At this point, every team has played between like 42 and 47 games, so the regular season is officially halfway done. This season has been all over the place and the drama around the league seems to be at an all-time high. There's still half a season, All-Star Weekend, the trade deadline, and the Playoffs left; things might get out of hand. So many players have performed at high levels this year, some more surprising than others, and the MVP race is starting to get more divided, especially with James Harden's emergence in the conversation (once again). That being said, here's my MVP ladder halfway through the year.
Shoutout Lennox for having the same list as me.
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets (24-18, 6th in the West)
Stat Line: 39 G, 34.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 8.8 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 43.4/37.8/85.9, 29.2 PER
For a while it seemed like the Rockets may have lost the fire that fueled them to 65 wins and the 1st seed in the West last year, along with a Western Conference Finals appearance, but James Harden has breathed (or rather shot) new life into this team. Between the early season Chris Paul-Rondo fight, Melo-fiasco, and CP3's hamstring injury, not a lot has gone right in Astroworld... until now (I hate myself for the "...until now", so I'm leaving it as a constant reminder to live from your mistakes). Over his last 10 games, Harden is averaging 40.7.-7.7-9.8 on about 41% shooting, an absolutely absurd stat line for any stretch of games. In 16 straight games Harden has scored at least 30 points, and on Friday became the first player in NBA history to achieve a 40-point triple-double in under 30 minutes (this is utterly absurd, Harden is the best player in the league over this stretch). I saw a tweet that said Harden has had four 40-point triple-doubles over the last month, but I can't find it, so we're going to go with it. The tear that Harden is on right now is putting him in the "best offensive player ever" conversation, and only really Kobe, Jordan, and Wilt have experienced such scoring dominance over a stretch of games.
I know this is going to sound pretty ridiculous, but James Harden should be winning his third straight MVP, but instead he'll (hopefully) take home his second in a row this season. I'm of the belief that Harden should have Russell Westbrook's MVP from 2017. I realize how crazy it was that Westbrook averaged a triple-double since it was the first time since Oscar Robertson, but I felt like he tried padding his stats a little too much that year. There were too many instances of him camping under the board for rebounds and dribbling out the shot clock then dishing the ball for a last-second assist to Steven Adams. Harden adjusted well to becoming a full-time point guard (29.1 points and 11.2 assists), and the Rockets knocked out the Thunder in the first round. History can't be changed, but it's a shame that Harden isn't competing for a three-peat right now. There's a lot of season left, so we'll have to see how long Harden's (and the Rocket's) success will last. If Harden wants to take home the award, they need a few more wins.
Also, people need to stop bitching about Harden scoring a lot of his points with free throws. When his shot's off he has to find other ways to score, and since he knows how to draw fouls unlike anyone else in the league, it's a no-brainer. You have to score to win games, and it's working pretty well for Harden right now.
OH SHIT, I just got a notification from Bleacher Report that Clint Capela is out 4-6 weeks, probably making Nene their starting center. If Harden can keep the Rockets afloat during this, how can he not win MVP lol.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (30-12, 2nd in the East)
Stat Line: 39 G, 26.7 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 57.9/17.2/70.1, 29.1 PER
If Harden hadn't decided to activate God Mode, Giannis would be #1, and honestly, he probably has a more realistic shot of winning it. The cards are kind of in Giannis' favor: the Bucks are the second-best team in the East, he's clearly a top-two EC player, and he would be a first-time recipient. Who knows, though, there's a lot of season left (I'm so fucking sick of saying that, I don't know why I keep typing it. I feel like I have to because it's true.)
I'll admit that I haven't been paying as close attention to the Bucks as I should lately, but I know just how solid they've been. Giannis has been so dominant, and has kind of changed positions (again). It seems like he's playing the role of point-center, bringing down the ball, and then eventually winding up with the ball back in his hands either driving and dunking on a poor soul, or backing them down and doing all sorts of footwork wizardry. The over-the-summer bulk up has helped too, as Giannis has become damn-near unstoppable by the rim (except when it comes to Jarrett Allen). A lot of the Bucks' success can be rewarded to new head coach Mike Budenholzer, as he's been able to revitalize the offense after Jason Kidd's often-confusing tenure.
It would be a lot easier to dub Giannis as the East's best player if only Kawhi hadn't been traded to Toronto this summer. Giannis' game has come together spectacularly over the last few years, and he's only 24; there's a lot of prime years and improvement to come (just wait until that three comes). Giannis' name has been atop the MVP conversation since the season started, and barring a horrible losing streak from the Bucks, it should stay that way for the rest of the season. Seeing him win it would be really cool, and it would probably increase Milwaukee's odds of attracting another semi-star to play alongside him and Kris Middleton (who should be an All-Star).
I saw that if the season were to end today, Malcolm Brogdon would be the only player that would qualify as a 50-40-90 player, so that's pretty cool. It's still funny that he won Rookie of the Year (over Embiid nonetheless).
3. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder (26-16, 3rd in the West)
Stat Line: 41 G, 26.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 44.5/38.3/82.6, 23.2 PER
After an 0-4 start to the year, OKC has really turned it around. They've had brief stints atop the West and are only three games behind one-seed Denver, so they could very well enter the playoffs as the top seed. What's been even more impressive than their team play has been the "emergence" of Paul George as the Thunder's go-to scorer. Last year was a bumpy one for the Thunder, but the removal of Melo from the organization has seemed to do wonders for them. PG is averaging career-highs in just about every statistical category while guiding this team to the top of the West, and the MVP chatter seems to be picking up for him.
To say that Westbrook is having a "bad" or even "down" year would be a stretch. He's averaging just 21.4 points on 42.% shooting, but he's also averaging a triple-double (10.8 rebounds and 10.6 assists). Westbrook seems to be becoming as much of a traditional point guard as he can be, and while he has taken some questionable off-dribble threes at the end of games, he's ultimately let George take over more often in late-game scenarios. Hell, George hit his first clutch shot ever this year against the Nets (I mean that literally. It was statistically his first clutch shot ever.) George has been playing the best offense of his career this season, and the fact that he's been able to keep it up on the defensive side makes it even more impressive. I'd place him in a tier with Kawhi and Jimmy Butler as elite two-way players, and there's a (slight) chance George gets the biggest award in the league.
It also doesn't seem often that a player is in both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year race, but George is doing it. He has a much better shot at DPOY, and I think he has a legitimate shot of taking it home. It sucks for George that he's going up against such elite talent for the award, but maybe voters will show him some love.