DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 27: LeBron James (23) of the Los Angeles Lakers takes a breather against the Denver Nuggets during the first half on Tuesday, November 27, 2018. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The MVP award is always the most coveted prize besides an NBA finals trophy for an NBA player. The MVP is certainly an award that can help define a player’s legacy. Michael Jordan‘s 1987-1988 season is arguably the best of all time and is a major point brought up when discussing the GOAT. Stephen Curry‘s 2015-2016 season may have been the best offensive season of all time. Russell Westbrook in 2016-2017 is also iconic as it was the first time a player averaged a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson in 1961-1962.

What is an MVP made of?

What defines an MVP in the NBA? Is it based on the player’s importance, or rather value, to his team? Is it based on the player’s stats? Could it be based on how many wins the player gets? Is it based on the player’s statistical impact? Could it be based on a player’s compelling storyline? Well technically, the award is based on all of these. While there are some that are more important than others, all of these factor in.

The most important is not stats as some would think, it’s actually the amount of win the player’s team has. In the last ten years, the winner has been on a team with no less than 46 wins and the 6 seed. If we take out Westbrook’s 2016-2017 season and the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season, it becomes no less than 59 wins and the 1 seed.

There is also one thing that the MVP cannot be. He cannot have missed more than a dozen or so games. 1998-1999 is the most recent season in which a player missed more than 12 games. When looking at this year’s candidates, the candidates need to check off all of the boxes to be an MVP.

Looking at the Candidates

Steph Curry

Curry is having an incredible season, no one is denying that. He has already missed 11 games though. If he remains healthy for the whole season, he has a great shot. However, if he misses even just five or so games, he may not win. Curry is legitimately having one of the best offensive seasons of all time, if not the best. In NBA history, there have been 12 seasons (including the 2018-2019 season) in which a player averaged at least 27 points per game, 5 assists per game, and had an effective field goal percentage of at least 0.550. Effective field goal percentage calculates three-pointers as 1.5 times as valuable as two-pointers. Larry Bird has two such seasons, Curry has two as well, Kevin Durant has three, James Harden has had one, and LeBron James has four. Out of all of the seasons, Curry’s 2018-2019 season is only behind two in points 36 minutes. This season, Curry is averaging 31.3 points per 36 minutes, and the only people ahead of him is himself in 2015-2016 and Harden in 2018-2019. Where Curry really thrives is the efficiencies. He is first in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, which takes into account free throws as well. Amongst all season in NBA history where a player attempted at least five three-pointers per game, Curry ranks second in three-point percentage. He is only behind Kyle Korver, and Curry attempts 4.6 more three-pointers per game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Antetokounmpo is having a great season and leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a fantastic season. The Bucks currently have a winning percentage of 0.700. The most recent season where the Bucks had a winning percentage of 0.700 or better was 1984-1985. The Bucks are also posting their third best simple rating system in franchise history. Simple rating system takes into account margin of victory and strength of schedule and puts it into a single number. With Antetokounmpo leading the charge, the Bucks are arguably playing as good as they did with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Antetokounmpo is leading the Bucks currently in points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game. On the defensive end, he is first amongst Bucks players in defensive box plus-minus and first in defensive rating amongst people with at least 200 minutes.

Kawhi Leonard

While Leonard is a tremendous player, he hasn’t necessarily been the most valuable. Leonard has been averaging 26 points per game and 9 rebounds per game- both marks are first on the team. However, his impact just hasn’t been up to the standards of an MVP. The Toronto Raptors are just 6.2 points better per 100 possessions with Leonard on the floor vs off the floor. That mark is +8.4 with Antetokounmpo and +13.6 with Curry. What is also hurting his case is that the Raptors are 7-1 without him. What hurts even more, is that the Raptors beat the Bucks, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Golden State Warriors. All of these stats may paint Leonard as someone who shouldn’t be an MVP candidate, but don’t be fooled. Leonard is still producing at a very high level, providing great offense and great defense.

LeBron James

James has finished no lower than fourth in MVP voting in the last 10 years. He has always been a staple in the MVP race and will continue to be for a few years most likely. James is averaging 28 points per game, 8 rebounds per game, and 7 assists per game. All of these marks are team highs. James has led the Lakers to a 20-14 record. James has been able to do this throughout constant distractions on the team. From the scrutiny that he faced after missing clutch free-throws early in the season against the Spurs, to Brandon Ingram’s fight and suspension, to the inevitable distractions that come from playing with Lonzo Ball to the trade rumors about Anthony Davis. James has kept his game face on and has been leading the Lakers despite all of this happening around him.

Paul George

George has become a very unlikely candidate in this year’s MVP race. George is posting career highs in points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game. He is also doing that on very good efficiencies as well. However, he hasn’t just been a great offensive player. This season, he’s been very good on defense as he is 10th in the league in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus and leading the league in defensive win shares. George has great stats and impact and his team is winning. The Oklahoma City Thunder are 21-12 which is good enough for third in the west. However, his stats just aren’t good enough to win MVP. When comparing him to someone like Antetokounmpo or James, he just doesn’t have the stats to compare.

James Harden

Harden won MVP last year and is having a better season than he did last year. He is leading the league with 31.6 points per game and doing so on very good efficiencies. The biggest knock on him is that the Rockets haven’t won enough games. However, the Rockets have won their last five games and are just 1.5 games back of the fourth seed. Harden has also had a significantly worse team than last year. The Houston Rockets lost rotation players in Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, and Chris Paul and Eric Gordon have been playing poorly.

Other Players

Other players that are worthy of a mention include Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Nikola Jokic, and Blake Griffin. All of these players are having great seasons, just not as good as the previously mentioned players.

Very Close Race

The MVP race is always very interesting to watch, but it will be very interesting this year. If Curry can stay healthy, he has a very good shot at winning it. But James has got the Lakers winning games while he’s playing very well. Antetokounmpo is doing the exact same as LeBron but playing better defense. Leonard has been one of the best two-way players this season, but his impact is limiting him in the race. George is leading the Thunder to a lot of wins while Westbrook is taking somewhat of a backseat to let George operate. Harden is having a better season than last year, and he won MVP last year, so he should have a very good shot. That isn’t even to mention the kind of season players like Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, or Joel Embiid are having. This MVP race is going to be very special, and it is something to monitor throughout the entire season.

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