Eric Bledsoe scored 23 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19 points and 14 rebounds as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Houston Rockets 108-94 Tuesday at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
James Harden contributed 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the 47-28 Rockets, who fell to fourth place in the Western Conference. Clint Capela contributed a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double, and Chris Paul added 19 points and nine dimes.
Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez each scored 13 points for the East-leading Bucks, who won their third straight game to improve to 56-19. Sterling Brown had eight points and 11 boards.
Giannis Is The League's Best Player, But Harden Is The Most Valuable
No NBA player is better than Antetokounmpo.
Per Basketball Reference, he was first overall in player efficiency rating, overall win shares, win shares/per 48 minutes and defensive win shares entering Tuesday.
For good measure, he's No. 6 in true-shooting percentage and top 20 in rebounding and assist percentage. He's an unbelievable player on both ends of the court and undoubtedly the NBA's best overall talent.
No NBA player is more valuable than Harden.
Per Basketball Reference, he's No. 1 in VORP (value over replacement player) and No. 1 in offensive win shares.
For good measure, he's also tied for second in player efficiency rating.
The VORP number is the key toward explaining Harden's invaluable performances. Per Basketball Reference, one can convert that number to wins over replacement by multiplying VORP by 2.7.
In that case, Harden stands alone at 23.76, or more than four victories over Antetokounmpo.
Think about those numbers in another way.
Let's say Harden is worth about 24 wins more than replacement. If we put an average player on the court in The Beard's place, then the Rockets are 23-48. In other words, they'd be far closer to having the most pingpong balls than making the playoffs. Houston would also be 14th in the Western Conference.
Now look at Antetokounmpo's numbers. By replacing him with an average player, the Bucks would be about 35-39. That's not great, but Milwaukee would still have a puncher's chance at the Eastern Conference playoffs with that mark.
Of course, there are nitpicks to Harden's candidacy one can point out.
The Rockets did just fine without him when beating the fully healthy Golden State Warriors on the road. Harden also takes a lot of shots and assumes a ton of usage, which naturally results in a lot of production. Furthermore, Houston isn't in the same class as Milwaukee, as evidenced by their records and this game.
But there are counterpoints to all of the above.
Sure, Houston beat the defending NBA champions sans Harden, but they are 2-2 without him overall this year with a 20-point home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and a 19-point home defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Yes, Harden always has the ball in his hands, but his 30.4 PER is in Antetokounmpo's neighborhood at 30.7.
Milwaukee might be a better team, but without Harden's offensive efforts, where would the team be?
Check out how much the team relies on his isolation possessions to push the Rockets offense, per the Wall Street Journal:
The Rockets rank second in offensive efficiency, per ESPN.com, a remarkable feat considering its reliance on Harden's play.
In sum, Bucks fans may think Antetokounmpo is the MVP:
However, if we're strictly going by the word "valuable," then that honor should belong to Harden for the second straight year.
That's probably not going to happen with Antetokounmpo listed as the heavy betting favorite, per Oddschecker.
However, if Harden does win again, Bucks fans can take solace in the fact they root for the NBA's best player, who leads the team with the best record. That's not a bad consolation prize.
The Bucks and Rockets will be at home Thursday. Milwaukee will host the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Houston Rockets will welcome the Denver Nuggets at the Toyota Center in Houston.