James Harden says he’s the real MVP; Is he right?

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

April 1st, 2021

The NBA MVP race has taken many twists and turns in 2021, and the latest bit of intrigue is James Harden publicly pronouncing that he deserves the accolade.

Having led the Nets to a 25-7 record when on the court, Harden is averaging over 25 points per game and a league-leading 11.2 assists per game. At +500 to win the award, however, Harden’s statement appears to be a bit ambitious. Is his confidence misplaced, or is he calling his shot on a live underdog?

2021 NBA MVP Odds

Nikola Jokic
James Harden
Joel Embiid
LeBron James
Giannis Antetokounmpo

Jokic is in the driver's seat

The current favorite to win the MVP is Denver Nuggets center, Nikola Jokic. He sits at -125 to win the MVP race and is leading the Nuggets in nearly every statistical category, averaging 26.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.5 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Jokic is the most creative and multi-tooled big man in the game today and seems to never have an off night as he has contributed double-digit points in every single game this season.

Embiid's injury took him out of the race

Prior to Jokic ascending to the pole position, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid led the way as the favorite due to his superb play and No. 1 player efficiency ranking. Having suffered a knee injury and missing time, Embiid has dropped to +700 to win the MVP. Assuming Embiid makes a full recovery and quick return and plays at the same high caliber he had through the first half of the season, he may lower his odds and once again become a more appealing contender.

LeBron is lurking, but his MVP odds are dubious

The other potential winner of the award and one-time favorite in the race during the midseason is LeBron James. Having suffered an ankle injury that is projected to put him out 3-5 weeks, however, James has seen his odds drop to +750. With James expected to miss that much time and so many other stars excelling, this wouldn’t be an appealing wager to me even at +3000. James is effectively out of the race.

Harden's confidence is compelling, but Jokic is the deserving MVP

Circling back to Harden’s self-confidence, it is true that he has performed at an exceptionally high level. His assist numbers are particularly impressive, and his stellar play has catapulted the Brooklyn Nets to first place in the Eastern Conference. Despite the success, however, Harden is still several spots behind Jokic in overall efficiency rankings and is not as deserving as Jokic. Only another unfortunate injury in the MVP race to Jokic would be enough to supplant the Nuggets big man from his deserved top spot. Harden plays for the most talked about team in the NBA, but name-brand recognition won’t be enough for this race.

It takes confidence to play in the NBA, and extreme confidence to be a star. Harden can’t be faulted for thinking he’s the MVP, but in this case he’s overshooting. Jokic is the real league MVP; Harden is just Brooklyn’s.