Most teams are hitting the 20-game mark this week, which puts us at around a quarter of the way through the season. It’s been hectic: trades of problematic players, the fall of championship challengers, the potential crumbling of an empire, the rise of Canada and the early-season drama of a LeBron James team (not everything is different).
So to gather some sense of normality, Double Clutch alongside guest contributor Mo Mooncey, have put together some thoughts on who might be the early contenders for the NBA’s most prestigious regular season award.
By Matthew Wellington @Matsmashed
To say Kyle Lowry is ballin’ this season would be an understatement.
For 22 games Klow7 has been the Raptors most consistent player, with averages of 15.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 10.2 assists. He’s got an effective field goal percentage of 56.3 and a more than above average player efficiency rating of 20.1. His performances, six of which have come without the Raptors’ superstar Kawhi Leonard, have catapulted the Toronto into the NBA’s elite.
He has 22 starts, 18 wins, 4 losses, 10 double-doubles and one triple-double against Atlanta, which probably tells us more about the Hawks’ rebounding ability than it does Lowry. But against a more stern test, the Memphis Grizzlies led by as many as 17 on Tuesday and with Leonard facing constant double-teams, he deferred to his teammates. As more than just a Robin to Kawhi’s Batman, Lowry’s 10-of-17 from beyond the arc in the second half, helped the Raptors outscore the Grizzlies by 20 points, making the Grizzlies pay dearly for committing to the Raptors’ ‘best player’.
Lowry is undoubtedly a rank outside in the MVP race and according to Basketball Reference, boasts a 10.9% chance of winning the award. Defining ‘Most Valuable Player’ can register under two categories: the league’s best player or the player who had the most impact on his team’s season.
Lowry is now the heart and soul of the Raptors and thanks to his recent heroics, Toronto has a six-game winning streak and sit atop of the Eastern Conference.
By Huw Hopkins @coach_huw
It is often said that to test the importance of an MVP, you should take that player away from the team and see how they get on. Stephen Curry has played in 12 of the Golden State Warriors’ 22 games so far this season: they went 10-2 with him in the line-up, and in the past 10 games they’ve played without him, the team has lost five.
It could be argued that the schedule was easier when Curry was shooting 10.5 threes per game and making 5.2 of them, but the Warriors cratered without his presence. Arguments began, fights broke out, and Curry had to travel with the team despite being injured just to get his teammates back in line. Since joining them on the road, Golden State have won three straight.
If Curry continues to play just 54% of the Warriors’ regular season games this year, consider his MVP credentials gone. But if he returns on Saturday against Detroit, and helps his team win 83% of their remaining games, that would put the Warriors at around 61-21 with Curry playing between 65 and 70 games. This would be more than enough to pick up an MVP award, and if he finishes with 50% shooting from the floor, 50% from three and 90% from the free throw line, we can start carving his name on the trophy now.
By Mike Miller @MikeMiller_Time
Joel Embiid has to be in the conversation for MVP. At 24, and in just his third NBA season, the seven-footer is putting up impressive averages of 28.1ppg (third in the league), 13.3reb (fourth in the league) and 2 blocks (seventh).
Logging 34.8 minutes per game across the first 22 contests, Embiid has cemented himself as the cornerstone of the 76ers franchise. The “who’s team is it?’ argument between him and Ben Simmons, has been put to bed and even the arrival Jimmy Butler isn’t enough to wrestle his 250lb frame off that mantel.
It’s a testament to the threat he poses, and his lack of fear to get physical on offense, that Embiid leads the league in free throw attempts per game, and is second in makes.
But if JoJo is truly to be considered an MVP, this is not enough. He needs to:
- Log at least 75 games – a career high by a long way
- Lift the 76ers to at least the second seed in the East – and within sniffing distance of the one seed
- Become Philly’s closer in tight games – if the ball is not in your hands, when the game is on the line, how can you be the MVP?
If he can do all of this, how can you deny him the award? Scarily, right now The Process is only about 90% complete.
By Mo Mooncey @TheHoopGenius
Waking up to darkness and a chilling English frost serves as a daily reminder of the injuries you’ve picked up playing basketball over the years is tough, but it’s made slightly easier by the almost daily joy of catching up on the destruction that the Greek Freak has wreaked over his opponents.
With expectations running high for the NBA2K cover athlete, he has not failed to deliver, getting the Milwaukee Bucks off to their best start since 1985. While the Raptors sit atop of the Eastern Conference, the Bucks have had a much tougher schedule to start the season, and have still come out, for the most part, unscathed.
27 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists per night are incredible numbers for Giannis, but what’s really impressive is the superhuman nature in which the 24 year-old plays. Whether it’s euro-steps that seem to begin with ease at halfcourt, dunks that should register on the Richter scale, or his 7’2” wingspan causing havoc on the defensive side of the ball: Giannis strikes a level of fear into opponents that most are incapable of preventing.
Featured photo – via Harry How / Getty Images / Nathan Denette / CP / Bill Streicher / USA Today / Double Clutch illustration