For most of the season, Kawhi Leonard was having one of the quietest MVP campaigns in recent memory. That changed on Monday night when Leonard scored 39 points as the fought back from a 16-point deficit to beat the Houston Rockets.
In the game’s final 30 seconds, he single-handedly secured the 112-110 win with a soon-to-be where he put the Spurs ahead with a three-pointer and then raced to the other end of the floor to block James Harden’s potential game-tying lay-up. The win helped the second-placed Spurs keep pace with the Golden State Warriors, while igniting a long overdue discussion about Leonard’s place in an incredibly competitive MVP race.
Leonard’s time in the spotlight was short-lived. The very next night, Russell Westbrook on the Portland Trail Blazers. He also accounted for all nine of the assists made by the Thunder’s starters in what ended up being a 126-121 home loss.
It’s rare to see two of the best players in the league put up their best individual games of the season on back-to-back nights, but it’s also not often that we have a MVP race as tightly contested as this one. Right now, at least four players have a genuine shot at the honor and their chances fluctuate on a weekly, sometimes even daily, basis. Here’s our unscientific snapshot of how the race is shapinangers have signed Brighton striker Jan Mlakar on a season-long loan deal.The 20-year-old joined the Premier League side from NK Maribor in January, but was loaned straight back to the Slovenian outfit.Mlakar scored 13 goals in 26 league appearances g up so far, but keep in mind that these names could be in a completely different order by the end of the week.
1) Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Let’s start with the offensive numbers. Leonard currently averages 26.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He is the biggest reason why San Antonio have already clinched a playoff spot, something reflected in his usage rate, which measures how many plays a player uses while he’s on the floor. His , the highest in his career, although he hasn’t experienced a corresponding dip in efficiency.
That’s only part of the story. The most remarkable thing about Leonard is that he’s putting up these numbers as the reigning defensive player of the year. What made Monday’s performance so memorable was that he carried the team on his back at the same time he was guarding Harden, one of the most difficult players in the league to defend. It was as complete of a performance as you’re likely to see.
When Tim Duncan retired in the offseason, Leonard became the face of the Spurs. It’s a monumental task to replace Duncan, perhaps the greatest player of his generation, but it clearly hasn’t phased the unflappable Leonard. If anything, it compelled him to raise his game on both ends of the floor. If he doesn’t end the season as the best player in the league, he still should be considered the most well-rounded one.
2) James Harden, Houston Rockets
This has been a rough, rough season for those of us who have spent the last few years rooting against the polarizing Harden, who has answered his critics and then some this season. Harden’s a better scorer than Leonard – his 29 points per game places him just behind Westbrook and the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas – but that production doesn’t come at the expense of his team-mates. Harden is with 11.3 per game. If the Rockets are looking more and more like a team with a legitimate shot at making the NBA finals, much of that is thanks to Harden.
In the past, the knock on Harden’s game has mostly revolved around his defense, but it’s clear just from the eye test that he’s taken huge strides this season on that end. The numbers back this up as well. For instance, Fox Sports had Harden ranked 125th overall when it came to his defensive rating. This season? He’s , moving all the way up to 53th place. He’s never going to compete with Leonard for DPOY honors, but he’s not the liability he once was.
3) Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Yes, yes, I hear you: could a player averaging a triple-double only be the league’s third most valuable player? Yes, what Westbrook is doing this season is incredibly impressive, historical even. Right now he averages 32.1 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10 assists per game, he’s literally doing it all.
That’s the problem, though: he’s doing it all because he can’t rely on anybody else on his team doing all that much. Westbrook currently has an eye-popping usage rate of 42.6%. In comparison, Harden, who is also tasked with carrying his team for long stretches, has one hovering around the 34% mark. Westbrook’s racking up video-game minutes, but there’s some inflation going on here: he has far more opportunities.
Also, while this is more of an aesthetic problem than a genuine criticism of his game, it doesn’t help his case that he has a knack of putting up his gaudiest individual performances in losses.
4) LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
“LeBron James: still good at basketball” continues to be the biggest “dog bites man” story in the NBA. We simply expect excellence from him on a yearly basis. All he’s doing is averaging 26.0 points per game, 8.2 reboun the elite of football.Milan are again facing missing out on Champions League qualification this season.Baresi told Gazzetta dello Sport: “If (Nils) Liedholm were here, I think he’d say we needed to be patient, because he was a very calm person, evds and 8.8 assists while his team once again has settled on top of the Eastern Conference standings. While it’s hard to rank him above Leonard, Harden or Westbrook at the moment, last year’s finals should have taught us to the most important player in the sport.
James is clearly the best and most important player in the East, that’s clear, but it’s hard to single out who would be the second most important player. If the Washington Wizards continue to win, John Wall could rightfully emerge as a dark horse. Isaiah Thomas garnered some MVP talk back when he was turning every four quarter into his own one man act, but he gives back a few too many points on defense.
Meanwhile in the Western Conference, the best team in the league, the Golden State Warriors, don’t really have a MVP candidate on their team. Kevin Durant was in the mix, but he will miss of the regular season. Steph Curry has been struggling from behind the three-point line, which is a strange thing to type and an even more surreal thing to witness.
It’s odd especially when we remember that , Curry had all but wrapped up his MVP campaign. This season, however, the honor will probably be up for grabs headed into the final week of the season. Which is great. As fun as it was to watch Curry dominate the gamer United midfielder Paul Pogba.Pogba remains a top target for Zidane, but Real need to sell players this month to fund a bid for the France international.Asked about the prospect of landing Pogba, Zizou replied: “If Pogba will come? I will repeat exa all last year, anything that adds drama and suspense to the often anticlimactic end of the regular season should be celebrated.