Blame AAU basketball, blame the one-and-done generation, blame whatever you want, but what cannot be argued is that there is an international wave taking over the NBA. Increasingly it seems like the best and most influential players in the NBA are from countries and regions outside of the U.S.
Harden, Antetokounmpo, George - Who Deserves the MVP?
This season's MVP race has been nothing short of a roller coaster but with the final stretch of the season coming up, the race as finally narrowed down to three candidates. Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Rather than listing why each candidate is worthy of winning the award, I'll do the difficult and rank them from 3rd to first.
Third Place - James Harden, Houston Rockets
James Harden is on one of the greatest scoring streaks of all time but that doesn't mean he deserves the MVP. I'll remind you of the 05-06 season where Kobe Bryant averaged 35 points a game and led an underwhelming Laker team to 45 wins, he still finished 4th in the MVP race behind Steve Nash, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki. Scoring a bunch does not guarantee you an MVP and if Kobe didn't win it in 06 with a much worse team, Harden can't win it now.
Second Place - Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George is living up to the hype he created years ago when he led the Indiana Pacers to back to back conference finals against the LeBron James led Miami Heat. Unfortunately, he broke his foot in 2014 and that delayed his development for a few years, fast-forward to 2019 and he is back better than ever. George is averaging career highs in Points, rebounds, assists, and steals. We have never seen a better version of Paul George and this version of him is a legitimate candidate for MVP and defensive player of the year, something that hasn't been accomplished since Hakeem Olajuwon in 93-94.
First Place - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the best player in the NBA this season . . . by far. Giannis has led the Bucks to the best record in the NBA this season, a year after they finished with the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27, 13 and 6, which are all career highs while also joining the conversation for defensive player of the year.
The Bucks are currently the number one defensive team in the NBA and that is owed to the impact Giannis has on that side of the floor. Giannis currently leads the NBA in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. We haven't seen a legitimate candidate for MVP and DPOY since 12-13 where LeBron won the MVP but finished second to Marc Gasol in DPOY. Giannis deserves to join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only two players to have ever won both awards in the same season.
It came a season late but Antetokounmpo is finally completing Kobe Bryant's challenge.
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