With the All-Star weekend approaching, we are reaching the halfway point of the NBA season. It is usually now that the MVP race starts to heat up and following some impressive displays this season, we can see which players will be making names for themselves come time for the award to be handed out. Here are the five best candidates for the NBA’s highest individual honour.
Throughout this season, the reigning MVP has turned up another gear, setting numerous records along the way. He is right now averaging 36.3ppg, the most since Kobe Bryant in 2005-2006, Harden is now holding one of the longest active streaks of games with 30+, the highest streak of anyone not named Wilt Chamberlain, and he is absolutely carrying his Rockets from what was an abysmal start to the season. He’s already the hot favourite to go back to back, and if he can keep it up and lead Houston to a top seed, he’ll surely be high on everyone’s rankings.
The hardest name to pronounce in sports, Giannis has gone from strength to strength over the last few seasons. The Greek Freak is now a bonafide superstar, leading his team in virtually every major statistical category: Points, Rebounds, Assists, Blocks and Steals, all while shooting a staggering 57% from the field. Milwaukee have been impressing everyone and are looking to be the best team in the East, and one of the best in the entire league. Giannis has also been named as one of the All-Star captains alongside LeBron James. He’s only getting better, and it’s a matter of time before he takes the NBA’s top award.
This is the same case every year, but if the MVP wasn’t a media award, LeBron would probably win it every year. It seems puzzling that the best player in the world hasn’t won it since 2013, but that doesn’t faze him, he’s still at his prolific best. Moving to LA and to the West hasn’t changed him, as he still puts up the same numbers and still leads his team in every way. While a groin injury has kept him out since Christmas and has hurt his MVP chances, the Lakers falling from the 4th seed to out of the playoffs in his absence highlights how important he is. It is after all, the most VALUABLE player, and no one in the NBA holds LeBron’s value.
Having never really been the same since suffering a horrific leg break in 2014, Paul George is finally proving himself to be the star we knew he could be. After being traded to the Thunder, many then expected him to then join LeBron in Los Angeles last summer. He shocked everyone, and signed an extension with Oklahoma City, banking on improving his chemistry and partnership with Russell Westbrook, and that he has. OKC are poised for a home court advantage and George is having a career year, posting career high statistics across the board. His defence has been up a notch, more elite than it usually is and he is in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year. Paul George has finally elevated himself to star status and finally recovered from what was a career-threatening injury.
The quietest superstar since his mentor, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard’s trainwreck final season with San Antonio and subsequent trade to Toronto was met with mixed criticism, but he has proven his doubters wrong. Following a season where he may or may not have fully recovered from quadriceps tendinopathy, which kept him out for virtually the entire season, Kawhi Leonard, like many others on this list, his having his best season in his professional career thus far. His scoring has ramped up even more than his last full season with the Spurs, with his trademark efficiency, and his defence is back to its best, once again re-entering the conversation as the best defender in the league. His all-round game has improved, having been a stronger rebounder and playmaker this season has earned him a return to being named an All-Star starter. Toronto have been arm-wrestling the Bucks for the no.1 seed in the East, and a lot of it is down to Kawhi. It’s a quiet case, and his bouts of rest may hurt his chances, but Kawhi Leonard has reminded fans all over of just how good he is.
Honourable Mentions: Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic, Kemba Walker, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis