Who Will Win the NBA MVP This Year?
The 2018-2019 NBA season has been an exciting one so far. Outside of the Warriors dominance, this season has been full of surprises. The Nuggets have surged to the top of the conference, Paul George has rebounded after an up and down season and even D’Angelo Russell has proven that he is an all-star while leading the Nets to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
During the season several players have put their names in the conversation for MVP. We’re going to take look at five of the candidates that are the front runners.
5. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry has been the most important player for the Golden State Warriors this season. That hasn’t been a surprise since he’s been their most important player for the past seven years. However, what has been surprising, is that he’s been arguably the best player for them this season. That isn’t something that could be said since Kevin Durant signed with them back in 2016. For the last two seasons, Durant has been their best player, proven by him winning finals MVP the last two seasons. During this season, however, Stephen Curry had been playing like the MVP of old before he got injured and missed 11 games. Before the injury he was averaging 29.5 points per game along with six assists and five rebounds, while being the nuclear threat he’s always been.
When Steph went down against the Bucks back in November is when the Warriors started to slide. They went 5-6 during his absence and their offensive numbers took a noticeable decline. During the 11 games Curry was out, the Warriors were outscored by teams. While Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant’s numbers went up, both of their efficiency went down and the whole team struggled at times to score during this stretch. Steph’s value lies not only in his numbers and his ability to shoot the ball, but also in the attention he gets once he crosses half court, which in turn opens up shots for his teammates. Since Curry has come back, the Warriors are 28-9, the ball movement is back, the offense has looked better and they’re looking like the Warriors everyone expected coming into this season. Steph himself has averaged 28 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. He represents what the Warriors are, and he’s the engine that drives the team.
4. Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is one of the most unique players in the NBA right now. He’s averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists per game. The last center to average those statistics was Wilt Chamberlain back in 1967-68. He’s led the Denver Nuggets to best record in the West, tied with the Warriors and the third best record in the NBA overall. He’s having the best season so far of his young career. His ability to pass and run the offense is the main reason that the Nuggets have the third-highest offensive rating in the league. So far this season, Jokic has had 12 triple-doubles, which is by far the most by any center in the NBA and only Wilt at the center position has more all time. He hasn’t been talked about as much for MVP by the media, but he deserves to be mentioned in consideration. Especially because prior to this season, the Nuggets were a team people picked to miss the playoffs in the Western Conference. Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Will Barton, who are the Nuggets' third, fourth and fifth leading scorers, respectively, have missed a combined 75 games this season. Yet the Nuggets, thanks to Jokic, still have one of the elite offensives in basketball and one of the best records. When everyone on their team is back and healthy, the Nuggets look like a team that can make a lot of noise come playoff time led by their Serbian big man.
3. James Harden
For the past two months, James Harden has been on fire. He recently had his streak of 32 games with 30 points or more end against the Atlanta Hawks. His streak of 30 or more is the most in the NBA since Wilt Chamberlain was still playing. He averaged over 41 points per game during the streak, and the Rockets have needed every point that he could give them. Before it started, the Rockets were the 14th-ranked team in the Western Conference. During his streak, the Rockets went 21-11 and they’ve vaulted to the fifth seed in the West and back into the thick of the playoff race. For the season, Harden is averaging 36 points, seven assists and six rebounds per game. The Rockets are 6-7 this season when Harden doesn’t score 30 and they are 27-16 when he scores over 30. His point production is the most in the NBA since Michael Jordan averaged 37 his third season in the NBA. Harden averages almost eight points per game more than the next player in Paul George. He has had six 50-point games this season, the rest of the league has a combined eight games of over 50. He is the first player since Kobe Bryant to have six 50-point games in a single season.
For much of the season, Harden has had to carry the load for the Houston Rockets with Chris Paul having missed 24 games and struggling to find his shot at the beginning of the season. While Harden’s isolation style of play has received a lot of criticism (He has more than any team by himself), he hasn’t had much of a choice with Paul being injured. There isn’t another ball handler on the roster that can create for themselves consistently like Harden or Paul can. Harden has maintained his efficiency while having the highest usage rating of his career by far. He’s not just creating points for himself either, Harden is ranked eighth in assists per game. Harden has taken it upon himself to drag Houston back into the playoffs and has been very successful in doing so.
2. Paul George
Paul George has been on a tear this season, averaging career highs across the board. For the year he’s averaging 28 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals per game. He’s been one of, if not the best, perimeter defenders this season, and he’s a strong candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year. He leads the league in steals, deflected passes and loose balls recovered and he’s also within the top 15 in individual defensive rating. The Thunder, as a team, are ranked fourth in defensive rating. If Paul George somehow manages to take home both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards, he will be the first player to do so since Hakeem Olajuwon did in 1993-94.
He is having his best season on the offensive end of the floor as well. George is about to surpass his previous season high for 3-pointers made and points scored in a season. With Russell Westbrook taking a step back on the offensive end of the floor, Paul George has flourished as the number one option on the Thunder. On the floor, he’s more assertive on offense and playing with confidence that wasn’t always visible last season. While he’s been dominating on both ends, the Thunder have been winning games. They are the third seed in the Western Conference and are looking like a real threat to challenge the Warriors in the playoffs. In most other seasons, George’s dominance at both ends might’ve been enough to let him win MVP, but this season, there’s one player who deserves it more.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the front runner for MVP this season. He’s been dominating teams on both ends of the court for the entire season. Even without the threat of a jump shot, he can’t be stopped no matter what the defenses throw at him. Giannis is averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds, while shooting 58 percent from the field. While he has struggled from the 3-point line, it hasn’t affected his ability to score the basketball. He’s also been a good distributor this season, averaging a career-high six assists per game, while leading the Bucks to the fourth-ranked offense in the NBA. However, his dominance doesn’t stop on the offensive end of the floor. He’s averaging over one steal and one block per game this season.
His ability to defend every position on the court has been the catalyst for Milwaukee’s No. 1-ranked defense. The Bucks are the only team ranked in the top five in both offense and defense. Among all individual NBA players, Antetokounmpo has the highest defensive rating. The Bucks have the best record in the NBA and are showing no signs of slowing down. Right now, they look like the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference and are a serious threat to win the NBA championship. Giannis has not only been the best in his conference, he’s been the best player throughout the duration of the season. It’s only fitting that he wins the first MVP for the Bucks since 1974 when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won it.
Unless Harden closes out the season on another ridiculous streak or Paul George ups his game up another notch, Giannis will be the one walking away with the MVP trophy.
Zachary Smith is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. Ton contact him, email email@example.com://firstname.lastname@example.org.