Harden currently ranks first in Offensive Box Plus/Minus (10.5), Win Shares per 48 Minutes (.319), Player Efficiency Rating (31.0) and ranks second to James in Value Over Replacement Player (3.8). “The Beard” also leads the league in scoring (32.4 points per game) and ranks second to Russell Westbrook in assists per game (9.2).
The 28-year-old Harden has already finished second in MVP voting twice in his career and this season, he has guided the Houston Rockets to the second-best record in the Western Conference. Thanks in large part to Harden and point guard Chris Paul, the Rockets have scored the most points per game (115.1) and own the highest offensive rating (113.7) in the league.
Meanwhile, James is doing things with the basketball that nobody has done in their age-33-season. Despite playing in seven straight NBA Finals, the wear and tear have not harmed James’ production. He ranks third in points per game (28.1) and assists per game (9.1) while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three-point range. He leads the league in Value Over Replacement Player and field goals. After starting the season 4-8, the Cavs are 19-3 since, which included a 13-game win streak.
The Greek Freak
As great as James and Harden have been, Giannis Antetokounmpo has a strong case.
There are different ways to evaluate a players value. Stats like Player Efficiency Rating are great ways to do so. But one of the best ways is to look at a player’s on/off court stats. These numbers can show how much a team depends on their best player.
In terms of On/Off Differential, the Bucks have compiled a 5.3 net rating, which measures a player or team’s points differential per 100 possessions, with Antetokounmpo on the floor. Without him, the Bucks have compiled a -12.4 net rating.
Here is how that +17.7 point differential ranks alongside the league’s best players:
On / Off net rating differential of MVP mentioned players:
Antetokounmpo: 5.3 / -12.4 (+17.7)
Westbrook: 5.7 / -7.4 (+13.1)
Oladipo: 5.9 / -4.9 (+10.8)
Curry 16.6 / 6.6 (+10.6)
Irving: 5.9 / 2.1 (+3.8)
Harden: 10.1 / 7.8 (+2.3)
James: 3.6 / 1.4 (+2.2)
Durant: 11.2 / 11.7 (-0.5)
— Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 (@JoshEberley) December 26, 2017
Nobody has more of a positive effect on their team than Antetokounmpo. Without him, the Bucks probably would be one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference.
Eric Bledsoe has made him better since coming over from the Phoenix Suns in a trade, but the 23-year-old Antetokounmpo was an MVP favorite before Bledsoe arrived.
Only Harden has averaged more points per game this season than Antetokounmpo’s 29.6. He has scored 20 or more points in 28 of his 29 games and has the second most games of at least 20 points, five assists and five rebounds in the NBA with 14. He has also had 15 double-doubles and 14 games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Not only is Antetokounmpo a prolific scorer, but he is highly efficient. He sits inside the top 15 in field goal percentage (54.2) and is one of only four players in the league averaging 25 points per game while shooting over 50 percent.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has played the most minutes per game (38.0) and his impact has extended to the defensive end. He ranks inside the top 10 in rebounds, steals and blocks per game. Antetokounmpo’s defensive effort has helped the Bucks rank tied for first turnovers forced per game (13.1).
The Bucks score the highest percentage of points in transition in the NBA, and Antetokounmpo has developed into the league’s most prolific finisher at the rim. He leads the NBA in fast break points per game (5.0) and points in the paint per game (18.0).
Fans should also not discount Paul’s chances if he can stay healthy, and Kevin Durant‘s outstanding play when the Golden State Warriors have been without Stephen Curry. There are other contenders as well.
But Antetokounmpo is just behind Harden and James. If he can stay out of foul trouble more often and the Bucks can win 50-plus games, do not be surprised if he wins.
It is worth repeating how much of an impact he has on a nightly basis for his team. Nobody is more valuable to his team than Antetokounmpo is to the Bucks.
CHICAGO, USA – OCTOBER 6: Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) of Milwaukee Bucks during the preseason NBA game between Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, in Chicago, United States, on October 6, 2017.
(Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)