Storyline: MVP Race

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John Wall doesn’t have a vote for MVP. If the Washington Wizards’ injured point guard did, though, his justification for picking Giannis Antetokounmpo over James Harden is one that would no doubt be shared by many of his fellow voters. In a sit down with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, Wall explained that Antetokounmpo’s status as the best player on the league’s best team makes him the most worthy choice for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, especially considering precedent set by Harden’s most recent finishes in the MVP race. “To me, I mean, James is my guy, but I’ll go Giannis just because he has the best record in the league,” he said. “I just feel like not last year, but the year before, everyone thinks James should have won it then, but he didn’t win enough. Last year, he got first in the West, overall best record in the league — that’s why he finally cracked that safe to get [MVP]. “The numbers he’s put up this year have been historic,” Wall continued. “Never seen it before since, what, Jordan averaging 37 was the last time we’ve seen it? Those numbers and all that speak for itself. He’s like unguardable — you can’t do nothing with it. But I’m just like if you’re going off wins, I’ll go Giannis.”

But for the bulk of the players B/R spoke with, that person is Harden. Not only for what he is, but for what Antetokounmpo isn’t quite yet. It’s not that Antetokounmpo isn’t a formidable opponent. His speed, length, hops and handle make him capable of maneuvering over or around almost anyone, often culminating with a ferocious dunk. All of that, combined with his work ethic, makes him a defensive riddle to solve as well. But players know defense requires a team effort to succeed, and offensive proficiency can be as much of a reflection of a team’s system. They place the most value on the ability to score whenever and however a team needs to win. For all of Antetokounmpo’s talent, that’s where they see him falling short. “Late game, Giannis doesn’t have the ball in his hands to win,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “For an MVP, that’s kind of hard.”

Detroit Pistons big man Jon Leuer didn’t see a tiebreaker as necessary, either. Harden’s heroics, surrounded by a roster churned both by the acquisition and then release of 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony as well as a slew of injuries, was enough. Nor did he discount Harden’s league-leading point production because head coach Mike D’Antoni gives him the greenest of lights to shoot. “To me, it’s Harden,” Leuer said. “People say his numbers are inflated because of D’Antoni’s system, and he dribbles the air out of the ball, but carrying his team every night no matter who is out there, you can’t go against that. The team thing does factor in, which is why Giannis has to be considered. But the knock was the Rockets were a lower seed, and now they’re one of the top four in the West. I just don’t see how it’s not James.”

Well, let’s talk then. So I always love it when we have a story that changes so drastically within the context of a season, when we think one thing in November and December and then it’s completely different by the end. It’s insane how you guys have turned this around. Mike D’Antoni: “It was teetering. It was teetering. I mean you’re 11-14 (on Dec. 8), and at 25 games everybody usually says you can tell what kind of team you have – and we’re 11-14. And we hadn’t sustained Clint (Capela) missing 15 (games from mid-January to mid-February) and CP missing (17 from mid-December to late January) after that, so for me – and you can write it – that’s why James is the MVP. I’m telling you, he took that, and without CP, without Clint, with us changing almost half the roster, and took us where we have a chance to be third. Nobody else could do that. I’m telling you right now. Nobody.”

Do you think (the MVP race) is close at all? Mike D’Antoni: “No, I don’t. I don’t.” It’s a two-man race… Mike D’Antoni: “And I’ve got to tell you, (Giannis) is really good – reaaallyy good. And they’ve got the best record in the league, and that’s all good. So I’m not knocking him. I’m making the case for my guy, but take that and put it away. Your (Rockets) record is not quite as good as (the Bucks’, but) we’re right there. And (Harden) has done it with a complete change of roster. And again, his other carrying partner (Paul) was hurt for (17) games. Clint, his other guy, was out for 15 games. I don’t know. And he played every night. It’s hard for him to miss a game. He’s playing (36.4) minutes a game. He’s doing it all. I don’t know, I just don’t see the other argument. I do because of the record, and I do because of how good he is – and he’s really good.”

It also should be noted that while Antetokonmpo has improved in some statistical categories from last season, he has slipped in several as well. He’s shooting an anemic 24 percent from 3-point range, down from 30 percent a season ago; his free throw percentage is 72, down from 76, and his turnovers are up, 3.9 a game this season compared to 3.0 last season. Yet, nobody questions whether Antetokounmpo is a certifiable MP candidate. He and Harden are clearly in a two-player race for the coveted award. “It’s either Giannis or Harden,’’ said a longtime NBA scout, who has seen both players perform up close on numerous occasions this season. “I hate Harden’s game; I just hate it. But, as much as I don’t want to say this, Harden deserves to be MVP again. He’s just had one hell of a season.’’

Giannis​ Antetokounmpo doesn’t​ like​ it.​ He​ doesn’t want to talk about it.​ Unfortunately, for​ him,​ it’s the​ only​ thing​​ people want to discuss with him at the moment. Who is the 2018-19 NBA Most Valuable Player? Is it him? Or is it Houston Rockets guard and 2017-18 MVP James Harden? For months, Antetokounmpo has stressed that he tries not to think about the award and has repeatedly declined the opportunity to discuss it, but he wanted to make a few things clear in a recent chat with The Athletic.

As Antetokounmpo has argued the entire season, if he does his job — playing his best basketball and leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the league’s best record, something he’s currently doing — it’s going to take care of itself. “Obviously, we have eight games left. We have 55 wins. We might be able to finish the season with 63 wins, if we play the right way,” Antetokounmpo said. “Because OK, the regular season’s over. Even though I’m the MVP or I’m not the MVP or whatever, I don’t care, there’s going to be playoffs.” “I want to get out of the first round. I want to go to the Eastern Conference Finals. I want to go to the Finals. There’s more to this than just the MVP.”

Curry’s 28.6 points per game and 44 percent shooting from 3-point range are his highest marks since his unanimous MVP campaign in 2016. “Everybody can come up with certain narratives,” he says on the topic of the MVP award. “It’s clear who the best guys in the league are, who’s helping the team win. Comparing numbers and styles … beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t know why I can’t [win again], but I feel confident in knowing what type of player I am. I’m sure KD would say the same thing.”
6 months ago via ESPN

While players acknowledge Harden’s mastery, some are put off by the style: both the way the Rockets play and the way Harden expertly uses the current rules to his advantage. The enforcement of freedom of movement rules and the relaxing of travel calls on his step-back — and to be clear, most of the time he executes the devastating move within the rules — have helped supercharge Harden’s season in a way that can irritate his opponents. “Guys can say he gets away with travels on the step-back or he flings his body into people to get fouls, but honestly, a lot of us get away with stuff like that,” said one All-Star who didn’t want his name used because he wasn’t trying to court controversy. “Just speaking for myself, and I don’t know how others feel, but what he does isn’t always team basketball. If you look at how Giannis plays, that’s more the way I was raised in the game. Just my opinion,” he said.

One year after sweeping four games with the Thunder, the Blazers this season have lost the first three to Oklahoma City, the latest 120-111 on Monday at Chesapeake Arena in a game in which George had 47 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals. “Everybody in the whole arena can see that,” Lillard said of George’s play being the difference. “He’s at a different level. I mean, after watching him over the last 10 games or so — I catch a lot of their games — and seeing him tonight … that dude, he MVP. If they keep this up, he MVP.”
7 months ago via ESPN

A dominant all-around performance in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 116-109 road win over reigning MVP James Harden’s Houston Rockets on Wednesday could have provided Giannis Antetokounmpo a massive platform to begin campaigning for the NBA’s most prestigious individual honor. Antetokounmpo, however, dismissed the early MVP discussion like he so often sidesteps defenders with his long-legged Euro step. “All I care about is winning, to be honest with you,” Antetokounmpo said after scoring 27 points, grabbing a career-high 21 rebounds and dishing out five assists for the East-leading Bucks in the win. “I know by winning — doing whatever it takes out there, helping your teammates and just leaving it everything on the floor — everything will take care of itself.”

Morey made a rare appearance in the visitor’s locker room in Oakland. Before leaving, he and Harden had a conversation by the doorway, with the pair exchanging jokes. Morey has joined a growing congregation that believes the MVP race is all but confirmed, even with a good chunk of the season left. It’s Harden, followed by the others. “Race? There’s no race,” he said. “He should be first. We gotta prove that on the court over time, but I don’t see it as a race, really.”
8 months ago via ESPN

A quick look at Harden’s recent play will back that up. During this nine-game stretch, his stats across the board are remarkable: 39.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game to go with shooting 44.7 percent overall, 40.7 percent from 3-point range and 87.8 percent from the foul line. He has had eight straight 30-point games and has eclipsed 40 points three times in his past six. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the 388 points Harden has scored in his past 10 games are the most by any NBA player in a 10-game stretch since Kobe Bryant scored 396 from March 22 to April 8, 2007. “I think he’s just wanted to pick it up and take it to another level,” Rockets forward PJ Tucker said. “I don’t think he was playing at the level he wanted to early on. He’s got his body in such great shape now, being able to push through the times when he gets tired, teams throwing double teams, different kinds of looks, and his determination to still score and get to his spots is pretty remarkable. “It’s just what he does.”
8 months ago via ESPN

But then he was asked if his recent play, and his team’s recent success, merited his return to the MVP conversation. It quickly became clear that the idea that he was a one-and-done MVP winner is something Harden simply wouldn’t accept. “I mean, yeah. Of course I should be in that conversation,” he said, followed by a laugh and a shake of his head. “I mean, I receive a lot of hate, but it won’t stop me from going out there and killing every single night, being that dog that I am. You can name a few other people that should be in the conversation.

Harden had 45 points and six assists, Clint Capela added 24 points and 18 rebounds, and the Houston Rockets beat the Boston Celtics 127-113 for their eighth win in nine games. “Of course, I should be in that conversation,” Harden, the reigning MVP, said. “I received a lot of hate, but it won’t stop me from going out there and killing it every single night and being the dog that I am. You can name a few other people that can be in that conversation, but realistically, it’s coming back.”

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they get the spotlight for being regarded as the best players on the projected best teams. Add James Harden to that mix. This head start, Curry believes, is vital. If a superstar doesn’t have a storyline to magnetize attention, he must hijack it with something incredible. Does that bother you that you aren’t in the conversation? “I don’t care,” he said, seamlessly executing a shoulder shrug, smirk and eye roll simultaneously. “I just know the narrative isn’t there so I would have to go above and beyond. So, it’s whatever. I’m blessed to have three rings. I’m good.”
1 year ago via ESPN

Jovan Buha: Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry wishes New Orleans had a better record so Anthony Davis would have a stronger case for MVP: “The only thing I’m disappointed in — I think if we could have had a better record, if we could have been in the runnings where we’re going to play at home and [win] 50-plus games, I think his name would definitely be in the MVP running. When you have guys like Harden and what they’ve done, I think it’s hard for anyone to not to vote for Harden for MVP right now. But obviously LeBron James and what he has done is very impressive too. … I mean, we lost a guy that was averaging 26 and 12 [DeMarcus Cousins]. And then for Anthony to kind of take this team and put it on his back and do what he’s done.”

A year after Westbrook rallied to take the NBA’s Most Valuable Player from Harden — the frontrunner for most of the season — the Rockets guard seems poised to bring home the hardware this season. It makes some sense to Westbrook. “There’s a lot of guys doing a lot of great things in the league,” Westbrook said at Saturday’s Thunder shootaround. “Honestly, I don’t know kind of what you go off of, because MVP’s kind of been picked differently every year. So it depends what criteria, what it is that you guys vote for. But obviously (Harden’s) leading the charge at the moment.”
1 year ago via Uproxx

When Wade’s Heat hosted James’ Cavs on Tuesday night, LeBron actually led the head-to-head rivalry 15-14, but Wade evened it up with the help of a 98-79 drubbing. It was a big win for the Heat as they try to hang onto a playoff spot, and before the game Wade was asked about his relationship with LeBron and what it’s like playing against him. Wade didn’t mince words: it’s a chance to play against one of the greatest ever. “He’s one of the game’s greatest players. Arguably the greatest,” Wade said. “I favor Michael Jordan. … So it’s one and two of the greatest players of all time and I get an opportunity to play against one of them.”

This is a season where prohibitive MVP favorite James Harden has done phenomenal things with NBA-leading Houston, where reigning MVP Russell Westbrook has been fantastic again for Oklahoma City, and where Anthony Davis has found a new stratosphere to take his game, especially after New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins. James raves about them all. But … “I would vote for me,” James told The Associated Press. “The body of work, how I’m doing it, what’s been happening with our team all year long, how we’ve got so many injuries and things of that nature, guys in and out, to be able to still keep this thing afloat, I definitely would vote me.”
2 years ago via ESPN

Nick Friedell: LeBron James was asked Saturday about the possibility of winning another MVP award at this point in his career and acknowledged that he is playing for something more than just his own legacy at this point. “Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious.
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August 18, 2019 | 9:06 pm EDT Update
Entering his fifth season, Richardson was involved in a five-game playoff series loss two years ago against the Sixers. There have been many other, heated games with the two teams. His biggest perception of Philadelphia as an opposing player? “The fans, man,” Josh Richardson said during Saturday’s annual Sixers Summer Shore Tour at the PigDog Beach Bar BQ in Wildwood. “The first thing you think about is how hard the fans are to opposing players. It is tough playing against that and I am excited to play on the same side of those fans.”
In looking at his new team, Richardson noted something he thought he would never see, that he will be the smallest player in the starting lineup. The rest of the projected lineup is 6-10 point guard Ben Simmons, 6-9 small forward Tobias Harris, 6-10 power forward Al Horford and 7-2 center Joel Embiid. “I have never been that ever in my life,” Richardson said about being the smallest. “This will be interesting, looking up to my teammates, talking in huddles.”
Not surprisingly, his summer has been spent working overtime on all aspects of his game. “I’ve been grinding,” he said. Smith says he has benefited from extra summer work in the weight room. The Sixers list him at 199 pounds. He said he was about 205 the last time he was weighed before the summer and now says he is 212 pounds. He hopes to become a solid rotation player. “That is the goal,” he said. “Get in the rotation and play hard and do what I do and have fun.”
August 18, 2019 | 7:41 pm EDT Update