Half way into the season, the race for the coveted NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) race is fast becoming a three-way fight as top players are slowly separating themselves from the other superstars in the league.
Choosing an MVP is always subjective. As a rule of thumb, the award usually goes to the best player on a top 5 team. There is also a case of statistical dominance. Russell Westbrook won the 2017 MVP when he averaged a triple-double in one season. There is also a strong narrative such as a player singlehandedly turning the fortunes of an entire team over the season. Here are my three MVP candidates:
1) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) — The Greek Freak is the best player on the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are one of the surprise stories this year since no one thought they would be contenders. He is averaging 26.6 points (ninth in NBA), 12.6 rebounds (seventh in NBA), and 6 assists. He is also shooting a scorching 58.1% from the field. He is unstoppable one-on-one and is always a mismatch against opposing teams especially when the Bucks play small ball with him at the center.
The only knock against Giannis is his horrendous three-point shooting. Luckily, his coach always surrounds him with shooters to open up the lanes.
Aside from that, Giannis is defensive monster with 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. His presence alone (he is 6-10 with a 7-3 wingspan) is enough to change shots. If he continues his stellar play, he just might be the new MVP and the fresh face of the NBA.
2) James Harden (Houston Rockets) — The Beard has publicly announced that he is gunning for his 2nd straight MVP and his gumption are being backed up by his play. The Rockets were terrible at the start of the season but has won 12 out of their last 15 games. From 14th in the West, the team is now sixth and this is because of Harden’s outstanding play even in absence of fellow superstar Chris Paul.
Harden has topped 40 points 8 times in the past few weeks including a 42 point, 11 rebound and 6 assist performance in a losing battle recently versus Giannis and the Bucks. Despite the loss, Harden is still poised to take another MVP trophy.
3) Kawhi Leonard (Toronto Raptors) — Kawhi is back in the MVP discussion one season after playing only 9 games in San Antonio. He is the main reason why Toronto is just a game behind the Bucks in the Eastern Conference race. His numbers are better than the 2016-2017 season — his last healthy season — when he finished 3rd in the MVP voting.
His stats may not be as impressive as the previous two candidates but is understandable since the Raptors are more about team basketball. However, Kawhi sets the tone for the entire team and where he goes, they go.