So many NBA fans wondered what would happen this season. The Golden State Warriors are no more. Any team could have stepped up, and the teams that have been preparing their young talent to peak at this time are thriving. The likes of the Dallas Mavericks, the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets are all rising and individuals are standing out. Some older players are still hanging around, but there is a gear change in the league that is reflected in the race for the Most Valuable Player award.
It’s weird to feel like Giannis Antetokounmpo’s season is going under the radar. With the Los Angeles Lakers being as strong as they are, with Luka Dončić stealing the headlines, and with James Harden averaging an efficient 39 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists, the Greek Freak is weirdly flying under the radar.
But let’s just remind ourselves about what he’s achieving. In fewer minutes, Antetokounmpo is averaging more points, more rebounds and the same number of assists as he managed last season. He has been without the team’s second best player, Khris Middleton, for six games. The Milwaukee Bucks’ third best player from last year, Malcolm Brogdon, is now living in Indiana. And yet, Antetokounmpo has pushed his team to the best record in the league, despite not having a cakewalk of a schedule so far against teams that include the Houston Rockets, the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz (twice).
He is having a better season than his MVP run last year, and his team is in a better position. Stop ignoring the Greek Freak.
If it wasn’t for Luka Dončić having his Allen Iverson-Michael Jordan moment to stop the Los Angeles Lakers’ winning streak, not to mention the fact that the purple and gold have potentially two players in the running for this year’s MVP award, LeBron James would likely be at the top of this list.
He is effectively playing point guard for this team, which makes perfect sense. Rajon Rondo is not offering you much these days, Avery Bradley is a clever defender but even he has limitations in that area compared to a few years ago, and Troy Daniels is not ready to make decisions between who he should pass to between James and Anthony Davis. This leaves The King doing a lot of work. Whether his body can handle it for a full season we are yet to see, but so far he is combining with Davis for 51 points, 17 rebounds and nearly 14 assists.
The Lakers are leading the Western Conference, even if their schedule hasn’t been the most challenging in the league, and have posted their best start since the year LA last won an NBA championship. Taking time off last season has certainly given James more energy than we have seen from him in several years, and he remains firmly in the running for his fifth MVP.
Admittedly, this series failed to include Luka Dončić for too long. It wasn’t necessarily due to him being overlooked – the team at Double Clutch have been high on the Slovenian since his EuroLeague days – but there has been a high level of basketball being played in the NBA this season, and MVP candidates have been plentiful as the season standings take shape.
When you look at the Dallas Mavericks’ supporting cast for Dončić, it barely compares to the teams with similar records. Kristaps Porziņģis is averaging 17 points per game, but he is struggling to reach the scoring output he managed during his last two healthy seasons with the New York Knicks, though he is grabbing career highs in rebounds. Tim Hardaway Jr is the only other Maverick with double figures in scoring, aside from JJ Barea who hasn’t played five games so far this year.
Dončić is doing everything for Dallas and the team is in a great position – currently fourth in the tough Western Conference – to finish in the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
Dallas has had an elite player on the Mavericks since 1998 and now it has signed up for potentially 20 more years of a legendary player to cheer for.
Take away the best player in the league during the last four years, a two-time Finals MVP, the player the Toronto Raptors traded for to push their team to the first championship in franchise history. What do you have left? A supporting cast ready for another superstar to arrive?
Well, if Pascal Siakam steps up to be what Kawhi Leonard was last year, and OG Anunoby steps up to be what Siakam was last year, have you really lost anything?
The Cameroonian has put in another year when he could be considered the Most Improved Player, but the MVP award is most likely, as he is averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. On top of that, he is putting the Raptors in a great position to make a deep run into the playoffs when so many people counted them out when Leonard headed to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Siakam is one of the best young players in the league and as he enters is prime the Raptors could be in a great position to sustain excellence for the next decade.
Watching Anthony Davis operate this season is special. During his years at the New Orleans Pelicans, nobody was able to offer any sort of gravity. The ball would be in his hands, and the franchise struggled to surround him with players that provided any great relief from Davis’ shoulders. That’s not to do a disservice to the Pelicans: the team had some bad luck with injuries, such as with DeMarcus Cousins, or couldn’t hold on to players such as Rajon Rondo, who helped make a great playoff run.
Davis has now teamed up with Rondo on the Los Angeles Lakers, and a genuine star in LeBron James. The big man could possibly be higher on this list if he hadn’t teamed up with a player better than him, but the team is still the best in the tough Western Conference and Davis’ 26 points lead the team, while posting 9 rebounds and 3 assists.
Huw grew up in Wales and was too much of a wimp to play rugby. He fell in love with the quiet brilliance of Tim Duncan and ended up a San Antonio Spurs fan. Huw is a Lead Writer for Double Clutch and also contributes to Sky Sports (NBA/WNBA) and Sporting News (FIBA).