As the first month of the NBA comes to a close, it is time to debate the top candidates for the league’s most prestigious and heavily debated award: the Most Valuable Player (MVP). The race for MVP in 2019 was a battle between Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokuonmpo and Houston’s James Harden, who together received the entire share of first and second place votes. Antetokuonmpo ultimately walked away with the award.
This year, the four weeks of debate has been largely over three players: Antetokuonmpo, Harden and Los Angeles’ LeBron James.
Antetokuonmpo started the season on an absolute tear. His per game averages thus far of 30.3/14.0/6.2 (points/rebounds/assists) have never before been sustained by a player across a full season in NBA history. His Player Efficiency Rating of 32.9 would be the highest in NBA history across a full season. Antetokounmpo is not just dominating on the offensive end of the floor; his Defensive Rating of 94.5 currently ranks 1st in the league. While Antetokounmpo is already historically productive, his numbers become even more impressive when you consider he is playing just 33 minutes per game—36th in the league. Antetokounmpo was already the MVP last year, and he has entered this year demonstrably better. He’s produced more than last year and more than just about anyone ever has, while not playing all that much.
James Harden has also been otherworldly. Harden finished second in MVP voting last year despite averaging 36.1 points per game. After this summer, it seemed that Harden would not sustain this level of scoring into this year. When the Rockets traded Chris Paul to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell Westbrook, many suspected that Harden’s touches and points would take a dip as a result of playing with the ball-dominant Westbrook. This prediction has not been the case. In the first 14 games, Harden has averaged 39.2 points per game and has taken 14.5 free throws per game. Harden has reached this achievement despite shooting just 34 percent from three and 42 percent from the field. These percentages have led many to suspect that his insane scoring average is not just sustainable, but may in fact go up. Harden has the chance to be the first, and only player since Wilt Chamberlain, to average 40 points per game in one year.
LeBron James has entered the MVP conversation this year after a tumultuous first season with the Lakers. In James’ first season in Los Angeles, the Lakers went 37-45, and James missed the playoffs for the first time since 2004. After the acquisition of Anthony Davis this off-season, the Lakers were instantly made into finals contenders. After 14 games, the Lakers boast a record of 12-2, best in the league, and James has been phenomenal. James is scoring and rebounding well, as usual. However, in his 17th season he has improved as a passer, leading the league in assists per game with 11.1.
While it is still early, through the first four weeks of the NBA Season, Antetokuonmpo, Harden and James have been lights out, their records for this year making persuasive arguments for the MVP award.