Welcome to The Outlet, featuring the best and worst from the NBA week that was…
This week’s top five? The MVP contenders. Here are my five current leaders for the award, along with analysis and their odds via 5Dimes.
1. James Harden (+100): Harden is out with a hamstring injury; he’s already missed five games and isn’t expected back until at least next week. He’s due for a re-evaluation this weekend, which could lead to his return (or a longer stay on the bench).
Typically, missing any stretch of games — even fewer than 10 — would knock you out of contention. But every MVP candidate’s case is flawed this season. Last year, voters made an exception for Russell Westbrook. Never before had a player with a playoff seed lower than third won the MVP. Making one for a player who plays every game he can without regard for rest should be doable.
The argument for: Leads the NBA in scoring, ranks third in assists. Leading the second-best team in the West. Harden’s overall impact is the greatest, even if the team continues to win without him. He led them to the league’s best record at one point with Chris Paul out for most of that stretch.
The argument against: He’s been decent defensively this year but never great. Plays with Paul, so splits responsibility, and the Rockets’ success without him (but with Paul) hurts his credibility a bit. Harden could wind up missing 10-plus games, which would be rough for his candidacy.
Voter base: Pro-analytics voters who recognize the impact on points produced and overall team efficiency. Legacy voters who want to see him recognized after finishing second in 2015 and 2017. Wins-first voters who recognize Houston’s record and won’t reward the Warriors due to star power.