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.