By Jalon Dixon, Columnist
Title of the 2019 NBA Most Valuable Player is going to come down to the final week of the regular season as Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston Rockets guard James Harden lead the race.
This season has been a very competitive one as both the Eastern and Western Conference have teams jockeying for playoff position with the final stretch of games coming right around the corner. In a season full of highlight reel dunks, ridiculous point totals and even more impressive individual performances, the fight for best player has constantly bounced around with new members entering the conversation every week.
Unfortunately for early risers like Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Los Angeles Lakers forward Lebron James or late bloomers like Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, this year’s MVP race has been a battle between Antetokounmpo and Harden the whole year.
For Harden, the reigning NBA MVP, the season starting off slow as the Rockets were arguably one of the worst teams in the league after the loss of forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency. Despite the terrible start, Harden single handedly put the team on his back as he went 30+ games scoring 30+ points consecutively with 40 and 50 point games sprinkled in. Now sitting third in the West with a record of 40-25, the Rockets have won seven straight games and are sitting only three games out of second place with 17 games left in the regular season.
Throughout this historic season, Harden is averaging 36.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists on 44 percent shooting from the floor and 36.2 percent from behind the three point land. Harden may have a play style that some do not enjoy as he relies heavily on shooting threes in high volume and going to free throw line consistently, but his talent has not diminished coming off his best season in 2018.
On the other hand, Antetokounmpo has been putting himself on the “best player on the planet” radar all season with the slow decline of James this season and that can not be overlooked. With the coaching change to Mike Budenholzer, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have continued to improve and are currently sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference with the best record in the league of 50-16.
Averaging 27 points, 12.6 rebounds and six assists on 58 percent shooting from the field, Antetokounmpo has improved in every statistical category every season he has been in the league and this season is no different. As a walking highlight reel offensively, the thing that sets him apart from Harden is his impact on the defensive side of the ball. With his unnatural combination of size, strength and athleticism, he constantly commits on both ends of the floor in a way that impacts the team’s ability to win games. He might not have the three point shot down pat, but that actually only makes his stats this season even more eye opening because he is playing well as a non-shooter in a shooter’s league.
With contrasting styles of play mixed with different roads to reaching the NBA playoffs, these two front runners both have compelling arguments as to why they should be crowned MVP. With less than month left of the regular season, the last handful of games will be vital in determining who truly deserves the title of being the most valuable player in 2019.