May 31, 2020

Part 1: Who’s the NBA MVP?

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are having career years trying to lead their teams to Eastern Conference domination, but can they take home the NBA MVP award on their way?

The NBA season just reached the halfway point, with every team now having played at least 40 games. It’s been a thrilling campaign so far, and, with only a few weeks of NFL left, people can begin to devote even more attention to what is going on in the NBA.

Things like Giannis making a leap in Milwaukee, Jimmy Butler getting traded, and rumors swirling around Anthony Davis to the Lakers were to be expected, but there have also been some unbelievable surprises, too. Who would have thought the Denver Nuggets would be leading the Western Conference? People thought Luka Doncic would be good, but not many saw him taking the NBA by storm like he has.

Luka is seemingly running away with the Rookie of the Year award, so let’s focus on another award and examine who the MVP candidates are so far. There are eight candidates with a real shot of taking home the MVP hardware this season. I’m going to break down four players from the Eastern Conference and their chances to win the award in Part 1 of this two-part series. Part 2 will feature four players from the Western Conference.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis won’t just dunk on you anymore. He is having his best season so far in the NBA. He’s averaging 26.6 points, 12.6 boards, and 6 assists per game, which is 0.3 points per game away from being all career highs. He’s even leading the Eastern Conference in All-Star votes and has catapulted the Milwaukee Bucks to mainstays on national primetime telecasts.

The jump shot is slowly developing, but it’s nowhere near good. Defenses still can’t contain Giannis despite the fact that he’s shooting only 16.9% from behind the three-point line.

His improvement is showing up in the wins column for the Milwaukee Bucks, too. They are currently the second seed in the Eastern Conference race. New head coach Mike Budenholzer has given Giannis the freedom to create for everyone on the floor, and his teammates have raised their level of play along with him.

His MVP odds sit at +450, which are the highest odds for any player in the Eastern Conference. He will continue to be a strong candidate if Milwaukee keeps up their winning ways.

Kawhi Leonard

The San Antonio Spurs eventually acquiesced to Kawhi Leonard’s trade demands when they sent him (along with Danny Green) to the Toronto Raptors. People wondered if Leonard would be motivated after not landing in one of his preferred destinations, but he has proved the doubters wrong this season.

He’s back to his old ways dominating on both sides of the ball and leading the Toronto Raptors to the NBA’s best record thus far. The Eastern Conference shed LeBron James, but they have been formally introduced to his nemesis in Leonard. He’s taken over LeBron’s mantle as the best player in the Eastern time zone.

He’s averaging 27.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game north of the border. He’s scoring better than he ever has before, but he still hasn’t looked like he’s back to 100 percent of the player he was before the injuries mounted in San Antonio. That should put the fear of God in the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Leonard’s MVP odds are currently +1000, and he has a chance to catapult himself to the top of the conversation with a few more signature performances. The Raptors have never had a certified annual MVP candidate like Leonard, and they will be keen on keeping him around this offseason. First, though, they hope he is able to finally lead them through the Eastern Conference to the promised land of the NBA Finals.

Joel Embiid

The knock on Joel Embiid was that he would never be able to play more than 70 games in a season because of his injury history. He’s played in 40 of the Sixers’ 42 games so far this season, and he’s been dominant in every single one of them.

He’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists. He’s putting up 26.9 points per game and collecting 13.5 rebounds per game. Along with Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, he’s got the Sixers poised to make noise in the playoffs this time around.

Despite the Sixers bringing in Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid has remained the Sixers’ go-to guy on the offensive end of the floor. Defensively, he’s become an anchor protecting the rim.

Currently, his odds are +1500, and he’s probably a fringe candidate at best. If the Sixers went on an absolute tear and ended up the top seed in the East, Embiid would probably be the one who lead the charge. He’s playing more and better than he ever has, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Sixers can make more noise this time around in the playoffs.

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has had one hell of a season for the Boston Celtics, helping them get turned around after the team got off to a slow start. His numbers aren’t as eye-popping as the other three serious contenders in the Eastern Conference. He’s putting up 22.6 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds, which are solid but not quite MVP numbers.

His MVP candidacy is probably based more off of team success and his ability to make dazzling plays. If there’s any team that is set up to go on a huge run in the second half of the season, it is the Boston Celtics.

Irving has battled some injuries like he has most of his career, probably dampening his already small chances. He’s the best player on one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams, which is what props his chances up.

At +7500, his odds are very steep already, but he’s played like an MVP when he’s been out on the court. In order to win the award, he’d probably have to pump his traditional numbers up, which is going to be hard to do with so many talented teammates. The Celtics, though, will give him plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff with all of their appearances on national television.

This concludes Part 1 of “Who’s the NBA MVP?” covering the candidates from the Eastern Conference. Giannis and Kawhi Leonard are leading the pack in the East, but Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving still have plenty of time to make their own cases. The Eastern Conference hasn’t produced an MVP winner since LeBron James won the award in 2012-2013.

There are still strong candidates in the Western Conference, too. Check back to see four players from the Western Conference who could take home the hardware.

Chaplin
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David Graf 20 Articles
Staff Writer

David is an Arkansas native and made stops in California and Texas. He graduated from the University of Wyoming and has been quarantined in Montana for the foreseeable future. Hit him up if you have a sports radio job available for him. He believes that the Justin Verlander, Deshaun Watson, and James Harden trades are the heists of the 21st Century. You may state your case if you disagree with him on Twitter @mrdavidgraf.

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