At the beginning of the season, if you put Oklahoma City Thunder and the 2019 NBA MVP title in the same sentence, then the conversation was almost definitely centred around Russell Westbrook. The 2017 Most Valuable Player is having a good year, but it’s his Thunder teammate who is emerging as a legitimate contender: Paul George.
PG has been a standout player so far this year, averaging 36.3 minutes per game, 28.7 points, 8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals – all either career highs or just shy of being his best to date. George is also having his best year in three points attempted (9.6), three points made (3.9), free throws attempted (7) and free throws made (5.9).
When compared to others in the league, the 6’9 forward is ranked fourth in minutes per game, second in scoring and leads the league in steals. The biggest indicator of his improved game this year is the plus-minus of 8.3 – only Stephen Curry (9.7), Giannis Antetokounmpo (9.6) and Kevin Durant (8.8) have better ratings, and given that Curry and Durant already have MVP trophies of their own, that is some company he is keeping.
While his numbers for the season are mightly impressive, it’s his form over the last run of games that has cemented his case. During a stretch of 12 games, George averaged 35.8 points while shooting 48.7% from the field. He also registered 8 boards and 4.8 dimes, in a period that saw him record 10 games of 30+ points. PG also saw his plus-minus reach 12.3, second only to Malcolm Brogdon and way out ahead of MVP rival James Harden (0.8).
Paul George IS ON FIRE 🔥 pic.twitter.com/hQeKVKHTlW
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 12, 2019
The highlight of this MVP-worthy season from George came just recently when the Oklahoma City hosted the Portland Trailblazers. George had himself a monster game with 47, 12 and 10, while shooting 15 of 26 for 57.7% – he also finished with 8 from 13 from behind the arc.
The game marked his first ever triple-double for the Thunder and his first since March 21, 2014, when he was playing for the Indiana Pacers. Thanks to teammate Westbrook’s record-setting 11th straight triple-double, it would also be a moment of NBA history as they became the first two teammates to each have a 20-point triple-double in the same game.
If George is to win the 2019 MVP award, then he will need to make sure he is keeping the pace alongside the other players in the league. According to Basketball-Reference.com, PG is currently sixth in the race for the award with a 4.6% chance of actually winning. The favourite is Giannis with 50.6%, Harden is behind him with a chance of 16.9% and Nikola Jokić rounds out the top three with 5.6%. Although they aren’t the official odds of him taking the crown, it gives us an idea of whom many believe George has to out battle.
One thing that puts the icing on the cake as to why Paul George should surely win his first ever MVP award and concrete his case is that he is on course to do something that has only ever been achieved by the greatest player of all time (see: Michael Jordan). He is potentially going to be the second ever player to finish a season with an average of at least 28 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
With the season just about to hit the three-quarter mark, George has absolutely done enough to be involved in the MVP conversation. If he closes out the season in his current hot run of form he has an excellent shot at a career first award.
Feature Photo – USA Today / AP Photo / Jae C. Hong / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration