The MVP Race: The Return of the Big Man
For the last decade or so, the NBA had seen a huge change in the type of player that dominated the hardwood.
Due to some convenient rule changes, point guards had become far more important than in previous eras of basketball. These modern point guards were being asked to score the ball more than ever before, leading to blurred lines between the traditional guard positions. Consider this: in the forty years between 1965 and 2004, only one point guard won the MVP award, and that was six-foot-nine Magic Johnson. In the 12 years since, there have been four point guards win the award with both Steve Nash and Steph Curry each winning back-to-back, plus Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook winning one each.
Because of this, the center position was rapidly becoming obsolete and many power forwards were simply role players that could stretch the floor on offense while adding some length and rebounding.
This season, things are a little different. Although there are plenty of talented point guards among the NBA’s elite this season, there has been somewhat of a renaissance at the power forward and center positions. Guys like Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid and many more, are changing the way basketball is being played in the NBA.
There are even some unconventional wing players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant that are close to seven feet tall. This is further evidence that the league is going back to its roots, and placing more and more value on height.
Only time will tell if the league will fully commit to the return of the big man, but for now we can sit back and enjoy the battle between guards and bigs as they vie for supremacy in the NBA.
James Harden (31.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 9.8 APG, 29.9 PER) Houston Rockets (15 – 4) As the league leader in both points scored and assists, no player provides their team with more offense that James Harden. With Chris Paul returning to the lineup, it looked as though Harden’s production may take a hit, but that was not the case. Harden lit up the Knicks for 37 PTS and 10 AST with Chris Paul playing 31 minutes and providing his own 6 PTS and 13 AST.
LeBron James (28.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 8.6 APG, 30.5 PER) Cleveland Cavaliers (12 – 7) It took a month for them to figure it out, but the Cavaliers finally look more like the team we all expected to see coming into the season and of course LeBron is the driving force behind their success. The Cavs have won seven straight games and over that stretch King James is averaging 27.1 PTS, 9.1 REB, 8.0 AST, and is shooting 54% from the field and 51% from the 3-point line.
Kyrie Irving (23.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.1 APG, 25.8 PER) Boston Celtics (18 – 3) The Celtics’ historic 16 game winning streak was finally broken by the Miami Heat, however, two nights later Kyrie dropped 30 PTS on 60% shooting against the Magic to make sure the Cs didn’t make a habit of collecting Ls. Over his last five games, Irving is putting up an incredible 31 PTS on a blistering 63% shooting from the field. If the Celtics keep playing this well, Kyrie will have a good chance at winning more than just the MVP award this season.
Stephen Curry (26.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.3 APG, 27.6 PER) Golden State Warriors (15 – 5) In an emotional loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, there were long stretches of game time where it looked as though Steph was the only Warrior interested in the actual game. Kevin Durant and some of the other Dubs’ starters looked to be more interested in playing mind games with Westbrook, but Curry came to play dropping 24 PTS and 6 AST.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.4 APG, 30.2 PER) Milwaukee Bucks (9 – 9) Although he has slowed down from his blazing hot start to the season, Giannis is still looking like an All-NBA lock so far. The Bucks are 5 – 5 in their last 10 games, and are particularly struggling to win games against other teams in the Eastern Conference. Over the last 5 games, the Bucks have gone 2-3 and Giannis is averaging 24.4 PTS, 10.6 REB, 1.6 STL and 1.8 BLK.
Anthony Davis (26.0 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 29.4 PER) New Orleans Pelicans (11 – 9) It looks as though it’s Anthony Davis’ turn to lead NOLA, with DeMarcus Cousins taking a slight step back. Davis has only missed one game so far this season, and the team looks like a much improved version of last year’s Pelicans. If you don’t include the game that he was hurt in, Davis is averaging 29 PTS, 13 REB, 2.0 BLK and he’s shooting 57% from the field and 36% from the 3-point line.
Kristaps Porzingis (27.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 24.9 PER) New York Knicks (10 – 9) Porzingis has been struggling with his shot as of late, but the Knicks are still finding ways to remain competitive, winning three of their last five. Porzingis seems to struggle in games on the road, averaging 23 PTS on 40% shooting, so it’s no surprise that the Knicks are 1 – 6 away from MSG. If Porzingis can replicate his production in The Garden when he’s on the road, the Knicks could very well steal a playoff berth.
Damian Lillard (25.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 24.4 PER) Portland Trailblazers (12 – 8) The Western Conference is as competitive as it has ever been this season, and Damian Lillard, aka Dame D.O.L.L.A., has the Trail Blazers right in the thick of the playoff race. As usual, Dame is having an incredible season and is averaging 27 PTS, 4 REB and 5 AST over the last five games, with the Blazers going 4-1 over that same stretch.
DeMar DeRozan (22.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.6 APG, 21.3 PER) Toronto Raptors (12 – 7) Once again the Raptors find themselves near the top of the heap in the Eastern Conference, and once again DeMar DeRozan is leading the team in scoring. In fact, the Raptors have had a top-4 finish in every season that DeRozan has led the team in scoring (2014-present). Thankfully for Raptors fans, DeRozan doesn’t look like he’s slowing down, averaging 23 PTS on 47% shooting and is adding a career high 4.6 AST.
Joel Embiid (22.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 23.4 PER) Philadelphia 76ers (11 – 7) The entire league needs to watch out for Joel Embiid. Up to this point, Embiid has been unfulfilled potential, but through 18 games this season Embiid is really looking like the best center in the entire league. Not only is he averaging 22 PTS, 11 REB and 2 BLK, but he is going it in under 30 mins per game. As a seven-footer that can shoot threes and hit his free-throws, his game really doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, and at only 23 years old he’s only going to get better.