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Sports Authority

DelVecchio: NBA MVP race is heating up

| Thursday, February 14, 2019

As we approach the 68th-annual NBA All-Star Game, the race for this year’s MVP award has just started to heat up. If you ever thought the award would end up being a shootout between Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden, Paul George is doing his best to help change your mind.

George is in the midst of the best season of his career, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. This season, the former Fresno State star is averaging 28.7 points, eight rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals over 36.2 minutes per game. George is also shooting 45.4 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from downtown and 83.6 percent from the foul line. As of right now, George has career-highs in points, 3-point percentage, rebounds and steals.

The best thing about Paul George? He plays defense. Which, in today’s NBA, doesn’t happen too often. This simple fact is what makes George’s MVP case so compelling; he isn’t just scoring a lot of points and helping his team win on the offensive side of the ball, he’s performing at a high level on both ends of the floor.

As Russell Westbrook continues to struggle to find his shot, George has emerged as Oklahoma City’s top scoring option, as well as its late-game closer. In his second season with the Thunder, it is clear that George has adjusted to the system, and playing alongside Westbrook, very nicely.

It has almost become undeniable that George is the best two-way player in the NBA right now, but is he the MVP? George is finally turning into the legitimate superstar everybody thought he was in Indiana, and is the reason OKC has become a threat in the Western Conference.

James Harden is currently in the midst of one of the greatest and most historic scoring runs in NBA history. The Beard has now scored more than 30 points in 31-straight games, and is recording a league-leading 36.5 points per game to go along with 7.8 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 steals through 37.4 minutes per game. The Arizona State graduate is also shooting 44.1 percent of his shots, 37.5 percent of his 3-pointers and 87 percent of his free throws.

During this historic run of Harden’s, he has tallied 40 points 17 times and 50 points four times, including a 61-point performance at Madison Square Garden back on Jan. 23. During Harden’s streak, which started in mid-December and is still persisting, he’s averaged 42 points per game — one of the greatest offensive stretches over the past 40 seasons.

James Harden has firmly planted himself in the MVP discussion for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and is hoping to win the award for a second-straight year. In the beginning of the season, the Rockets had a struggling offense and a poor defense, and Eric Gordon even came out and said he wasn’t having fun. Yet, Harden has kept the Rockets afloat, even with Chris Paul’s hamstring injury, and the Rockets currently sit at fifth place in a loaded Western Conference. Once again, Harden has made his case for MVP a strong one.

Looking in on the Eastern Conference, Giannis has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the NBA, and has them sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference Standings. In his sixth season, The Greek Freak is averaging 27.1 points, 12.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game while shooting a mind-boggling 58.2 percent from the field. Giannis is the best player on the best team in the league right now, which is why he should be the frontrunner for MVP.

Of course, there are still holes in Giannis’ game. For starters, he still can’t shoot. The Bucks’ superstar is shooting just 22.7 percent from long-range and 71.3 percent from the charity stripe. With that being said, where would the Bucks be without Giannis? One thing is for sure: not on top of the standings. Giannis is dominating on both ends of the floor for a Milwaukee team that doesn’t have much else after him. Khris Middleton has just been selected to his first-ever All-Star Game and Eric Bledsoe is a solid point guard, but neither of them has the ability to catapult the Bucks to where they are now without Giannis. The point is, the infrastructure around Giannis is far from strong, yet that has done little to hinder the Bucks’ success as a team.

At 24 years old, Giannis is hoping to join LeBron James and Derrick Rose as the only under-25 MVPs since 2000. There’s no telling whether or not this regular-season success will translate to the playoffs for Milwaukee, but if the Bucks remain the No. 1 seed in the East, Giannis is the MVP.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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