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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

NBA MVP Ladder: February Update Sees New Leader

With the All-Star break this weekend and less than half of the NBA season remaining, the KIA MVP race is starting to heat up. Giannis knows no one can guard him, Paul George is dominating on both ends night in and night out, and James Harden isn’t currently human. It’s impossible to pick a definite winner at this point, but here’s a look at my current top five heading into post All-Star break play.

5: Nikola Jokic – 20.4 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 7.7 APG, 50.4% FG, 27.06 PER

Leading the Western Conference’s No. 2 team heading into the break in points, rebounds, assists, steals, FG%, and PER, Nikola Jokic has stepped up his game to a new level, redefining the “point-center” position. Basically, Jokic runs the team’s offense and is also their biggest player; he even carries the ball up the court several possessions each game. While Jokic doesn’t have or necessarily covet the big-time numbers others on this list have, Denver’s surprisingly successful season tells a different story. Jokic has improved in every facet of his game this season, leading the NBA’s fifth best defense. It’s clear the Nuggets won’t have a chance come playoff time as they simply lack the talent to compete with Golden State, but Jokic has this team playing like Denver has something special to root for.

4:  Joel Embiid – 27.3 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 48% FG, 25.54 PER

Joel Embiid is the most dominant paint presence since Shaq, and he’s only getting started. Should the Sixers be No. 5 in the Eastern Conference with the lineup intact right now? Absolutely not…but it cannot be on Joel Embiid.

I see this team finishing No. 3 in the East, which will rightfully give Joel a spot on this list. Despite their undeniable talent all year long, Markelle Fultz’s looming disappointment never ceased to cause a noticeable distraction. Getting rid of him is an underrated plus for the Sixers going forward. Unlike Denver, this roster has the talent to start winning in bunches, and they have the ability to do it very soon.

Embiid leads the team in scoring, rebounding and defensive efficiency (primary edge over Jokic), but more importantly, he is the undoubted vocal leader of this Sixers team, whether anyone likes it or not. I love it and see this team as the biggest threat to Golden State in the near future.

3: Paul George – 28.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, 46% FG, 25.21 PER

I hate having to put Paul George third on this list. If it weren’t for the unorthodox talent level in the NBA this season, PG-13 would surely be completing a full comeback story for the ages. Less than five years after his horrific compound leg fracture on live TV, Paul George has taken the Oklahoma City Thunder over from Russell Westbrook and made them better. He also seems to have the consensus on a runaway Defensive Player of the Year title.

Just a game and a half behind the Nuggets and 3.5 behind Golden State, PG could earn an MVP for himself if he keeps playing like he’s dropping 45 on Harden or 47 in a triple-double. Even on a team notorious for its beloved stat-hogger Russell Westbrook, George has found a way to average around 29 a game with a staggering 42% 3PT%. I’m not sold on team PGMVP yet, but I’m not saying it’s out of the question.

2: James Harden – 36.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 7.7 APG, 44% FG, 30.89 PER

James Harden has been so good recently, it’s virtually impossible not to take him somewhat for granted. Putting all of the playing style and will to win criticism to the side, James Harden is putting up prehistoric or “Wilt” numbers. Who in the modern era would have thought a player could be guaranteed 40 almost every night? Crazy.

When Chris Paul and Clint Capela were sidelined for a lengthy period of time, the Rockets looked like a G-League team with Superman leading them. James Harden is the most creative offensive weapon in this history of the sport, and his defensive improvement is not a myth.

The question has always been whether he can do it when it truly matters, but since this is a regular season award and James Harden has terrorized the NBA this regular season, look for him to be neck and neck with the next guy on this list in his bid for back to back MVP campaigns.

1: Giannis Antetokounmpo – 27.2 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 6.0 APG, 58% FG, 30.37 PER,

It almost seems sad there has to be one winner, the top three have all been so incredible this season so it’s difficult to distinguish which feat is more insane than the other. But the most impressive superstar is the one leading the best team in the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks have the league’s best record going into the All-Star break, yet they lack the roster talent to even be mentioned with several of the top teams.

The answer to why is obvious; the man with possibly the most mispronounced name in America right now…Giannis Antetokounmpo, or more commonly and simply known as the “Greek Freak.” He is indeed a freak, and the Bucks are the most pleasantly surprising team in the NBA. Teams stopped pretending they had a chance guarding Giannis one-on-one early in the season, which has led to an incredible amount of space for his solid yet starless supporting cast.

Giannis’ value is undeniable, but the characteristic that separates him on this list come in the wide-ranging dominance he plays with every single night. Giannis is the team’s best scorer, rebounder, passer, shot blocker, and defender, and it isn’t just for any team, it’s for the best team.

-Shane Simmons

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