June 26, 2019 | 4:30 pm
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With the new year underway, MVP discussions heat up

Now that the holidays have come and gone, the level of competition in the NBA is beginning to intensify as teams look to make their second-half push toward a playoff position. With the first part of the season in the books, the MVP race also comes front and center for those making strong contributions for their teams in the beginning of the 2018-2019 NBA season.

As I’ve watched the events unfold this year, I’ve noticed quite a few candidates who make a strong argument for MVP, but this week I’ve shortlisted my top three.

This list is subject to change, and is by no means the authority on the MVP race. This is simply my mid-term MVP watch list–so what’s yours?

Giannis Antetokounmpo– Milwaukee Bucks

With LeBron James in the Western Conference, it was expected that there would be a change in the monarchy of the Eastern Conference. However, I’m not quite sure I expected the change that came our way.

The Milwaukee Bucks sit at second in the Eastern Conference standings. Currently the Bucks have gone 8-3 in the last 11 games with an overall record of 29-12 for the season.

But, who are the Bucks without the Greek Freak himself? Antetokounmpo is on the verge of hitting his prime in the league with 5 years of experience, and at just 24 years old his ceiling seems virtually endless.

So far this year, Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.6 points, 12.8 rebounds and 6 assists per game, and he’s doing all of that while only averaging 16.7% from distance.

 

 

Now, you’d think that a shooting percentage like that would knock someone out of the MVP discussion for sure, but to me this particular statistic only makes Antetokounmpo more interesting. You see, in a league of small ballers, and distance shooters, Antetokounmpo is the type of player who isn’t afraid to plow into the lane through heavy defense to get to the rim.

His aggressive style of play is not only a little bit old school, it’s incredibly fun to watch. His sky-high dunks and incredible offensive poise has led his team to become one of the leaders in a conference of budding talent.

It remains to be determined if the Bucks can last in the post-season with not a ton of help for Antetokounmpo, but for the regular season, this freak has shouldered the burden of his team’s success in a way that is truly impressive.

James Harden – Houston Rockets

*Sigh*

I hate that I have to do this, but I have to call things like I see them. Even though I am outspoken about the fact that I don’t like Harden’s game, I can’t deny that he is a powerhouse force for the Rockets year after year. While his manipulative, and chess-like style of play may be tough to watch as the whistle blows nearly every five seconds stopping the game for free throws, it’s effective.

And, while Harden’s defense won’t be winning any awards any time soon, I have to respect the amount of effort that appears to be being shown from the beard this year.

While the Rockets have fallen from grace a bit sitting at 6th place in the Western Conference, they’re showing signs of improvement going 7-3 in the last 10 games.

 

 

In his 37.2 minutes per game, Harden is averaging 33.9 points, 8.6 assists, and 6 rebounds on 43.6% from the field and 38.6% from three. In fact, Harden tallied 42 points in the Rockets’ loss to the Bucks this past week marking his 14th straight 30 point game.

Now, I will say that a good player doesn’t make a good team and so I have to add a grain of salt to this discussion because Harden’s team isn’t performing nearly as well as they did last season, but a good singular performance has to be acknowledged.

Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets

Out of the clear blue sky, the Nuggets have begun to play defense this season, and they’ve done a pretty darn good job. Barely eking by in the 9th slot of the Western Conference last season, the Nuggets ultimately lost out on a post-season appearance losing the pivotal playoff making game to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

However, this year they are consistently riding high atop the Western Conference nearly two games ahead of the Golden State Warriors.

Now, the young Nuggets are still struggling with making sure both their defense and offense are locked in at the same time, but overall their performance has led them to rule the roost for an extended period of time against some of the most competitive teams in the league.

This effort is all led by the awkward and humble Jokic. For the season, Jokic is averaging 19.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists contributing to the Nuggets’ 28-12 record.

 

 

What makes Jokic so special is his ability to elevate the game of his teammates as he facilitates the offense with excellent court vision. He’s stated many times that he’d much rather be the guy getting the ball to the guy who scores rather than be the one to take the winning shot, and with that kind of attitude he’s hard not to love.

The Nuggets are showing no signs of slowing down as the second half of the season is underway, and if they’re able to remain in the top slot to the finish line I believe Jokic should win the MVP award hands down. Taking a team from not making the playoffs to number 1 in the West in one season’s time is a feat too impressive for words.

I have a few runners up who I’m keeping in the queue should things take a major turn in the league, but for now these three candidates have what it takes to be named the NBA’s MVP for the year.

May the best man win!

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