Charlie Krumsiek ‘20
Most teams in the NBA have played more than 20 games at this point which brings us to a quarter of the way through the season. There have been a lot of surprising stories and incredible games so far. The standings in both the East and the West are fairly unexpected as well, outside of the two 1-seeds in the Lakers and the Bucks. The East has been very competitive and is seeing deeper teams winning more than teams lead by superstars, while the West has seen their stars leading the way. So, who has been the league MVP so far this season? There are plenty of options but here, I narrow it down to who I think are the four top candidates.
First, Lebron James. The perennial MVP contender has looked like he took five years off his legs this year and a lot of that is because Anthony Davis has shouldered much of the load on both offense and defense. The Lakers moved LeBron to point guard and he has responded by leading the league in assists at 10.8 a game. While Davis is one of the best players in the league on both ends of the floor, James has much more name recognition and with the near complete roster reconstruction, James will be getting the lion’s share of the credit for the success the Lakers have had. They have also played a relatively weak schedule so far, but in a difficult stretch facing the Mavericks, Jazz, Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Trailblazers, LA went 4-1 with mostly blowouts. The Lakers have the best record in the league and do not look to be losing that title for some time. James is playing, as usual, a bunch of minutes and as we saw last season, he had trouble keeping up with his regular iron-man like resilience, so this is something to keep an eye on moving forward if The King has his sights set on another MVP trophy to add to his collection. To split hairs with Lebron, he is shooting a little poorly from the free throw line at 70.5%, down from his career average of 73.6%. Free throw shooting has always been his Achilles’ heel (which shows a lot about how great he is at everything else), and it has dipped a touch this year, which could swing some important games down the line.
Next up is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has taken one of the more impressive MVP seasons in recent years and significantly improved his performance. The Bucks are on a 15-game win streak, which, barring any major upsets, should extend to 19 with a soft schedule upcoming. Giannis is second in the league in scoring, fifth in rebounds, and first in PER, the player efficiency rating which attempts to take all of a player’s attributes and give them a numerical value. It basically means that he has been the most efficient player in the entire league and that is while he is testing out his three point shooting. He is shooting slightly better so far, at 31.9%, but has stepped back slightly with his free throw shooting. Giannis is coming off an absolute beat down of the Clippers, who played both their wing superstars and still couldn’t challenge Giannis’ Bucks. Giannis has been on a revenge tour after the postseason disappointment from last season and clearly has his sights set on a championship. He’s been doing all of this playing barely thirty minutes a game, so this campaign seems to be more sustainable than many others. Milwaukee faces the Lakers on Dec. 19, which looks like it should be a must watch game.
James Harden, it seems, has been somewhere on most people’s MVP lists for six years straight now. It also seems like despite his unbelievable season so far, he is in a distant third in this year’s MVP race. He is averaging a jaw dropping 38 points a game; the next closest is Giannis at 30.9. If his efficiency returns to his typical levels, he could quite possibly average forty points this season and still not receive a single first place MVP vote. The Rockets have had some struggles through the season so far, sitting at fourth in the West and are just .500 over their last ten games. The reunion of Harden and Russell Westbrook has not gone as smoothly as hoped but it looks like the Rockets are making progress there. In a buzzer beater loss to Sacramento, Harden scored 27 and Westbrook put up 34. While these two figure out their new roles as ball dominant co-stars, their record has not been the most impressive and this will certainly hurt Harden’s MVP candidacy.
Lastly, Luka Doncic has burst onto the scene this year and taken the league by storm. To show his overall impact and consistency, he has passed Micheal Jordan for consecutive games of 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds games. Whenever you can say that someone in their sophomore season has passed Jordan in anything, you know that they are having a phenomenal season. He is averaging close to a triple double, which outside of Westbrook, had not been seen since Oscar Robertson in 1962. He is also third in both points and assists per game. It is almost unheard of for someone to be doing this sort of thing during just their second year in the league, and Dallas sits at third in the West currently, but are 1.5 games from being fifth. A successful MVP campaign would likely require a top-three seed at the end of the year and around 53 wins, and this doesn’t seem likely as Kristaps Porzingis has been struggling coming back from his ACL injury.