Faceoff: James Harden versus Giannis Antetokounmpo


This week’s matchup is a fight for the NBA MVP this year. The NBA’s greatest scoring machine this season from Houston is going up against one of the best all around, two-way players from Milwaukee for the award.

The Criteria

This is a regular season award. Playoff success is not considered as the voters have already casted their votes before the playoffs started. Determination of the winner is solely based on the media votes.

The Beard

Key season achievements and stats during the 78 Games he played while averaging 36.8 minutes per game to register the second highest total minutes played of 2,867:

36.1 Points per game  (1st in the league); 6.6 rebounds per game, 7.5 assists per game, 2.0     steals per game (2nd), 0.7 blocks per game;

2,818 total points scored (1st), 518 total rebounds, 586 total assists (5th), total steals with 158 (2nd), 58 total blocks;

44.2% from the field, 52.8% 2 point shooting, 36.3% from trey, 87.9% from the stripe (12th);

The reigning MVP were also prominent in the following stat categories, all leading the league: Total field goals (843), Total field goal attempts (1909), Total 3-point field goals (378), Total 3-point field goal attempts (1,028), Total free throws (754), Total free throw attempts (858).

On the negative side, he had 387 total turnovers and 5.0 turnovers per game (both worst the league);

Key highlights: Harden is the most unstoppable offensive player in the league this year. He registered one of the best offensive seasons ever and carried the Rockets from an 11-14 awful start and through major injuries to Chris Paul and Clint Capela to end up the fourth seed in the west with a 53-25 record.

He scored 30 points or more in 32 consecutive games and dropped 50 nine times. His 36.1 points per game is the highest scoring average in over 30 years, since Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 points a game in the 1986-87 season.

The Greek Freak

Key season achievements and stats: during the 72 Games he played while averaging 32.8 minutes per game to register a total minutes played of 2,358, 47th highest in the season:

27.7 points per game (3rd in the league), 12.5 rebounds per game (6th), 5.9     assists per game, 1.3 steals per game, 1.5 blocks per game (10th);

1,994 total points (7th), 898 total rebounds (6th), 424   total assists, 92 total steals, 110 total blocks (tied for 12th);

57.8% from the field (11th), 64.1% 2 point shooting (4th), 25.6% shooting from trey, and 72.9% from the stripe.

He also placed prominently among the leaders in total  defensive rebounds (739, 2nd); 669 2pt shots made (2nd); 686 total free throws attempts (2nd); 500 total free throws (3rd); 721 total field goals (4th); 1,044 2pt shot attempts (5th);

On the negative side, he had 268 total turnovers and 3.7 turnovers per game (both 5th highest).

Key highlights: Antetokounmpo is one of the best players to play both ends of the floor today. He gives multiple contributions on the offensive side and has tendencies to lock down opponents on the defensive side. He led the Bucks to an NBA best 60-22 record, guaranteeing homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

The 60-win plateau marked a 16 game improvement from last year, It is also the first time the franchise reach this level since the 1980-81 season, a span of nearly 40 years.

The Arguments and the Winner

Both men played well this season and were instrumental for their respective teams’ success.

It will be hard to imagine where Houston would be without Harden and his almost “unguardable” step-back three and penetrations. The fact that he stepped up his game, scoring above the 30s line during the absence of Paul and Capela, is even more compelling reason to vote him for the value he gives to Houston during its time of most need.

On the other hand, the same could be said of the Bucks without Antetokounmpo. His ability to switch and guard positions 1-5 allows Milwaukee to be flexible in fielding their line-up. On the other side of the floor, he often present mismatches to the opposing teams with how he takes advantage of his size and speed. Unlike Harden, he was consistent throughout the season resulting to their being on top of the standings.

As to who the MVP is, I don’t have a problem whoever between them wins it.

If I were to choose one, I would go with Antetokounmpo. The meteoric rise of the Bucks in the team standings embodies the result of the value of The Greek Freak to the team.

While Harden may have the same effect on the Rockets and their slide in the team standings may have been attributed to the departure of Trevor Ariza, the fact that they dropped to number four and have to face a more difficult opponent is something Harden could have remedied, especially during their rough start.

The homecourt advantage earned by Antetokounmpo’s Bucks which gives them a clearer path to the championship and Houston’s facing of the Golden State Warriors in the second round instead of in the western conference finals is the swing factor for me.

Banner illustration by Don Ray Ramos