If you follow the NBA, then you probably hear all of the discussion surrounding this season’s MVP race. The top 2 names in this discussion are Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. Harden is currently the favorite in Vegas at -250 with Giannis a wide margin behind at +350. Us Bucks fans love Giannis and want him to win, but it’s gotten tough to argue against Harden’s scoring run he’s been on the last couple months. This is your guide to argue for Giannis by the stats.
First off we need to discuss playing time. The Rockets have had many more injury problems this season than the Bucks which has resulted in James Harden needing to do more for his team. As it stands today, Harden plays an average of 4.2 minutes more a game than Giannis. For this purpose, I’m going to use per-36 minutes stats in order to even out the playing field.
A glaring statistic that Giannis is more helpful to his team is the comparison in field goal percentage per-36. Giannis is making 10.9 shots on 18.7 attempts to go 58.1% from the field. Harden is making 10.4 shots on 23.5 attempts to go 44.1% from the field. That’s a significant margin and points to the fact that Giannis makes most of his shots and often gets his own rebound on misses.
In terms of rebounds per-36, Giannis is way up at 13.8 to Harden’s 6.4. This isn’t really Harden’s fault as Giannis is a behemoth of a human being that can snatch anything within the confines of the arena. In contrast, one would expect this to give Harden the big advantage in assists as he’s been able to run point the entire season. However, Giannis is barely behind at 6.5 to Harden’s 7.4 per-36.
Now, I realize that Harden scores 35.2 points to Giannis’ 29.5 per-36 minutes and that he is making history with his 30-points-a-game streak. Harden also shoots the 3 much better than Giannis has all season. Or has he? If we move away from per-36 stats and compare their 3-point percentage starting with 2019, Giannis is shooting 32.7% to Harden’s 35.9%. That’s an extremely small margin considering Giannis’ field goal percentage in this period is 57.1% to Harden’s 44.1%.
To complete the per-36 comparison, Giannis has the advantage in blocks and turnovers while Harden holds a slim margin in steals. But obviously per-36 minutes is not the only thing that MVP voters look at. Many other factors are taken into account.
James Harden’s usage rate is at 40.8, the highest in the league by far and the second highest in NBA history. Giannis’ usage rate currently sits at 31.9, good for 5th in the league. This means Harden’s impact should be much greater than Giannis’ since he is a bigger part of the game. However, Giannis’ win shares per-48 minutes is at .290 to Harden’s .249. Harden holds a decent gap over Giannis on the offensive win shares but also makes nearly no defensive impact while Giannis is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
I, as I’m sure a lot of others do, value team performance in the MVP race. Well, Milwaukee currently has the best record in the NBA at 43-14. The Rockets, on the other hand, have the 10th best record in the NBA at 33-24. Milwaukee is also threatening to become just the 4th team in history to complete a full season with a net rating above 10.
To top it all off, Giannis is on pace to be just the second player in NBA history to average 25+ points, 12+ rebounds, and 6+ assists through an entire season. The only other player to do so; former Buck Oscar Robertson in the 1961-1962 season.
James Harden makes a fantastic case for MVP. After all, he’s the most electric shooter in the NBA this season. But Giannis is the most complete player possibly this league has ever seen. If he had a consistent 3-pointer to appeal to the voters, this race would be over long ago. Sadly, flashiness is valued and Harden has had more clutch shots than Giannis this season. This is largely because Giannis has been able to will his team to significant leads that don’t require any crunch time shots. Giannis deserves to be MVP and certainly doesn’t deserve the odds he is getting in Vegas.
If you’re one of the people that, for some reason, believes Paul George should be in this discussion, I will direct you to this thread. Just stop.