NBA Roundtable: Giannis or Harden for MVP?
NBA Roundtable: Giannis or Harden for MVP?

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to the Week 13 edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable. Each week, our NBA staff gets together to answer questions about the biggest topics of the week, both in fantasy basketball and the league overall.

This week, we talk MVP, Zion Williamson, All-Star voting and more.

The two MVP frontrunners – Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden – met last night in Houston, and both had big games. As of right now, which player would get your vote?

James Anderson: Harden. He's been completely insane this year. I know Giannis is the way better defender, but Harden is just on another level – he's a guard who basically needs to be double-teamed at all times.

Nick Whalen: I think this is going to end up being one of the better MVP races in recent memory. Right now, my vote would go to Harden, but I would bet on the Bucks finishing with a better record and Giannis overtaking Harden by the end of the regular season.

Ken Crites: Before the Chris Paul injury, I would have said Giannis, but Harden has had an amazing run lately. The Beard is averaging 39.1 points over his last 15 games and just carrying the Rockets. I'd vote for Harden, who might actually have a worse supporting cast than The Greek Freak.

Shannon McKeown: I've backed Giannis for the majority of the season, but after the past few weeks it's impossible to ignore Harden's dominance. The Beard is averaging over 33 points per game, making him one of three players to reach that mark since 1990. There's still a window for Giannis to recapture his claim as the favorite, especially if the Rockets struggle, but Harden gets my vote today.

Mike Barner: The job that Harden has done to get the Rockets out of their early season slump is amazing. Not only is Chris Paul sidelined, but Eric Gordon hasn't been playing, either. It's hard to argue against Giannis, but Harden has done so much with so little around him that he gets my vote.

Alex Barutha: I think Harden has the edge right now with the way he's dragging the Rockets to victories in the absence of Chris Paul. Giannis is also playing great, but you could make the argument that the new system implemented by coach Mike Budenholzer is equally as responsible for the Bucks' success as Giannis' improvement.

Jeff Edgerton: I think it's too early to coronate Harden. We saw early indications of Chris Paul's effect on Harden's output, and his eventual return could yield the same result. Giannis is definitely a contender, but a second-half run by the Pelicans could put Anthony Davis back into the conversation.

Alex Rikleen: Harden is currently my runner-up to Steph Curry. Curry missed 11 games, during which the Warriors were a sub-.500 team (5-6) and had their longest losing streak since their first championship season. That said, I'm assuming that Harden's insanely hot streak ends soon and that Curry misses no more than two or three games moving forward. If Harden can extend this streak another five-to-seven games, or if Curry misses too many more games, then Harden would take the lead. It's also worth noting that the last time any player had a streak resembling Harden's last 13 games, during which he's averaged 40.2 points and the Rockets have averaged 1.17 points per possession while he was on the court - was Kobe Bryant's January/February streak in 2002-03. He had a 13-game run in which he averaged 42.4 points with more efficient shooting splits than Harden's current streak. By the end, Kobe was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and consider a shoo-in for MVP. That streak was later in the season, and Kobe still lost the MVP to Tim Duncan. It's easy to get swept up in Harden's incredible play – and it has been incredible – but there is a lot of season left.

Let's assume Zion Williamson continues to tear through ACC play and is the consensus No. 1 pick come June. Which realistic landing spot would be the most fun scenario?

Anderson: Hawks or Knicks – in the frontcourt he fits better with Porzingis than John Collins, but it would also be awesome to see him catching lobs from Trae Young. I'll say Hawks since I think Zion will be able to shoot threes at an acceptable enough level that the Zion/Collins thing won't be a spacing nightmare.

Whalen: Depending on where your allegiances lie, this might not qualify as fun, but there's still a scenario in which the Kings miss the playoffs, win the lottery, and fork over the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. Sign me up for an Embiid-Zion frontcourt. Realistically, though, I think Chicago or Phoenix are the most fun basketball situations. Both organizations are a mess right now, but each have some of the highest-upside young pieces among any of the league's bottom-dwellers.

Crites: Chicago. I'd love to see Williamson and Lauri Markkanen feed off each other. If Dunn and LaVine can stay healthy, that's a pretty intriguing young nucleus.

McKeown: Most will probably say New York, but I want the Knicks to be a laughing stock for eternity. Phoenix would be fun. I've always been a fan of teams with a young, exciting core, and a trio of Williamson, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton would be the envy of the entire Association.

Barner: I'm a Bulls fan, so it's not hard to guess where I'm going with this answer. I'd love to see what they could do with him added to their core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn. Just please, don't let Jim Boylen be their coach.

Barutha:The Knicks. Having him in Madison Square Garden with a healthy Porzingis would be awesome from an entertainment perspective, and I think the duo would fit well together if Porzingis shifted over to center.

Edgerton: The Cavaliers would be the ideal scenario for Zion, especially if Cleveland decides to send Kevin Love packing. I wouldn't call it a "fun" scenario, however. I'd much rather see a fore of Young, Prince, Zion and Collins in Atlanta.

Rikleen: For the purposes of actually watching good basketball, the Knicks or Bulls would be my top choice. I'd love to see Zion alongside a tall, skinny 7-foot shooter like Kristaps Porzingis or Lauri Markkanen. Since both teams play in big markets, we'd get the added bonus or more chances to actually watch Zion, who would probably be fun to watch even without teammates.

With the second All-Star ballot returns in mind, do you have a problem with a player like Dwyane Wade or Dirk Nowitzki starting or playing in the All-Star Game in their final season?

Anderson: Yes. I mean, I don't really care because I might not even watch the game (Editor's note: Truly a shocking development), but if you get excited about the idea of seeing a bad NBA player play in an All-Star game, then you need to get out more.

Whalen: I do. All-time greats like Wade and Dirk got their due when they were still elite players, and they'll continue to be respected as such throughout this final go-round. Saving a spot or two each year for a retiring legend is a nice gesture, but it sets a dangerous precedent. Thankfully, under the new voting rules, it's much more difficult for players like Dirk and Wade to actually make the game than it was for, say, Kobe in 2016 – the final year fan votes were the lone factor in determining starters. With media and players now serving as a checks and balances, to start the game an aging veteran would have to be incredibly well respected by all three of his peers, the fans and the media. If someone can pull that off, then I guess I'm fine with it.

Crites: I hate the All-Star game almost as much as I hate the Dunk Contest. That said, yes, I have a problem with that. If they can't start for their own teams, why have them play in the ASG? They do fit the "no defense" code, though.

McKeown: Personally, I would rather see players deserving of an All-Star nod make the roster. Wade and Dirk are both all-time greats, but they have no business taking the court for the 2019 All-Star Game

Barner: I've softened on this over years. If that's what the majority of fans want, I'm not going to put up a big stink about it. I think it's unfair to the more deserving players, but it's not a huge deal.

Barutha: Yes. We don't need to inflate All-Star game appearances. No one is going to slight Dirk for the Hall of Fame because he's a 13x All-Star instead of a 14x All-Star. He's also really bad right now. Like, -24.4 per 100 possessions bad. The team is 3-8 when he sees the floor.

Edgerton: I don't have a problem with them starting and playing a few minutes. If they get the votes, they're in. That's how the rules work, and they've earned the right to play.

Rikleen: My answer to this presupposes that none of these guys pull a Brett Favre and unretire. I'm fine with it for Wade. I don't like it for Nowitzki, but it's borderline – if he's the worst player who ever gets this treatment, I'm OK with that being the bar. My threshold for this is that a player should be an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer (check for both), and they should have been top-5, arguably top-3 for multiple seasons (check for Wade, Dirk fails here). This treatment is an honor and it should be awarded very rarely. We use All-Star appearances to determine contracts and to assess a player's career.

One potential solution: Give the commissioner the ability to add a "legacy" player in a 13th roster spot, with some restrictions and with the expectation that such a spot is not used every season.

Which player are you most confident will make at least one All-Star Game in his career: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram or Kyle Kuzma?

Anderson: Brandon Ingram, I guess. He won't get there playing with LeBron, but could maybe average 24+ points if he gets traded somewhere else. Ball will probably be the best real-life player, but I can't see him averaging enough points to make an ASG. I just don't see Kuzma ever getting there as an all-around player. He's not even shooting 30% from three this year.

Whalen: Ultimately, whatever happens with the Lakers this summer will be the determining factor. Regardless, I think Kuzma or Ball could each get there if they're the second or third-best player on an elite team that wins enough games to garner multiple All-Star spots by default – think the Hawks in 2015 or the Cavs in 2017.

Crites: Kuzma, hands down. Lonzo Ball is an overhyped Ricky Rubio. Call me when Ingram adds 20 pounds.

McKeown: Kuzma. Of the three, Kuzma seems to be the best fit alongside LeBron James, and he's already able to score just below an All-Star level. The Lakers will add another superstar prior to the 2019-20 season and be an improved team next season and beyond, which would only help Kuzma's case.

Barner: I'd like to say none of them, but for the sake of this exercise, I'll go with Kuzma. I don't think much of Ingram and Ball is too inconsistent of a shooter.

Barutha: Kuzma. He'd probably be over 20 PPG if LeBron wasn't on the Lakers, though I think he can still reach that threshold if he remains a Laker. The list of players who post 20-plus PPG and aren't All-Stars is pretty thin. I think Ingram would have the second-best chance if he was the No. 1 or No. 2 option on a team. Ball needs to find his shot.

Edgerton: It all depends on where they play next. I think Ingram will eventually get moved and get an opportunity to run the show somewhere, but if we're looking at a scenario with the Lakers, Ball is the more likely vote-earner.

Rikleen: Lonzo Ball. I think this is just a weirdly down season for him. I'm still expecting big things.

Week 13 is the halfway point in the season for most teams. Looking toward the second half, who are some players fantasy owners should be targeting in trades as potential buy-low candidates?

Anderson: Donovan Mitchell, Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook.

Whalen: Nikola Mirotic, Donovan Mitchell, Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray are on the my radar right now. Gordon Hayward has shown signs of life recently, but I'm still not completely sold on him for this season.

Crites: Otto Porter will get a crazy amount of run when fully healthy. I get that some assume Draymond Green's numbers will slide with DeMarcus Cousins coming back, but the blocks, steals and assists will still be there from Draymond. I still think Eric Gordon has upside, too. The window for getting Jeff Teague cheap probably closed a few days ago, but he's worth a try.

McKeown: Based on average stats for 8-category leagues, no player ranked inside the preseason top-25 has performed worse than Donovan Mitchell. The sophomore guard really picked up his play down the stretch last year, and I expect the same this season. Mitchell is already showing flashes with averages of 23.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.3 treys over the past week. CJ McCollum, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Dario Saric are other names to target. For Saric, I see improvement coming due to the coaching change in Minnesota.

Barner: I think now is the time to try and acquire Dario Saric. Since Tom Thibodeau is out as the Timberwolves' head coach, I expect Taj Gibson to see a decrease in playing time. Saric is a far more intriguing offensive option who likely won't cost much via trade.

Barutha: Donovan Mitchell (I don't think he can play worse than this), Otto Porter Jr. (picked up his shooting/defense before getting hurt), Lonzo Ball (sort of a long-shot hoping he gets dealt to a more high-usage environment).

Edgerton: Obviously, if DeMarcus Cousins is on your waiver wire, it's time to add him. I think guys like Will Barton, Taurean Prince and Nikola Mirotic warrant some consideration as they return from injury, and I'd be looking to make deals for Chris Paul, Lauri Markkanen and Mike Conley for strong second halves.

Rikleen: Schedule-wise, the Nuggets and Heat have the most games remaining, so that's a good place to start. Some players who have significantly underperformed lately, and might be good buy-lows include Donovan Mitchell, C.J. McCollum, Eric Bledsoe, and Otto Porter. And a few guys who haven't yet shown what I expect them to be capable of include Elfrid Payton, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Finally, maybe I'm a sucker, but I still sincerely believe that eventually we will know exactly what to expect from the Knicks rotation, so I'm paying a ton of attention there.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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