NBA MVP futures: A Showdown Between The Beard and The Greek Freak

Martin Green

Saturday, February 9, 2019 5:55 PM UTC

Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 5:55 PM UTC

James Harden has embarked on a record-breaking scoring streak to establish himself as the MVP frontrunner, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up a spirited challenge.

<p>Reigning MVP James Harden is now the clear favourite to defend his crown after embarking on a record breaking scoring binge over the past two months. The Beard has now dropped more than 30 points in 28 straight games, the longest streak since the NBA merged with the ABA back in 1976. He is actually averaging 41.8 points during this streak and his season average now stands at 36.5, a figure that only Michael Jordan can match over the past 40 years. Can anyone stop him from mounting a successful defence of his regular season MVP crown?</p><p>Poor old Giannis Antetokounmpo must be feeling a sinking sense of déjà vu. He came flying out of the blocks last season and many were tipping him for the MVP award, before fading in the second half of the season as Harden edged out LeBron James to seize the crown. This season The Greek Freak made an even stronger start and it seemed as though he would run away with MVP glory, only for Harden to slowly reel him in and then overtake him with a spell of sustained brilliance over the past 28 games.</p><p>Antetokounmpo has been pushed out from the odds-on favourite to 7/2 with Bet365, Betfair and <a href=";a=df66db4b-b019-4343-9fc7-6c4f20e2a356" target="_blank">Paddy Power</a> to be named MVP. Meanwhile, Harden has gone all the way in to 1/4 with several bookmakers, although Sky Bet is still offering 1/2 on him. Is it worth going large on Harden, or can Antekounmpo regain the initiative in this battle? Or is there a chance that anyone else could muscle their way into contention?</p><p>Third in the betting is <a href="" target="_blank" title="Golden State Warriors NBA MVP">Golden State Warriors</a> superstar Stephen Curry at 14/1 with <a href=";a=bf7f64f4-cd67-4904-9b00-6ded1d41fd18" target="_blank">Bet365</a> and a couple of others. He was the hero at the weekend with a fourth quarter scoring spree to inspire his team to an 11<sup>th</sup> straight road win at Phoenix Suns. Curry continues to prove that he is the best shooter the league has ever seen and he is all but certain to hold every shooting record available by the time he retires. He has delivered several majestic performances this season, but he is unlikely to win a third MVP award.</p><p>For any European punters that mainly follow football, the MVP honour is different to being named Player of the Year. To become the MVP, you have to be more valuable to your team than anyone else, and that generally means you have to carry your franchise for large parts of the season. Curry is part of the great Golden State dynasty, lining up alongside superstars such as Kevin Durrant and Klay Thompson, so he does not shine as brightly as a player like Antetokounmpo, who is vastly better than any of his Milwaukee Bucks teammates. By playing on the same team, Curry and Durrant are always likely to win the NBA Championship, but they have pretty much destroyed their chances of being named MVP.</p><p>Joel Embiid, LeBron, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are the other contenders, but they have not been as consistent this season. Right now it seems like only Antekounpo can stop Harden. The Bucks currently have the best record in the NBA, even better than the all-conquering Dubs, and Antetokounmpo has been head and shoulders the best player on the team. His three-point shooting is far from formidable, but he excels in virtually ever other metric. He puts forward a compelling case for the award, but right now it is hard to see him usurping Harden.</p><p>The Beard has become the most devastating offensive force in the league over the past couple of years and he is simply getting better with age. The other superstar on the Houston Rockets team, Chris Paul, has spent large chunks of the season injured, while Clint Capela has also been sidelined, and Houston would be unlikely to make the playoffs were in not for the brilliance of Harden. He leads the league in points per game, win shares, box plus/minus, value over replacement player and, crucially, player efficiency rating. Unless he suffers a bad injury, Harden is headed for a second consecutive MVP title.</p>
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