Professional Sports

SHAQ ON SPORTS: Harden, James lead NBA’s MVP race

During the current basketball season, there have been a few names in the MVP discussion.

Anthony Davis, the least talked-about candidate, is now leading the league in blocked shots per game while still averaging more than 28 points per game.

Since blocks became official stats in 1973-74, the only player to lead the league in shot blocking while scoring that many points per game is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told Jack Maloney of CBS Sports, “what he is doing is great, you can almost take it for granted because you see it and you just assume that is what is going to happen.”

Gentry added: “He’s playing great basketball for us, been really aggressive, been setting the tone early in the game for us and been doing it consistently. The numbers he’s putting up have been really impressive.”

I suggest we hold off on inserting Davis into the MVP talks.

James Harden of the Houston Rockets and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers are still performing way above the other candidates.

Even after taking Davis’ recent statistical outburst into account, he still trails Harden in points scored per 100 possessions and in advanced metrics such as player efficiency rating, win shares, ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus, which adjusts for teammates and opponents, and value over replacement, a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions a player contributes above a replacement level player and prorated to an 82-game season.

Davis trails James in most of those categories as well. The only metric in which Davis comes out ahead of the other two is in rebounds per 100 possessions.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, will get votes since he is averaging 27.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks. His defensive skills stand out more now but he gets it done everywhere.

If Joel Embid played enough during the season, he could be a serious candidate. He’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate for sure.

Not only have Harden and James been better than Davis this season, they’re both having historically efficient seasons.

Harden uses 38 percent of the Rockets’ possessions, meaning more than a third of the Rockets’ plays end in Harden taking a shot, getting fouled or committing a turnover. His true shooting percentage, which takes into account free throws, is 62 percent.

Harden also registers an assist on more than 12 percent of his team’s possessions.

James, on the other hand, uses 38 percent of Cleveland’s possessions, also has a true shooting percentage of 62 percent and assists on 12 percent of the team’s possessions. That makes them the only players since 1973-74, to meet or exceed 30 percent usage with at least a 10 percent assist rate and 60 percent true shooting percentage.

James hit those marks in 2009-10 and 2012-13, seasons in which he was named the league’s most valuable player. Harden met that standard last season but lost the MVP award to Russell Westbrook after Westbrook averaged a triple double, scoring 31.6 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game and 10.4 assists per game, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson (1961-62) to do so for the season.

Davis, by comparison, uses 29 percent of New Orleans’s possessions with a 3.1 percent assist rate and career high 62 percent true shooting percentage. We should also remember he is coming off a monster set of games to get him to this point.

The Cavaliers are asking plenty from James, whose once-prominent candidacy took a severe dip during the brief Isaiah Thomas era, but Harden has virtually pulled out of reach.

Harden has the team edge as well. Typically, the MVP has come from one of the two best teams in his conference. Since 1985, only Michael Jordan in 1987-88 and Westbrook in 2016-17 have been on teams ranked lower during the regular season.

Only one MVP, Westbrook, has been on a team that won fewer than 47 games in an 82-game season, and that took him averaging a triple double to do it. The Rockets are number one in the West and are expected to finish no worse than second in the conference.

 

Shaquita Newton is a sports blogger. She can be reached at superstarproductions622@gmail.com.