With the festivities of All-Star weekend now behind us, it’s time to look ahead towards the 2nd portion of the NBA season. As the playoff picture starts to take shape, so will the minds of the media in regard to which players they believe should be award recipients at the end of the season – with the most notable of those being the Maurice Podoloff MVP Trophy. While I feel like most, if not all, of the readers of this site are well aware of James Harden’s unbelievable play this season that has rightfully placed him within the MVP discussion yet again, I thought I’d take the time to discuss two of Harden’s main competitors in this year’s race, and their chances to win the award.

Paul George – The Resurgence of PG-13

         Anyone that’s been a fan of the NBA for long enough knows that the NBA Most Valuable Player award is largely about narrative. What player not only has the most dazzling stats in that season, but also the best story of unexpected team/individual triumph against nationally expected conceptions to go along with those gaudy numbers.

         So far this year, no player seems to fit that bill more than Paul George. PG is currently averaging career highs in points (28.7 ppg – 5 points higher than previous high), rebounds (8.0 rpg), assists (4.1 apg), and steals (2.3 spg), while also having his 2nd best year in terms of win shares (9.7). I could keep the list going with more advanced stats to show how improved Paul is compared to any of his previous seasons, but pretty much whatever aspect of his game you choose to highlight, he’s just as good at it, if not better, than he’s ever been before.

         However, the real allure to awarding Paul George his 1st MVP trophy lies in the narrative surrounding his elevated play and what it has done for the Oklahoma City Thunder. At the break, OKC currently sits at 3rd in the West (37-20) with only 4 games separating their squad from the 1st place Golden State Warriors. Seeing as they’re able to hold that record in a year where Russell Westbrook is statistically having one of his worst (primarily offensively) seasons he’s had in the past few years, and seeing how the Thunder really only made one significant addition to last season’s 4th-place-in-the-west-first-round-exit Thunder team (they added Dennis Schroeder but are still without Andre Roberson), Paul George is certainly looking like the MVP of that team, and arguably the league, at this juncture. More or less, the new and improved PG-13 has been crucial in the Thunder’s ascendance to the top of the Western conference elite thus far into the season, and if he and the Thunder maintain this form through to the end of the campaign, it will be tough to deny George of his first MVP trophy.

Giannis Antetokempo – The New Buck on the Block

         Then there’s Giannis the “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo. In case you’ve been living under an NBA media less rock this season, you know that Giannis is having yet another break out year in the league (27.2 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 6.0 apg) and is one of the most influential superstars in the game as he is now leading the league in defensive win shares, overall win shares, and defensive rating, while also placing in the top 5 in many other “where would my team be without me” type stats (#4 in Usage Pct, #3 in Player Efficiency Rating, #2 in  both Box Plus/Minus & Value Over Replacement Player). While it’s not as if Giannis is playing with merely a bunch of role players as many MVP winners have had to in order to secure the hardware in the past, as the Bucks now have a talent filled roster to surround him with an All-Star in Khris Middleton and a slew of more than competent supporting cast players (e.g. Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, George Hill, etc.). And it’s not as if he’s playing with another superstar (i.e. PG, Durant, Curry), to more than shoulder the load of carrying an elite NBA team throughout the season. But so far this year Giannis has undoubtedly elevated his play to an improved MVP caliber level that has catapulted his team to currently sit atop the Eastern conference standings.

         In all honesty, while Giannis’ numbers may not be as shiny and impressive as Harden’s, and his emergence as one of the top 3 players in the league this year may not come as much as a surprise as Paul George’s emergence has, but if Giannis continues to lead the Bucks in such torrential fashion in this latter part of the season, he may just mess around and do the unthinkable…lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their first Eastern Conference 1st place finish in nearly 40 years! Or even, the best overall record in the league this year, which, who knows, could very much come in handy if the Bucks are able to make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time in a very long time.

And the Award Goes To…

         If all remains close to the same in regards to Harden, Giannis, and George’s statistics through the end of the season, and no other players have an extraordinary enough of a 2nd portion of the season to propel them into the MVP race, I think what the award will ultimately come down to this year is where each of these MVP contenders’ teams end up placing in the standings at the end of the season. If the Bucks take 1st in the East with the league’s best record, the award is Giannis’. If the Thunder secure a top 2 spot in the West, then George has a very strong case to take the award. And if the Rockets are once again finish at least 2nd in the West, then Harden may be able to bring the MVP trophy back to Houston. Realistically, I think that odds are leaning in Giannis’ favor to do just that and capture his first MVP at this point, but with over a quarter of the season left to play, we are much too far away to have that cemented in stone just yet. However, unless the Rockets have a resurgent 2nd half of the season with a (hopefully) fully healthy squad, the MVP trophy may be going elsewhere come June.

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Welcome to another installment of our Red94 round table! This week we decided to take some time and reflect on the Rockets’ season so far. Since the All-Star break is the unofficial “halfway point” of the NBA season, we decided to not only reflect on what has transpired so far, but also look ahead to the remaining portion of the season for the Rockets. Without further ado, let’s get into the questions!

1) How would you grade the “first half” of the season for the Rockets?

Kevin Glass: I’ll give them a A-, while saying that I don’t consider their injury woes to be something that would have been foreseen or controllable. Chris Paul, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon – three of the Rockets’ top four players – missed 20, 11, and 9 games respectively. Given those injuries, 5th place in a competitive West is impressive, including wins over the best teams, and James Harden has absolutely carried this team to do so.

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The Red94 Week In Review

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Not exactly sure how this fits into a column about the Houston Rockets but let’s get started with some cool GIFs nonetheless.

Chris Paul has been back to his shifty self lately. He is 39% from deep in the last two games and has an assist to turnover ratio of 19:0. You read that right. Zero turnovers in two games!

This is a sweet move on rookie phenom Luka Doncic to feed a hungry Kenneth Faried cruising comfortably in the paint.

That was cool, this is not. The Rockets lost to the Timberwolves and a lot of it had to do with the poor defense near the end of the game as Kenneth Faried became a turnstile in the interior.

Here we see poor paint defense by Faried and a poor close out to the perimeter by James Harden.

On a positive note, something Harden seems to be doing better this season in shaking off defenders during clutch time and end-of-game opportunities. In the past, Harden would not be able to create enough space from the perimeter and would be forced to take a much tougher shot. This season he is working all angles during the final few minutes and keeping the defense honest.

On this play, Harden takes the pick, looks to pass, and shakes off both defenders which allows him to have the quick three.

Harden does something similar–albeit much easier–seconds later when he takes a high pick from PJ Tucker and rolls into an open trey.

Harden has been showing shades of this all season. During the Jazz game a couple of months ago, Harden was able to shake off both defenders by slightly looking to another option as he moved through a pick.

However, James Harden can’t do hero ball for every game and the Rockets desperately need a healthy Clint Capela back.

Final Thought: German philosophers are dark. Have a good break everyone.

Tweets of The Week:

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