Despite Giannis Antetokounmpo being the frontrunner for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, he is not the player that the average Joe would pick and put the ball in his hands to close a game out. His lack of a reliable jump shot is the only skill hindering him from doing literally anything on the basketball court. If there is one player any GM would pick in 2019, Kevin Durant is arguably the best person to close a game out.
By no means is this season even comparable with the 2013-14 year that brought him his first - and only - MVP. Averaging a mere 26.1 PPG and 6.5 rebounds on 52.1% from the field (57.1 eFG% and 63.1 TS%), he is basketball's most lethal player on both ends of the floor and remains efficient as ever. His most significant improvement has been on playmaking - having a career-high 5.9 APG - which has had to improve with Stephen Curry missing 31 and 13 regular season games in each of the past two seasons. Speaking of the eldest Curry brother, his status as the greatest shooter in the history of basketball aside, Durant can also shoot from limitless range, and his defensive prowess and body-type trump him over Curry. Giannis is yet to win a playoff series, and his lack of jump shot is still a hurdle for him. James Harden is breaking analytics with record scoring and efficiency numbers though his performances often take a dip in the postseason. LeBron James is still The King though having just completed his 16th season in the game, Father Time is finally taking its toll on him.
Simply put, there's nobody in basketball with Durant's size and skill set. He's one of the most versatile players in the history of the game, and his one-legged jump shot is flat out unstoppable. Even though he's taken somewhat of a back seat during the regular season since joining Golden State, he always steps it up come April and is poised to win a third consecutive title and Finals MVP.
Even with James Harden being the reigning MVP and consensus top-2 candidate this season, the NBA landscape is still hesitant to also include him in the conversation as the best player in the game. This is season has been in the making for several years and completes a trend that started when he first moved to Houston. Capping with the season by averaging 36.1 points per game, the only person in the modern era of basketball to average more points than him is Michael Jordan. Russell Westbrook is the only other basketball player to have a usage rating higher than 40%. He shattered the NBA record for 3-pointer attempted per game, and total 3-pointers attempted in a season. He is the living embodiment of the fact that Hero Ball can win games in an incredibly efficient manner. Injuries forced Harden to take his scoring to supernova levels. He pulled off 32 game streak scoring 30 or more that would have made Wilt Chamberlain proud. He single-handedly brought the Rockets from 14th in the West to having homecourt in the first round of the playoffs.
The 2015-16 season aside, Harden will have finished in the top two in MVP voting for the fourth time in the past five seasons. No other player has even come close to matching this.
His lack of postseason success had shrouded one an incredible half-decade that is second to only the greatest to have ever graced the hardwood. The likes of Curry and Durant deserve the praise with Giannis being tomorrow's next best thing today. But the inability of most people to recognize his genius and significance to the way basketball is played is criminal.
He may not be this seasons MVP, but he deserves all the recognization and adoration in the world.
With his being the fifth - and possibly the final - year of the Warriors dynasty, Stephen Curry has been quietly stellar over the past three seasons. His quiet demeanor is only emblematic of how overlooked he has been since Kevin Durant moved to the bay. The injuries combined with having to adjust with a two high volume scorers joining his squad have presented challenges of their own. Despite that, he has been the fulcrum from which Steve Kerr has created the most devastating offense in league history. For all credit given to LeBron James as a one-man offense, Curry takes it to a notch never before seen. His style of play is synonymous with the "small-ball" style of this decade of basketball. Curry's limitless range has forced opposing defenses to guard him from 94 feet. The space he creates for his teammates is one thing, but the energy he exudes to the other 14 members of the roster is his best asset. Should Durant leave the Bay this summer, I would not be surprised if Curry is the odds on favorite for next seasons MVP.
The crown is still with the King, and someone has to dethrone him before they can claim the title for themselves. This has been a stinker of a season for LeBron. His Finals streak, Playoff streak, and first-team All-NBA streak all ended this season. Even though he turns 35 next season, the 2019-20 might see the highest motivated LeBron we have ever seen. A lost season that saw his most serious injury yet, botch trades talks, flawed roster, and tanking towards the end of the season does not disqualify him as the best player in basketball. Just because he only played 55 games this season does not been he's been bumped down the pecking order. The gap has indeed been shrinking between James and the rest of the NBA in recent years though a well-rested LeBron is a force to be feared. With six months off till the next season tips off. He's more or less coasted all season long, and this has definitely jeopardized his status as the best in the games. The title is still his, and he's always shown that his best is yet to come. Who's to say that this won't be the same for next season?