We’re a far cry from the typical two-horse MVP race we’re used to seeing each year.
You don’t have to be a genius to work out who this year’s favourite is, and in fact, it’s not even close. But as we’re now a quarter of the way through the 2018/19 season, reflection is key with the All-Star break looming.
The inevitable trades, injuries and performance declines are certain to come, so now is as good a time as any to rank this season’s MVP candidates. Here’s a look.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
Don’t take the Greek Freak for granted this season, because this is something to tell your grand-kids about. You have to throw it all the way back to Shaquille O’Neal to find a player that has dominated inside like Giannis has so far, but even Big Diesel has nothing on Antetokounmpo’s game right now.
Never has a player with such an errant three-point shot averaged anywhere close to 27.0 points-per-game, and while we were promised bigger and better things from Giannis entering 2018, nobody could have anticipated this level of offensive explosion.
If you missed his annihilation dunk over Blake Griffin on Thursday you can watch it here, but take serious note of the fundamentals. He’s not just barging his way to the rim, he’s dunking over guys whilst showing tremendous patience, something he lacked last year.
To go along with all of that, Giannis also ranks seventh in the league in free-throws. It’s going to take something special to convince anyone that he isn’t the MVP, and it’s also going to take a miracle for any team to hold him under 20-points (which has happened only twice this year, by the way).
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2. Kawhi Leonard – Toronto Raptors
All of us have egg on our face, apart from Raptors’ general manager Bobby Webster, of course.
After what was basically a gap year for Leonard last season, plenty of fans were anxious after the former Spurs’ superstar was traded North to Toronto. The MVP award is a year-round deal, but serious favourites are made in the first two months, and it’s now pretty safe to say if anyone is going to challenge Giannis, it’s going to be Kawhi.
It’s scary to think Leonard is only 27, and it’s also scary to think this isn’t even his final form. Alongside his health there were plenty of concerns surrounding his attitude following June’s DeMar DeRozan swap, but so far Leonard seems as invested as ever. We’re yet to see the high-flying dunks, but the steals and assists are right there. Better yet, we all know the MVP award often goes to a player on one of the league’s best teams – so the Raptors’ 21-5 record certainly helps.
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3. Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans
Davis is balling right now, just to a more bland and less exciting degree. You could say the same for the Pelicans, who by all accounts probably play a large part in the case against Davis for this year’s MVP.
New Orleans are 13-13 on the season having won just four of their last 10-games. Davis leads the league in several “team” stats that have always kept him prevalent in the MVP discussion, but no one ever won the award for leading the league in minutes-per-game, did they?
To his credit Davis is averaging a career high in assists-per-game and three-point percentage. He’s put up 30-points or more against classier teams like the Rockets, Heat and Hornets this year, although it feels like dejavu for Davis in what has so far been a very underwhelming step backwards for the Pelicans this year. In saying that, a trade to the Celtics or Lakers could spice things up.
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4. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers could only dream of this production a year ago. Now in his third year, Embiid is averaging career-highs in points, blocks, free-throws, and most importantly, rebounds as the linchpin of Philly’s lineup.
Defence doesn’t win MVP’s, so that’s probably why he remains overlooked. The 7-foot center currently leads the league in rebounds, but when you consider he ranks second in points scored behind only Kevin Durant, even at double-digit odds Embiid warrants star status.
Controlling the paint has been Embiid’s bread and butter this year and it’s forcing a barrage of offensive mismatches for opposing teams as they are forced to pull up from the perimeter. There’s the obvious need for improvement in Embiid’s three-point shooting game, but keep in mind he’s put up 30-plus points against teams like New Orleans, Toronto and the Clippers this season.
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5. LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron drew plenty of skeptics during the offseason as he prepared to play in a Lakers system unlike any other he’d featured in.
LA’s plan of attack is simple: play through the likes of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma and kick the ball to LeBron for the finish. There’s no doubt the four-time MVP has had plenty of ups and downs through 25-games, but his 42-point performance against Sacramento on Thursday showed how ageless the 33-year old really is.
The biggest part of LeBron’s game this season has been his three-point shooting – he’s averaging a career high in attempts and knocking them down at a 36% clip. As the Lakers start to gel with a 15-9 record, LeBron is a serious MVP dark horse – as strange as that might sound.
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6. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors
Missing the better part of a fortnight saw the Warriors fall apart inside and out, but not Steph Curry. He’s only been back in the lineup a week, and already the league’s greatest three-point shooter has a 42-point game to his name.
Curry dominated the Cavs on Wednesday shooting 64% from beyond the arc. Through 15-games he’s made 153 of the 295 field-goals he’s attempted, making it safe to say that if Curry plays in all 25-games up until this point, he’s probably on the way to his third MVP award.
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7. James Harden – Houston Rockets
The stats are certainly there for the reigning MVP. Harden leads the league in three-pointers made, points-per-game, turnovers and steals per-game, so why no love?
Posting 40-point nights – which Harden has four of by the way – aren’t enough. He’s a shoot-first guard in charge of carrying a team with a B-grade lineup, and so far Houston’s 11-12 record is hurting his chances. On an individual level it’s also worth remembering Harden leads the league in
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8. Kevin Durant – Golden State Warriors
KD provided a familiar feeling on Thursday as he pulled up for a couple of big three’s from the sweet spot against the Cavs. Durant’s averages only continue to increase in every major category as the season progresses, and with Curry back in the lineup to lessen the load, it’s likely we see him leapfrog his way up this list with less of a defensive focus.
Whenever you lead the league in points and two-point shots you’re a serious chance, and Durant’s usage percentage – which ranks second to only James Harden – shows exactly what he means to the Warriors on the court. These are nice roughie odds.
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