Just 53 days remain until the end of the 2017-18 regular season, but the first half officially ends with the league going on break from Friday until next Thursday. The Ringer staff took the extra time to reflect on the best of what’s already come, and hand out awards based on where we are at this “midway point.” (Except for Most Improved Player, because it’s a hazy concept that Victor Oladipo is going to win anyway.)
If the season ended today, what would your MVP ballot look like?
1. James Harden
2. LeBron James
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
4. Stephen Curry
5. Kevin Durant
James Harden is operating on a higher plane offensively, and he’s held his own defensively. LeBron is LeBron, and always deserves to be in the MVP conversation. The Bucks are quietly in sixth place in the East, and have been very good since Jason Kidd was fired, but without Giannis they’d be bottom-feeders. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are both deserving with their insane numbers (and Durant’s defensive contributions), but I have a hard time giving Most Valuable Player to a team with four All-NBA players.
4. Kyrie Irving
Harden is the best player on the team with the best record in the NBA. The Warriors may be slacking in the regular season, but leading the Rockets to a better record is still really impressive. Harden is an offensive machine whose ability to carry an absolutely massive load on a nightly basis shouldn’t be overlooked.
Harden is killing it. I wasn’t sure how he’d look with Chris Paul by his side, but he’s been an absolute monster. Harden leads the league in points, PER, box plus-minus, and VORP, and he’s third in assists per game. Most importantly, the Rockets have the best record in the NBA. It’s still the Warriors’ world, but Harden and Houston are positioning themselves as the first real challenge Golden State has faced in the Western Conference in a while.
5. Jimmy Butler
The Rockets have the best record in the league, and Harden is long overdue for an individual accolade. The narrative is there, and so is the empirical evidence. The Warriors are still light-years ahead of every other basketball team on the planet on offense whenever Steph is on the floor, though he is at least somewhat undercut by Durant’s emergence as a defensive stalwart. Giannis remains incredible, but with the reloaded Cavs, it’s hard to see the Bucks breaking through the established Eastern hierarchy.
5. Anthony Davis
Two years in New Orleans has turned me into a softie for the supremely gifted player saddled with lesser teammates. In addition to Harden, the best player on the best team and the best player, full stop, my ballot has a sympathetic bent for Giannis, the only player in the league whose elite offensive value is matched on the defensive end, and Davis, who is almost single-handedly keeping a Kentucky alumni rec-league team afloat in a suddenly intense West playoff race.
LeBron was neck-and-beard with Harden a month ago. But Cleveland’s slumpy January gave Harden breathing room at the top. Giannis at fifth is an easier sell now that Milwaukee has gone 9-2 in its past 11 games. Though he would have likely slipped in even if the Bucks were still struggling: Giannis improved in all scoring categories again this season. And besides, what are the alternatives? … Irving?