• Kaunda Chama

Giannis could scoop another MVP award

While most analysts and fans focus on the battle in the Western Conference between the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers for top spot in the West, they are slightly overlooking a dramatic development taking place in the East.

A young Nigerian-Greek forward is on the precipice of doing what, in recent years, has only been done by Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Steve Nash and Tim Duncan, and that is get back-to-back regular season Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards.

After a standout season, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks won the regular season MVP for the 2018-2019 when he became just the second player in NBA history to average more than 27 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and 1.4 blocks per game - the first was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the1975-76. At the same time Antetokounmpo led the franchise to the most wins in the league last season with 60.

At the pace the Bucks are moving, he might just lead them to 70-plus wins this time around, and that’s where the expectation gains more weight.

Now that the All-Star break is far behind us, the focus had gone back to the regular chase as teams clamber for playoff spots and seeding. For Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, the spot has already been claimed, it is now all about the final positioning.

Current performances considered, the quest for the 2019-20 MVP accolade might be realistically be a two-horse race. All things being equal, and barring a serious injury, the only possible winners of the award would either me Antetokounmpo or LeBron James.

However, even with that said, there are a few great players having great seasons on teams that could potentially shift the narrative. Realistically, the MVP contenders are the following:

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), is averaging 30 points, 15.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 31.3 percent from the field.

With Milwaukee on pace to win 70-plus games and a better net rating than the 73-win Golden State Warriors and career-high points and rebounds, he is undoubtedly leading the current race.

To add to his offensive arsenal, he is also at the centre of the Bucks’ top-rated defense, so one would not be surprised if he also made the Defensive Player of the Year list. He is currently the best player on arguably the best team.

Hot on his heals is three-time champion LeBron James who is putting us 25 points, 7.8 rebounds, 10.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. With the Lakers five games clear of the Los Angeles Clippers for the top spot in the West, James, with the help of Anthony Davis, has been the main reason behind the team’s performance this season. His 8.5 plus-minus mark for the season is third in the league, behind Giannis and fellow Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton.

James is carrying a massive load on his team and is clearly the Lakers' most important player. When he sits, they are 13.8 points per 100 possessions worse, which adds to his argument for top honours consideration

James Harden, already has an MVP to his name, but is also not sleeping on the possibility of another. “The Beard” is averaging 35.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game.

Although he has cooled off from the pace he had in December, he is still shooting 40 percent from the field and 29 percent from three-point range. He has been putting up impressive performances even though teammate Russell Westbrook has also been playing MVP-level basketball himself.

Reigning Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic has been putting up great performances with an average of 28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and one steal per game. The fact the the Dallas Mavericks have slid to seventh in the West is however not helping his cause.

In addition, he missed seven games leading into the All-Star break. Doncic also probably set the bar a little too high for himself when he had the Mavericks looking like one of the best teams in the Western Conference for a significant portion of the season. He is also sixth overall in scoring, third in assists and remains the only player in the league averaging at least 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

The MVP discussion would not be complete without mention of one of the league’s two-way players - Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers forward is averaging 27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Leonard points, assists and rebounds per game are actually career-highs as well as his 89 percent shooting from the charity stripe. What makes his mention so low is the missed games due to load management, which has become a sort of thorn in his side.

Other notables include Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Portland Trail Blazers floor general Damian Lillard, who is probably having the best season of his career, Anthony Davis, and Jimmy Butler, who has contributed to making the Miami Heat a contender in the East this season.

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