All-star game signals halfway point in NBA season
Lastnight the yearly NBA All-Star game took place, as Team LeBron came out on top against Team Giannis. Grant Barnes looks at the players who took part in the game, and their campaign so far before of a crucial few months ahead.
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo captained the two sides in the showcase event of the weekend, which topped off two days of the greatest stars on the planet showing their talents.
The All-Star break is always a good point to reflect on the highs and lows of the NBA season, with the stand out MVP candidates normally straying from the rest of the pack by this point. James Harden will be looking to secure back to back MVPs to top off one of the most incredible offensive seasons a player has had for years, however he faces stiff competition from the rejuvenated Paul George and the at times unstoppable Antetokounmpo.
Until the electric form of Paul George these last couple of weeks, James Harden was the clear favourite to reclaim the MVP award he won last season.
Harden has had one of the most memorable offensive seasons from a player in recent memory, averaging an incredible 36.6 points per game to go with 7.7 assists. To put that into context, Michael Jordan’s record for a season sat at 37.1 points per game.
Harden has taken a banged up and ageing Houston roster and has near single-handedly turned them into playoff contenders. Shortly before the All-Star break, Harden tallied his 31st consecutive game with 30+ games, the 2nd longest streak in NBA history. If Harden carries on this form, it will be difficult to argue against his case for a 2nd MVP award in as many years.
His closest contender has brought with the rejuvenation of one of the league’s greatest talents. Paul George was an established All-Star before a horror leg injury in 2014 curbed his meteoric rise. Despite returning to the same vein of form after a full recovery, George has never looked this dominant on a basketball court before.
After last year’s trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder, George, along with Russell Wesbtrook has led the Thunder to being one of the main powers in a stacked Western Conference. George has often been looked as the second scoring option on the Thunder after Westbrook, however this season the reins have been passed and George has been in explosive form. George is averaging a career high 28.8 points per game and leads the league in steals per game.
George is one of the best two-way players in the game. His lockdown defence is every bit as valuable as his explosive offense to the Thunder, and is one of the main reasons that they sit 3rd in the Western Conference standings. If the Thunder are serious about their Playoff chances and going all the way to the Finals, George will need to keep up this inspired run of form he is in. If he does, he has every chance at the MVP award, and the Thunder have every chance to go all the way this year.
The ‘Greek Freak’ Antetokounmpo is one of the NBA’s most interesting character stories. Giannis only started playing basketball at 13 years of age, and by the age of 19 had been drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks.
After a solid first couple of years in the league, Giannis exploded in the 2016-17 season, and was awarded the Most Improved Player for his efforts. Since then, Giannis has gone on to become one of, if not the most dominant player in the league. His size, length and speed makes him almost impossible to guard, and so far this season nobody has quite found the answer to the Giannis problem, with the Greek averaging 27.2 points per game long with 12.7 boards.
Giannis has taken the Bucks, who finished 7th in the Eastern Conference last season, all the way to the top spot, and he was rewarded with the captaincy for the All Star game in his conference. There is the sense that Giannis’ time has come, and with LeBron James in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future, he really has a great opportunity to make his stamp as the league’s premiere player, and securing his first MVP award would go a long way to helping his case.
The All-Star game is always a great occasion to witness the greatest stars on the planet show off their talents. Whilst the focus remained on Sunday’s game and the talent that was be on display, the second half of the season is finely poised to see who can stray from the pack and earn the title of the Most Valuable Player in the NBA.