Nobody likes injuries, but when players are out for a stretch of games, it gives others the chance to step up. Sometimes that can happen within a team – see what Malcolm Brogdon has done on the Indiana Pacers without Victor Oladipo this year – but in the Top 5 MVP Race, it can mean a spot of recognition opens up, and that’s exactly what has happened since Anthony Davis suffered his injury against the New York Knicks.
Perhaps this Top 5 MVP race is paying too much attention to the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging more field goals, field goal attempts, three point attempts and makes, offensive and defensive rebounds, and points than any point in his career. After all he is only averaging the second best effective field goal percentage in his seven NBA seasons, and his free throw percentage has plummeted for some reason. Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer is playing Antetokounmpo the fewest minutes since his rookie year, and the team still has the best record in the league in the weaker Eastern Conference.
So, yes, maybe the focus should be on a player in the west that has a worse coach with a weaker supporting cast. But being so much better than the rest of his more regularly-seen opponents isn’t Antetokounmpo’s fault. Why should he be punished?
Well, he shouldn’t. And he isn’t, here.
Unless Antetokounmpo falls off in a big way or the Bucks start struggling as opponents figure out their style of play and he doesn’t adjust, it is going to be difficult to catch the Greek Freak.
The fact that the Los Angeles Lakers managed to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder without LeBron James or Anthony Davis tells you how well organised they are, and how much value a trigger-happy forward has with no one else to defer to, but don’t get it twisted, they wouldn’t have won as many as they have without The King.
Since Davis went down, after landing awkwardly on his back, James has averaged 29 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds. His team lost to the Orlando Magic but won every other game until their game against the Boston Celtics, and the Lakers are comfortably ahead of the chasing pack.
James was injured last year and his team missed the playoffs for the first time in a longtime. But if you thought for a second it would be the end of his run as an elite force, you were wrong. He is the reason the Lakers are on their way to a Western Conference Finals appearance. The team was built for him, partly by him, and he is managing them perfectly.
It feels weird. James Harden is scoring 37, with 7 assists and 6 rebounds, and yet he isn’t leading the MVP race this season. But his team is sixth in the Western Conference and has lost three straight games. That matters.
He has also struggled slightly. Again, it’s weird. But he is only averaging 32 since he took a game off against the New Orleans Pelicans in December. That included one occasion when he scored 17 against his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and just 13 versus the Portland Trail Blazers – both losses.
Simply put, the Houston Rockets need him to be better than any one team should expect from any one superstar, but that is the situation General Manager Daryl Morey has put the franchise in for the last eight seasons. It’s been successful in many ways: Harden continues to show he can carry the team to the playoffs – they haven’t missed since he arrived in Texas – and he has one MVP, and should possibly have another (including perhaps this season), but winning matters. If you can’t even finish in the top four seeds in the conference, that doesn’t count as winning enough to be considered MVP. There’s nothing weird about that.
Luka Dončić has cooled off slightly in recent games. At one point this season, he managed four straight games of 30 points or more, with two of those being triple-doubles, but only two of those four games were wins. Still, his Dallas Mavericks are 27-16. He finds ways to get wins.
Dončić is possibly still too young to be an MVP in this league, or maybe his team just hasn’t won enough. Maybe the two are going hand in hand. But there’s no doubt that the Slovenian will be a regular name within this race for the next few seasons.
With Anthony Davis being injured in recent weeks, the Los Angeles Lakers big man has dropped out of this Top 5 MVP Race, and even though his team has struggled since Jimmy Butler blew kisses to TJ Warren of the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat have been in the top of the Eatern Conference all season and now sit in the second seed.
Butler has had an ability to make teams better throughout his career, but few people thought he could be the best player on one of the best teams in the NBA. But this season, it’s not inconceivable that the Heat could make it to the NBA Finals if things go right.
The wing has been the team’s best player by far. He keeps things ticking over in the scoring column, and only scores 20 per game, but he leads a balanced team by example.
Miami Head Coach Erik Spoelstra runs a well organised squad and only gives minutes to the players that work hard every second they’re out there. That all comes from Jimmy Buckets, who will shut down the opponents best perimeter player, run the offense set up by the coach, and get players involved to the point where they can grow and be relied upon as Butler moves into his early 30s and the second half of his prime years.
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).