If you thought the NBA MVP race was going to solely come down to Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden, Monday night may have changed your mind. Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George racked up 47 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a masterful performance, going 15-of-26 from the floor and making eight three-pointers in a Thunder win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
It was just the latest great outing in a season full of them for George, who is having the best year of his career and is now truly finding himself in the thick of the MVP race for the first time in his nine-year NBA tenure.
Sure, the years with the Indiana Pacers were nice and all, but a legitimate argument can be made that George was never a top 10 player in Indiana, and he certainly never played at this level.
On the season, George is averaging 28.7 points, eight rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals over 36.2 minutes per game while shooting 45.4 percent from the floor, 41.3 percent from three-point range and 83.6 percent from the free-throw line.
But the crazy thing is, Antetokonmpo and Harden might actually be ahead of him in the MVP chase.
Giannis has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the league and is recording 27.1 points, 12.6 boards, 5.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks across 33.1 minutes a night while making 58.2 percent of his field-goal attempts, 22.7 percent of his long-distance tries and 71.3 percent of his foul shots.
Most probably feel that The Greek Freak is the leading candidate for MVP at the moment, and given the fact that the Bucks do have the best record in the NBA, it’s hard to blame them.
Finally, you have Harden, who has posted 30 points or more in 30 straight games and is tallying a league-leading 36.5 points per game to go along with 7.8 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 steals through 37.4 minutes per game, connecting on 44.1 percent of his shots, 37.5 percent of his triples and 87 percent of his free throws.
Talk about a smorgasbord of MVP hopefuls.
Now that we have the backstory out of the way, let’s rank these three superstars in terms of who is truly the top MVP candidate:
3. Paul George
Again, George is having the best season of his career and finally seems to be turning into a legitimate superstar, something he never was during his Pacers days regardless of what the media and some fans will try to tell you.
The 28-year-old is a different player now, even from last year. Remember: last season, the Thunder struggled to make the playoffs and did not clinch a postseason berth until the waning days of the regular season. This year, however, Oklahoma City may very well be the Golden State Warriors’ biggest challenger in the Western Conference, and George is the biggest reason why.
Sure, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook, but it is pretty clear that George is the best player on the team, especially taking into consideration Westbrook’s massive decline in percentages across the board.
George is the reason why OKC is a serious threat, and while the Thunder probably don’t have enough to beat the Warriors, they will have a chance to at least make things interesting due to the fact that George’s length can actually bother Kevin Durant.
Still, as phenomenal as George has been, he is going to need to have some incredible final two months of the season in order to pass Harden and Antetokounmpo.
Of course, he is off to a good start, as he is dropped over 40 points in back-to-back games, but he needs a string of these types of performances to surpass The Beard and The Freak.
2. James Harden
You can talk all you want about how Harden only plays one side of the ball, but he is so good on that one side that it’s hard to leave him out of the conversation for top five player in the league.
Harden may be the most gifted scorer we have ever seen, possessing a virtually unguardable stepback move, unbelievably crafty handles and an ability to draw fouls that we have never witnessed before he entered the league.
The funny thing about Harden is that he is not incredibly athletic. He doesn’t have a great first step and he can’t jump out of the gym. He just has a way of throwing defenders off balance and can use his craftiness and strength to get to the rim at will, and once he gets there, the defense is pretty much cooked, as Harden will either make a layup or draw a foul…or both.
With Chris Paul sidelined for over a month with a hamstring injury, Harden not only kept the Rockets afloat, but he catapulted them in the standings, putting the team on his back and leading them to a 12-5 record sans Paul.
Now, CP3 is back, and Houston is certainly better for it.
But if it weren’t for Harden’s stretch of dominance that began in mid-December and is still persisting today, it’s hard to imagine where the Rockets—who aren’t all that talented outside of Harden and Paul—would be.
Not only has Harden scored 30 points in 30 consecutive games, but during that span, he has tallied 40 points 17 times and 50 points four times, including a 61-point outburst against the New York Knicks on Jan. 23.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
George may be having the year of his life and Harden may be an unstoppable scoring machine, but Antetokounmpo is still the No. 1 candidate for the MVP award.
Let’s face it: generally, the best player on the team with the best record gets the lion’s share of attention for the honor. It isn’t always true, but a large faction of the time, it is.
That is especially true when said player is dominating on both ends of the floor without having that much supporting talent around him.
Think about it: the Bucks’ second-best player is probably Khris Middleton. Nice player for sure, but he cannot be the second-best player on a title contender.
Yet, Giannis is so good that he has Milwaukee atop the NBA in spite of his supporting cast not being all that great.
Sure, Antetokounmpo still has some holes in his game, particularly in the form of perimeter shooting and making foul shots, but his ability to change the game on both ends is almost unparalleled and is something we probably haven’t seen since the days of Kevin Garnett while Garnett was with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
There isn’t even much more to add here. Antetokounmpo is the only reason why the Bucks have the best record in the NBA. Whether or not that translates into playoff success remains to be seen, but in the regular season, there is no doubt that Giannis deserves this award.