by Jeremy Brown
The NBA’s most valuable player award is always up for debate throughout the season. But is it a debate on the player with the most value or the most popular player?
This question has consumed the MVP debate for years. The most recent example of this can be traced back to just last year. Giannis Antetokounmpo won the 2018-19 NBA MVP while averaging 27.7 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.3 spg, and 1.5 bpg, quality numbers to be sure. But he had these averages all while riding the coattails of a 60-win season and number one seed in the Eastern Conference. James Harden settled for runner-up despite improving his averages from the year before when he won the MVP. The 2017-18 MVP went to Harden after he averaged 30.4 ppg, 8.8 apg, and 5.4 rpg and his team won 65 games. The next season, Harden improved his scoring average to 36.1 ppg but his team went 53-29 with the 4th seed in the playoffs, not to mention seven 50-point games and two 60-point games. Suffice it to say, Giannis won the MVP with lesser numbers but was more popular than Harden at the time.
How does this trend affect this year’s MVP race? Well, at the start of the season, the odds-on favorite to win the MVP was Antetokounmpo at 5-1. Again, the popular player on the winning team. There have been multiple names, though, that deserve attention and one that has been overshadowed all along.
The current contenders are:
Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL: 30.1 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 5.8 apg
LeBron James, LAL: 25.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 10.8 apg (1st)
Anthony Davis, LAL: 26.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.4 bpg
James Harden, HOU: 35.3 ppg (1st), 6.5 rpg, 7.3 apg
Luka Doncic, DAL: 28.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 8.7 bpg
But the dark horse that no one seems to be talking about is:
Damian Lillard, POR: 29.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 7.9 apg
Despite his team’s poor record of 25-31, Damian Lillard has been lighting up the court every night. In his last 10 games, Lillard is averaging 34.7 points and 9.5 assists, which include two 50-point games. From the naked eye, it may look like Lillard is not worth consideration because of his sub-par team, but it is time to consider “the little guy” as part of the MVP race. The Trail Blazers are four games back from the 8-seed in the playoffs coming off of a year when they went to the Western Conference finals. Lillard has been the only consistent piece in Portland, who has been plagued with injuries. Lillard’s numbers have only been improving over the year, as he has been needed to perform at a superstar level.
Even with this information, though, the NBA probably won’t consider Lillard an MVP candidate until his team wins, which won’t happen this year. This is the main point: the Most Valuable Player award is not given to the most valuable player. It is given to the most popular, best player on the best team. That is why at the end of the year, it will come down to two finalists: Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. Both are worthy to be considered for the award, but could end up not being the most valuable player overall by the end of the season.