We have reached the mid-point of the NBA season and we know a few things: Which teams are good (Warriors, Suns, Bulls and a few more), which teams are disappointments, and which players have set themselves up in the postseason award races. All week long, we will make our picks for some of the NBA’s top awards.
Today: NBA MVP.
More than any year in recent memory, the MVP race feels wide open at the halfway point — if any of these five players surged in the second half and won it, I would not be surprised. The same is true of Joel Embiid, who has been a force of nature of late (but has played considerably fewer minutes than the others, lowering his impact and keeping him off this list right now). You could almost shake this five up in virtually any order and make a reasonable argument.
Antetokounmpo has my top spot not only because he has put up MVP stats (an efficient 28.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists a game) while playing the best defense of any of the candidates, but also he has had to do more positionally than any of the others (except maybe LeBron). Antetokounmpo has had to play more center with Brook Lopez out, and he has thrived in that role. Curry is at the heart of the Warriors surge this season and his impact on their offense is almost incalculable, but he is in a bit of a slump, plus individual stats are actually down from last season. Jokic has the best advanced statistical case of any of the five, he has ridiculous on/off numbers (+22.5 via Cleaning the Glass), but while his defense has improved it is not elite. Also, how much do we weigh the fact the injury-riddled Nuggets are still just above .500? LeBron also has played brilliantly, better than any 37-year-old has a right to (especially since Anthony Davis went down), but the Lakers hurt his candidacy the same way Jokic takes a hit. Durant was second on my list for a long time and still leads the league in scoring, but the ridiculous load he shoulders in Brooklyn seems to have taken a toll on his efficiency lately.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
2. Nikola Jokic
3. Stephen Curry
4. Kevin Durant
5. LeBron James
Antetokounmpo is doing what he usually does — creating and converting a ton of shots inside and defending all over the floor. He has also stepped up as a passer and, with Brook Lopez sidelined, rim protector. Jokic is even more of an offensive marvel, though not nearly on the same level defensively. I’m trying not to be overcome by recency bias, but Curry’s recent mini-slump hurt him in this close race. Durant steadies the Nets on both ends of the floor amid their chaos. LeBron is playing his tail off (which isn’t a great sign for the Lakers, considering they’re just 21-20).
Nobody is running away with this award. Which should make the second half of the season fun.