At the midway point of the season, the usual suspects have littered the Most Valuable Player discussion. Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and others have distanced themselves from the field with their consistently superior play. LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis have also made a case for themselves, despite some time lost due to injury, while Nikola Jokic, DeMar DeRozan and others have been surprise contenders for the award.
In the midst of a career year, Paul George has played his way into that discussion as well.
George has taken his game to another level this season. One of the best two-way players in the NBA, George has averaged career highs in points per game (26.9), rebounds (eight), steals (2.2) and led the charge for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who struggled at the start of the season but now boast the third best record in the Western Conference and the best defense in the NBA. He has posted 13 double-doubles on the season and came close to a triple-double on numerous occasions.
George has placed himself at or near the top of the NBA in a multitude of different categories as well, including defensive win shares (1st, 2.9), steals (1st, 88), steals per game (2nd, 2.2) and total points (fifth, 1076). Quietly, George has had one of the best seasons of anyone in the NBA.
And the Thunder have needed every last bit of that production.
George has surged despite the struggles of star teammate Russell Westbrook. While his stat line — 21.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 10.7 assists — is very much Westbrook, it doesn’t tell the whole story; the walking triple-double has very much struggled this season. Westbrook is on pace to post one of the worst three-point shooting seasons in NBA history, as he has made just 22.9 percent of his shots from three-point distance. Westbrook is also third in the NBA in turnovers (155) and has posted a career-low true shooting percentage (47.8).
In the past, the Thunder have relied almost exclusively on Westbrook to carry the team, but they have more or less gone as George has this season. According to NBA.com, the Thunder boast the 10th best offense in the NBA, and that effort has been spearheaded by the eighth-year forward. The team is 11-4 when he has scored more than 30 points and are a perfect 3-0 when he has gone for 40 or more. They are 10-3 when he hits on 50 percent of his three-point shots and 12-4 when he shoots 50 percent or better from the field. The team is on pace to win 50 games, which would be their most since the 2015-16 season, and could even push further than that if some things go their way in the second half of the season.
If it wasn’t obvious enough, the success of the Thunder is tied to that of George. And that, perhaps more than anything, makes him an obvious candidate for the MVP award. Yes, the field is filled with talent — Antetokounmpo, Harden and others will be tough to beat. But George has played at their level this season, if not better at times, and has done so consistently. If he can remain at that level, or reaches another, George could find himself on the shortlist for the award come June.
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