For much of the regular season the MVP race has been a back and forth affair between James Harden and Giannis Antetokunmpo. Harden is putting up scoring numbers at a historic rate, while Antetokunmpo has been the best player on the league’s best team.
Those two have gone back and forth as favorites a majority of the season, but there may be a third player making a late push.
Paul George has transformed from a really nice player to an All-Star to an MVP candidate in a matter of three seasons. The 28-year-old is making good on the maximum contract the Oklahoma City Thunder gave to him this past offseason, averaging 28.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists and an NBA-best 2.2 steals in 36.6 minutes.
He’s entered the MVP discussion with an extraordinary two-month stretch; in his last 29 games he’s averaged 32.2 points on 46 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from deep and 85 percent from the line.
The Thunder have also won 12 of their last 15 games, with George averaging 34.6 points in that span, to move within a few games of the top seeds in Golden State and Denver. Here’s why George fits the bill for a dark-horse MVP candidate, using the trends found here.
The Thunder stumbled out of the gates this season, beginning 0-4 and going through a stretch in late December and early January when they lost 5 of 6 and 8 of 14, putting them at 26-18. But the Thunder have been on fire since, winning 12 of 15 including victories over Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Houston and Utah.
Thanks to George, the Thunder have been the No. 3 offense in the NBA over the past month and have stayed within distance of Golden State and, more importantly, Denver. In that span, George has 30+ points seven times, and 40+ four times. The Thunder are winning at an incredible clip and they certainly look like a top-3 team in the West.
This is really where George is going to win over media voters. For starters, a gruesome broken leg suffered in 2014 with Team USA could have – and probably should have – ended his career as an elite player.
Instead he’s bounced back incredibly and come back even stronger. The fact that he’s now an MVP candidate and playing this well is remarkable. No one expected this. Also, so much was made about George’s decision so spurn LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers and stay with the Thunder this past offseason.
George shocked everyone – including the Thunder – by staying with Russell Westbrook while spurning Magic Johnson, LeBron and his hometown team. The fact that he made an unpopular choice and proved it to be the right one speaks for itself.
Playing alongside a former MVP helps, but the fact that George has separated himself from Westbrook as the most important player on the Thunder is impressive. He has storylines galore that voters will attach their potential vote to, and if Oklahoma City catches Denver and/or Golden State, that will mean plenty as well.
Lastly, he’s the prohibitive favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. George has been an animal on that end, which hasn’t always been a necessity to win MVP. But that can only help his candidacy, as Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon have accomplished both feats in the same season.
This one’s more difficult, but George is on the right trajectory. He’s just about to enter the prime of his career and already has six All-Star Games to his name plus four All-NBA Third Team seasons (not including where he’ll finish this season, which could be First Team).
Basketball Reference gives George a 51.51 percent chance of making it to Springfield, Mass. Obviously winning an MVP would help his chances, and we’ll be optimists here and say that George is on track to become a Hall of Famer. If he wins Defensive Player of the Year (he should), that only strengthens his case.
He’s the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner, but George is also doing some serious scoring this season. He certainly isn’t going to catch Harden for the scoring title, but George is averaging a career-best 28.7 points and has topped 30 points 26 times.
George is also shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc. Points aren’t going to be an issue the rest of the way. The question is whether he’ll hold over Stephen Curry (also 28.7 points) for runner-up to Harden.
It’s easy to see why George has MVP credentials. He’s making a serious move from oddsmakers, as he’s shifted from 8/1 to 5/1 on 888Sport.com in just the last week. Those are the highest his odds will be the rest of the way because of how well he’s playing. He isn’t slowing down anytime soon and the Thunder could catch Denver. Get his odds while they’re hot.
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