By Nick Sligh
Last year’s MVP race was practically a two-man show between Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden as they battled for the league’s biggest individual award. Coming in to this season, a handful of players were seen as potential contenders, including Giannis and Harden along with Stephen Curry, Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid. With injuries and surprises in team and individual performances, the field has witnessed some significant changes thus far. Here are my top five candidates for the NBA MVP award.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Once again, Giannis has been off to an incredible start this season, averaging 31 points, 14 rebounds and six assists per game. All three of these stats are career-high averages for Giannis, who has propelled the Bucks to the best record in the Eastern Conference and second best in the league. With the dominance of the “Greek Freak” on both sides of the ball, and with the Bucks being one of the most impressive teams in the NBA at the moment, the reigning MVP is my current leader for the award.
2. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
Doncic has been nothing short of amazing this season. Even the people who were big fans of Doncic coming in to his NBA career probably did not expect to see this level of dominance this early. The 20-year-old Slovenian has been on an absolute tear, averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists per game. Luka has the Mavericks sitting in fourth place in the extremely talented Western Conference. With the fastest rising stock of any player, the ceiling for the young star is hard to even imagine at this point.
3. James Harden (Houston Rockets)
The departure of Chris Paul and the addition of Russell Westbrook left questions about how this would affect James Harden and his style of play. One thing that has been answered thus far in the season is that Harden’s ridiculously high usage rate will continue to be just that, ridiculously high. Leading the entire NBA in usage rate (for any player averaging over 20 minutes per game), Harden is producing at historic levels of volume, averaging 38 points, six rebounds and eight assists per game. With these numbers, the only thing holding Harden back from being a leader for the award is that he is producing these numbers with moderate to poor efficiency. Averaging 34% from behind the arc and nearly six turnovers a game, there are parts of Harden’s game that could certainly be cleaned up. Following a three-game losing streak, Houston is currently in sixth place in the Western Conference. While Harden may continue to put up crazy numbers as the season continues, the question remains: Will he play more efficiently and will his team rise to be one of the top contenders in the league?
4. Lebron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
In his 17th season, Lebron just continues to prove why he is one of the greatest basketball players that we have ever seen. His durability alone is enough to be in awe at, but the fact that he is playing so well and that the Lakers have the best record in the entire league gives more credibility for Lebron’s argument to be the league MVP. James is averaging 26 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 11 assists per games through his first 17 games. The only things holding Lebron back from the top of the list at the moment are the fact that he has another superstar — namely, Anthony Davis — to help carry the load. Lebron has also been playing with only moderate efficiency, with 35% shooting from deep and a 49% field goal percentage, his second lowest over the past decade.
5. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
The first-year Laker has been making the most of his fresh start in Los Angeles. Averaging 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game, Davis has provided a necessary spark that has helped lead the Lakers to such an impressive start and the NBA’s best record. So far, Davis is proving to be a great complementary piece to Lebron James, as they are making the case for the best duo in the league. So long as Davis is providing great play and the Lakers are one of the top contenders in the NBA, he should at least have his name in the MVP conversation for the duration of the season.