What started off as one of the deepest MVP field’s in NBA history including the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant has slowly narrowed down to three main candidates who are clawing to get ahead of the others in the race.
Starting it off we’re going to the reigning MVP of last year, James “The Beard” Harden.
Ever since that moment the Houston Rockets got hit with injuries to key players in Chris Paul and Clint Capela, James Harden has stepped up. Harden has been making history almost the whole season. With 32 consecutive games scoring 30 points or more, he’s only behind Wilt Chamberlain’s record. Harden is also the first player since Kobe Bryant in 2005-06 to average over 35 points per game. In the loaded Western Conference, the Rockets clawed their way back from being one of the worst teams to their current 3rd place standing with a record of 50-28 –a testament to Harden’s contributions as a scorer and even more as a leader. Teams change their gameplans the most when going up against James Harden, some even play defense with their hands behind their back because of how good he is at drawing fouls time after time. He’s bound to win the scoring title as he’s 8 points ahead of the next closest player. Some voters seem to be ‘bored’ as many as would describe it with him being in the MVP conversation the past 5 years, and voters do have a tendency to go with somebody new when casting their choice. Still, he is a top contender for what would be his second MVP trophy. Hopefully for him he can sway the media with the history he’s been putting up this season and bring the trophy home.
Paul George, the 6-time All Star and former recipient of the Most Improved Player Award has came back from last year better than ever. Sure you expect that to happen when you’re talking about a player in his caliber, but he’s put himself in the MVP conversation for the first time in his career. George was expected and on his way to being this good a while back but his gruesome leg injury in 2014 during the Team USA camp held him back for a while. His transition from getting traded to Oklahoma City wasn’t pretty to say the least as they got eliminated by a rookie, Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in the first round. Almost everybody was shocked that he decided to come back to the Thunder in the off season. Even the Lakers–the team he preferred to go to when he requested a trade from Indiana the year prior–couldn’t even get a meeting with him, which shows that small market teams can sway a player his caliber to stay if you have the right players around him.
Paul George has made all of his haters silent with the ways he’s been dominating for the Thunder. The defensive end is where he prides himself the most and it shows. He may put himself in the history books this season as only the 5th player to win MVP and Defensive Player Of The Year in the same year. That would put him with Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Kevin Garnett. George has been the anchor of Oklahoma City on both ends. He will need his teammates to stay hot on the court from now to the end of the season to make sure they stay at around top 5 in the conference to stay close to the amount of wins the other two have.The competition between these three is getting hotter and hotter everyday and any time one has an off night is when they fluctuate in the race to win it.
The “Greek Freak” has been flat out dominant this year. He’s averaging only 33 minutes per game which is less than both James and George but having an outsized effect on both sides of the floor.
The Milwaukee Bucks have a once-in-a-generation player in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although prior to this season there was pressure on the team to make short term moves to please him, Giannis is more about loyalty than anything else. The Bucks have to bring back first-time All Star Khris Middleton to show Giannis that the franchise isn’t messing around, and this whole season has shown that in the standings and the trade market. They went out and acquired Mirotic at the trade deadline for multiple second round picks and in the standings they are the best team in the NBA. At this point, there’s only a very minor chance they might fall down with a 58-20 record.
Giannis has made a drastic improvement in his efficiency every single year. This season, he’s playing fewer minutes and averaging more points, rebounds and assists. You can credit new coach, Mike Budenholzer, for implementing a system that is based around Giannis but doesn’t focus just on him. Some say that Giannis has more help on his team than the other two, which is true, but Giannis leads his team in almost every single category which tells you just how valuable he is on his squad. The 24-year-old phenom has received praise from former NBA legends and Hall of Famers. Shaquille O’Neal gave him his own nickname “Superman,” but Shaq has dozens of nicknames so giving one away won’t hurt anyone.
The annual question was asked to the General Managers of other franchises, “If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?” The GM’s voted and Giannis was number one with 30% of the vote.
Giannis is young and destined for multiple MVP’s down the road. This years is his for the taking. All he has to do is close the season out strong and he’ll be the first player since NBA legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the 1973-74 season to win the award for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The votes of sportswriters and broadcasters will determine who wins the award. Basing it off how they’ve voted in past seasons, you need to have a good balance in winning and dominating the game, but at the same time involving your teammates at the same time. As a leader on the court, Harden has a strong case to bring his second MVP trophy to Houston, but for Paul George to bring home the MVP trophy after everything he’s been through would an inspiring story. Still, the favorite is “The Greek Freak” and barring anything crazy happening, the young star looks to already have the trophy in his grasp.
Cover Image: Flickr/ Keith Allison