NBA Tuesday enters the home stretch here for this miniseries on league MVP and ROTY award winners, and we will have a new miniseries ready to debut next month, since we’re just about out of seasons to revisit here. We’re both excited and sad to see this initial feature to come to end, of course. Seems like March 2021 wasn’t that long ago, right? Right.
Onto Year 4 of the Golden State Warriors dynastic run through the NBA …
2018 NBA MVP: James Harden (original), Anthony Davis (revised)
Four players stood out this season: Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (15.37 WS, 29.83 PER), Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James (13.95 WS, 28.58 PER), New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis (13.70 WS, 28.91 PER), and Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (11.91 WS, 27.30 PER). Harden’s marks topped the NBA in both categories, and all four teams made the postseason.
But with the Rockets winning a league-high 67 games and Harden not beating out everyone by large margins in WS and/or PER, is he really the most valuable? He won the first of three straight scoring titles, but with a 20-game cushion for missing the playoffs, clearly Houston had a good team with or without the Beard.
Meanwhile, the same cannot be said of the other three, who were difference makers for their teams: Cleveland had just an 8-game postseason cushion, while Milwaukee (2) and New Orleans (2) walked even tighter ropes. Harden may have been the best player in the NBA, but he was not the most valuable.
This is the dilemma: In the past, being the best player on the best team could mean an automatic MVP, but it usually took a dominant performance to clinch it. We don’t see that dominance above, especially in PER. We can probably take the Greek Freak out of the equation, since his overall game was on a lower plane than either Davis or James.
With the fledgling Pelicans operating on a very small margin for error, Davis’ performance—second in PER, fourth in WS—has more value than James’ effort on an established winner in Cleveland. Davis’ numbers are also pretty special: 53.4-percent shooting, 28.1 points per game, 11.1 rebounds per game, 2.8 blocks per game, and 2.3 assists per game. The blocks mark topped the league, too. He’s our MVP pick, although this is a very close race.
2018 NBA ROTY: Ben Simmons (original), Jayson Tatum (revised)
We have four legitimate candidates for ROTY: Utah Jazz shooting guard Donovan Mitchell (5.2 WS), Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons (9.2), Boston Celtics small forward Jayson Tatum (7.1), and Atlanta Hawks power forward John Collins (5.4). We have an issue with Simmons right away, the vote winner, as he was technically a second-year player after sitting out the prior season entirely with an injury.
We’ve seen this before: A player gets a full year of NBA practices, treatments, and workouts before ever taking the floor, and then he dominates in his “rookie” season. We don’t buy that: We love Simmons as a player, but he had an unfair advantage here, akin to the European players who were professionals overseas before coming to the U.S. and playing in the NBA as “rookies.”
So, with Simmons off the table, we look to the other three and see Atlanta winning just 24 games to miss the postseason by a mile. Meanwhile, the Jazz regressed in win total, while the Celtics improved. Tatum also is the highest-remaining player in terms of Win Shares, so it makes the most sense to give him the hardware.