightly basis, more often than not taking off at the free-throw line. With a stride that could cross the Red Sea, and a wingspan that would make it to India, his simple presence changes the game. When he’s on the court, the opposing team has no choice but to cheat on defense, which often frees up the Bucks’ sharpshooters, such as Brook Lopez, Kris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon. Giannis is incredible, and makes his team even better. 

Rookie of the Year: Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks)

Luka Dončić is the only player running away with an award this season. Averaging 20-5-7, he is having the best rookie season since Blake Griffin in 2011. At just 18 years old, Dončić won Euro League MVP before being drafted by the Mavericks. Despite this, he came into the league surrounded by doubt, due to the historic failure of Euro League talent in the NBA. 

So far, he has done nothing but prove his skeptics wrong. He’s proven himself in the clutch, hitting an incredible buzzer beater against the Portland Trail Blazers with 0.6 seconds left, and going on an 11-0 run by himself against the Rockets in early December. Dončić truly earned his nickname, Luka Magic.

Sixth Man of the Year: Derrick Rose (Minnesota Timberwolves)

I have to admit, this pick may be a little irrational. Domantas Sabonis is doing great things for the Indiana Pacers off the bench, as is Spencer Dinwiddie for the Brooklyn Nets. However, the storyline for Derrick Rose is just too beautiful. Former MVP, marred by injury and tossed around the league as the footnote of trades for several years, Rose is finally back. 

Averaging 19 a game with a revamped three-pointer, Derrick Rose has learned how to score efficiently without relying on the high-flying athleticism that shredded his knees and almost ended his career. With the Wolves’ horrific second unit, the team would crumble when the staters rested if not for Rose’s scoring abilities. Recently, he has even been finishing games, instead of starting point guard, Jeff Teague.

Defensive Player of the Year: Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Despite the best offensive season of his career, the most impressive part of George’s game this year is his defense. He is among the league’s top three in steals, deflections, loose balls recovered and defensive win shares. This man is everywhere. 

With the Toronto Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard sitting out for rest on a weekly basis, and OKC’s own Andre Roberson out with an injury, George has quickly claimed the title of best perimeter defender in the league, guarding some of the toughest offensive opponents in the NBA. Led by his efforts, the Thunder has skyrocketed to the best defensive rating in the Western Conference.

Most Improved Player: Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors)

Pascal Siakam is the latest wonder to enter the NBA out of Cameroon. In his first two seasons, he was a decent role player for the Raptors. However, as a starter this season, he’s doubled his scoring from 7.3 to 15.3 per game, along with an extra 3.5 rebounds. 

Most importantly, however, is what his addition to the starting lineup means for the Raptors’ defense. Running alongside Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka, Toronto has one of the tallest and toughest frontcourts in the league. Nobody would argue that he is the best player on the team, but Siakam is the piece that pushes Toronto from a playoff team to potential Eastern Conference champion.

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