The NBA MVP Question: James Harden or LeBron James?

The NBA MVP Question: James Harden or LeBron James?


Forget about the recent Anthony Davis hype. The 2017-2018 NBA regular season MVP award is coming down to one of the following: James Harden or LeBron James. 

If he wins, it would be a first for Harden. James has already won 4, and you wouldn’t be wrong if you voted for him to win it in any year starting in 2007-2008 (Kobe Bryant won it that season), except for 2013-2014 which was all about Durant.

But what is an MVP? Is it the exact definition of the acronym? The most valuable player to his team? The best player during the season? The best player on a contending team? Each person has their own definition.

Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook after winning the 2016-2017 MVP award

But regardless of definition, often there’s something else that takes over the voting process and logic. The story.

Steve Nash won an MVP, maybe two, because of his emergence as team leader and the vanguard of Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system, while putting the Phoenix Suns back on the map. Derrick Rose won it in 2011 for putting the Chicago Bulls back on the map. Stephen Curry won in 2014-2015 for… I’m still not sure why (his second one was completely merited). But is there a storyline that prevails this season?

If we’re taking that angle, Harden is going to be left empty handed again. Yes, he’s managed to dodge the criticism and prove everyone wrong by coexisting very successfully next to Chris Paul, but overall, besides becoming a slightly more efficient version of himself as the team around him got better and the Golden State Warriors ran into their own problems, there hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary.

James is going through a completely different season. First, he’s the only reason the Cavaliers are not just third in the East, but will be in the playoffs. He’s putting up his best offensive numbers in close to a decade, playing more than 37 minutes a night, while he’s in his 15th NBA season, past 33 years of age. He saw (and maybe orchestrated) almost his entire supporting staff traded at the deadline and simply put, is putting on a masterclass of scoring and passing almost every night. Defense? People aren’t winning MVPs for that these days. Kawhi Leonard getting snubbed last season proved that.

So does this mean James wins? Probably not.

James Harden, LeBron James

Why? Voter fatigue is one thing. Another factor in MVP voting is keeping it fresh. James missed out on five consecutive MVP awards by not winning it in 2011, although I doubt he would still be picking ’em up if he was awarded in 2011. Harden still doesn’t have one, and if you put a good enough season and have a positive enough vibe around you, the Academy, I mean the people voting for the league’s awards will reward you.

Deserved or not, it doesn’t really matter anymore. The MVP being an accurate indicator of the league’s best player in a specific season is something buried in the past. Today it happens to be a combination of things, some of them having nothing to do with basketball.

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