“Newsday” Brooklyn Nets writer Greg Logan gave out his picks for the NBA’s MVP race Sunday night. Now Greg and I go way back. When I decided to write about the Nets, Logan was the first person I turned to for advice. Plus he and I both covered Stony Brook sports. So I like to read his takes because he’s pretty knowledgeable. Just ask him about boxing and prepare for an absolute knowledge barrage. And then I saw this:
Luka Doncic over James Harden?!?! Greg, what are you smoking? The weed in Suffolk County can’t be that great.
Now to be fair, Logan actually has a really solid defense. Doncic has better overall stats than Harden. While The Beard’s the league’s leading scorer at a whopping 34 points per game, Doncic’s ability to grab boards are absolutely incredible for a guard and his passing vision is certainly on an MVP level.
But let’s take a deeper dive and look at some advanced stats. Specifically, let’s take a look at value over replacement player. Essentially, you take points per 100 team possessions, compare it to a replacement player and average it out over a 82-game season.
Doncic clocks in at a phenomenal 5.1 VORP. Harden, however, is even more valuable at 6.8. Fun fact, if you multiply a player’s VORP by 2.7, you get the player’s wins over replacement. In this case, Doncic is at 13.77 and Harden at 18.36.
But Chief, you say, VORP doesn’t account for defensive effort. And let’s be real, Harden sucks at defense. NOT. In order to calculate their value on both sides of the ball, let’s use their real plus-minuses. This looks at a player’s impact on his team while on the court as well taking teammates and opponents into account.
Harden has the third best real plus-minus in the NBA, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James, at 7.03. You’ll find Luka a little lower on the list at 20 with an RPM of 3.17. ESPN also estimates wins contributed based off of a player’s RPM. Harden, again third on the list, adds an estimated 16.08 team. Doncic is 19th, and adds 7.39 wins.
And let’s take a look at what award we’re talking about here. It’s MVP. Most valuable player. I think most people would agree that wins are considered to be the most valuable thing in the NBA. So let’s take a look at value in terms of wins.
If you take away Harden’s RPM wins from the Houston Rockets, they become a 27-41 team. That’s good for 13th best in the Western Conference behind the Sacramento Kings (what up D’Aaron Fox?) and in front of the Minnesota Timberwolves (shout out Karl Anthony-Towns and his little buddy Karlito).
Take away Doncic however, and the Dallas Mavericks become a 33-37 team. That’s the same record as the Memphis Grizzlies (I see you Ja Morant). They are currently sitting as the eight-seed.
Logically, Harden is the more valuable player based on RPM wins. Watching games, you see it too. Harden has a bigger impact on the Rockets offense than Doncic does. That’s not to discredit Doncic, however Houston’s success relies on Harden. His supporting cast is arguably weaker than Doncic’s, and so what he brings to the table becomes much more needed.
Doncic will crack the top-three in MVP voting one day. Hell, he’ll win one eventually. But the sophomore isn’t there quite yet. Harden is just too valuable.
BANNER: Jose Garcia//Flickr