Top-10 NBA MVP narratives, from Giannis to Simmons

In today’s social media-driven NBA, MVP candidates don’t just need the numbers, they need an accompanying narrative to take home the MVP award. Just ask James Harden. 

Three seasons ago, Harden finished second to Russell Westbrook in the MVP vote despite averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds and leading the Rockets to 55 regular-season wins. Westbrook edged Harden because he had the best narrative: Westbrook was the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson and  the superstar who stayed in OKC even after Harden and Kevin Durant had left

The next season, however, Harden beat LeBron James for the award, despite having inferior statistics, because he had the better narrative: It’s about time we recognize Harden’s greatness and reward him because he probably should have won last season.

Last season, Harden finished second to Giannis Antetokounmpo because people had crowned Giannis as the best two-way force in the league and the next face of the NBA. As Harden so aptly put it in a GQ interview, “[I had] a 32-game 30-point streak, eight 50-point games, two 60-point games… and all the talk was about [Giannis]? There’s no way. You can’t pout or be mad, and the kid had an unbelievable season, so did his team. But the things I was putting up were legendary. You going to look back in 10, 15 years from now and be like, is that really true? Did that really happen?”

Narratives matter in the MVP race. So, as a primer for this season’s MVP race, here are the top-10 MVP contenders and their accompanying narrative (in italics) entering the season (in alphabetical order):

May 19, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) shoots the ball as Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) defends in overtime in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Based on the past two seasons, it’s clear Giannis is on a LeBron James-Kevin Durant kind of career trajectory. That being the case, we should expect Antetokounmpo to ascend even higher in this, his seventh season, in the middle of his athletic prime. Giannis’ MVP narrative will be one of dominance, a season where he erases any doubt as to whether he’s the best player in the world. Look for him to improve his game in some obvious way this season -– the most obvious hole in his game is his jump shot (26 percent from three-point land last season) -– but he could also double-down on his already one-of-a-kind post game or become a better playmaker.

Jun 7, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the ball against Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (9) during the third quarter in game four of the 2019 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Steph Curry, Warriors

Steph has a chance to remind everyone that he’s still the toughest player to game plan for in the league … and maybe ever. He’s back to being the unquestioned best player on his team and the player who won back-to-back MVP awards before taking a step back to make way for Kevin Durant

After having the second-highest usage percentage in the NBA during his record-setting 2015-16 MVP season, Curry finished the next three Durant seasons at 11th, 10th and 13th. With no Durant and no Klay Thompson for most of this season, Curry’s usage rate should easily jump back into the top-five again. Thus, his stats will almost certainly mirror his stats from that 2015-16 MVP season, when he averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds and made an NBA-record 402 three-pointers. If the Warriors are near the top of the West, and Curry leads the league in scoring and flirts with breaking his own three-point record, he’ll be right in the mix for MVP.

Sep 27, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward/center Anthony Davis listens to a question during the Lakers media day at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, CA. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis, Lakers

Like Shaquille O’Neal before him, AD is hitting his prime and poised for a Hall of Fame leap as the two-way centerpiece and next great big man for the Los Angeles Lakers

If he plays anything like he did during the second half of the 2017-18 season, when he averaged 31 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.1 steals over the last 27 games of the season, he’ll probably be a frontrunner for his first MVP award. And if he is playing like that, you can bet your bottom dollar that LeBron and Klutch Sports start campaigning for AD to take home the MVP award. In fact, you don’t even have to read between the lines from the Lakers’ media day to see that James is already doing that.

May 2, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts after scoring against the Toronto Raptors during the fourth quarter in game three of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid, 76ers

Embiid’s narrative began shortly after Kawhi Leonard’s fourth bounce fell through the basket in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The world saw Embiid crying as he left the court, exhausted from a grueling seven-game series. If Embiid plays his way into the MVP conversation, it will mean he spent the offseason getting into the best shape of his life, vowing that he’d never lose another playoff series due to fatigue. He’ll have realized that few people on this Earth have been blessed with his size and athletic prowess, and he decided it’d be a travesty if he didn’t maximize those God-given gifts. It’s time to do what Shaq and Wilt and all the other historic NBA centers did before him: dominate

With Jimmy Butler taking his talents to South Beach, Embiid will have ample opportunities to show off his newfound conditioning as the closer for the Sixers.

Sep 27, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) poses for a picture during media day at Post Oak Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden, Rockets

The Beard knows first-hand how a narrative can swing an MVP vote. He believes he got robbed of the award last season. He has a point. And that means that Harden’s narrative this season will be one of revenge against the voters who wronged him out of capping off a historic season with no MVP trophy. Revenge against the people who think he isn’t the best player in the league. Revenge against the people who don’t think he can lead the Rockets to a title. 

An MVP season for Harden might not include the same massive scoring as last season (36.1 points per game) now that his high-usage buddy Russell Westbrook is in H-Town. But if his isolations and pick-and-rolls remain two of the most highly efficient plays in basketball and his assist numbers go back to what they were in previous seasons (10.0 per game from 2016-17 to 2017-18), Harden will have another crack at MVP.

LeBron James, Lakers

This is the most obvious narrative: LeBron’s “Forgot About Dre” season. LeBron is coming off of a miserable first season with the Lakers in which he suffered his first major injury and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06. However, missing the playoffs means that he finally got an extended rest after eight straight trips to the NBA Finals. 

He’s also undoubtedly been listening to the media mock his team the past 12 months and declare that he’s no longer the Best Player on the Planet. It’s all set up perfectly for LeBron to come out and have a G.O.A.T. kind of season to remind the basketball world that he’s still the King.

An MVP season for LeBron won’t be his typical 27-7-7 season –- voters are too bored of that. Instead, look for him to average double-digit assists now that the Lakers have Davis, but a dearth at point guard.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

The Joker’s narrative is mostly tied to his team’s success. If the Nuggets, who should have some of the best chemistry in the league, are the best team in the Western Conference and flirt with winning 60 games, Jokic will get plenty of MVP votes and his narrative will sound something like this: Jokic is doing it all alone as the lone superstar in a conference loaded with superstar tandems. He flashed his true potential as a franchise centerpiece in last season’s playoffs, averaging 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists. That performance has carried over into the 2019-20 season as he has Denver at the top of the league earlier than anyone would have imagined. 

September 29, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard speaks with media during media day at LA Clippers Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

After last season’s playoff run and subsequent free-agency power flex, Kawhi is the Alpha Dog of the NBA, and he isn’t ready to relinquish that title just yet. In fact, as a little more of Kawhi’s personality has come to the forefront, it has become apparent that he relishes destroying opponents the same way MJ and Kobe did, albeit in a less expressive way. 

With Paul George out at the beginning of the season, the Clippers will need Playoff-Kawhi (30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds on 49-38-88 shooting splits) to keep them near the top of the Western Conference until George returns, which should force Kawhi to get rolling a lot earlier than last season’s load-managed season.

May 12, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts following the win over the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

Lillard’s MVP narrative is similar to Jokic’s in that it’ll be tied to the Blazers’ record this season. Most analysts seem to think that the Blazers will finish closer to .500 than the 53 wins the team had a season ago. Thus, if Lillard leads Portland to another top-three finish in the West, and with his typical Curry-lite numbers (25.8 points, 6.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds with 44-37-91 shooting splits last season), and none of the other candidates on this list are having other-worldly seasons, Lillard could start to garner some late season MVP buzz. 

He’s the best leader in the league, the superstar who chose to stay when most would have demanded a trade –- he’s as important to his team as any player in the NBA. Isn’t that everything you can ask for from an MVP candidate?

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/yardbarkers_top_10_nba_mvp_narratives_from_giannis_to_simmons/s1_13132_30133574

By: Pat Heery

Top takeaways from Blazers-Nuggets Game 7

All the chips were pushed to the middle of the table Sunday in a win-or-go-home Game 7 between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.

The home team dominated a testy first half that included a tense moment and went into the locker room up by nine points, 48-39. Portland scrapped back with a 32-point third quarter to pull to within one, setting up a balls-to-the-wall fourth quarter.

Portland continued to assert itself in the final stanza and outscored Denver 29-24 to pull off a spectacular 100-96 road win.

These were the top takeaways from Sunday’s series-clinching win by the Blazers over their Western Conference rival.

Shooters from both teams held fierce brick-laying contest

You think nerves played a role in Game 7? We do.

Nobody — and we mean nobody — was hitting from outside the arc. The two teams combined to make just six total three-pointers out of 45 attempts. Folks, that’s a 13.3-percent make rate. This postseason before Game 7, Denver had hit 35.7 percent of hits threes, while Portland had made 37.4 percent.

Just an astonishing display of Game 7 jitters as shooters couldn’t find their touch whatsoever.

Dame Time? Not this time

After ripping off 32 points in Game 6 to help his team pull even in this series against the Nuggets, Blazers star Damian Lillard was ice cold to open the game. He went into halftime with just seven points on 1-of-9 shooting, including 0-for-4 from behind the arc.

The second half was more of the same, as he stayed stuck at seven points well into the fourth quarter. Lillard’s first made three-pointer didn’t go in until fewer than nine minutes remained in the game.

However, it’s worth pointing out that Lillard did hit a key three a bit later in the fourth. He also nearly had a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Still, it wasn’t a signature game from Lillard, who will have to bounce back in a big way against the Golden State Warriors.

Joker couldn’t quite do it all in loss

Nikola Jokic had prettier games during this series than his Game 7 effort. He went cold at times and missed some key opportunities on offense — especially late. Additionally, he simply could not find his shooters like we’re used to, finishing with just two assists.

Despite that, Jokic continued to prove without a shadow of a doubt he’s one of the best big men playing in the NBA today. He struggled to find his stroke in Game 7 but still finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds. Notably, Jokic also blocked four shots and gave his team a chance while others, such as Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee, were unable to give the Nuggets a boost.

Zach Collins was a spark plug

May 12, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Zach Collins (33) fouls Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) in the second quarter in game seven of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

One of the big reasons Portland was able to generate such a strong push in the second half is that Collins came alive. On both ends of the court, he was the energizing force the Blazers needed.

Playing 23 minutes in Game 7 while Al-Farouq Aminu was riding the pine, Collins didn’t put up a ton of points. But his scoring was timely, and his presence as a rim defender was a huge weapon for Portland. All told, the second-year forward racked up five rebounds and four blocks while scoring seven points.

McCollum was divine

May 12, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) shoots over Denver Nuggets forward Mason Plumlee (24) and center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter in game seven of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. McCollum kept the Blazers in the game with 15 first-half points. However, without its leader in sync, Portland floundered badly on offense. As Lillard continued to lay an egg in the second half, however, McCollum picked up the slack.

The shooting guard was aggressive in all facets of his game. He kept attacking the hoop and wasn’t settling for his outside shot.

His third-quarter effort (14 points) was stunning. In the end, McCollum put up 37 points on 17-of-29 shooting while adding nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block. Portland wasn’t great overall in Game 7. But McCollum was.

By: Jesse Reed

Full Article

Clippers offer Griffin to Denver, who rejected trade

Written by Dan Feldman at NBCsports.com

The Clippers and Nuggets reportedly discussed a Blake Griffin trade.

The Clippers’ spin: Denver called, and the Clippers quickly said no.

Spin from the other side?

Chris Broussard of ESPN on SportsCenter:

I was told that the Clippers actually called Denver and offered Blake Griffin and Lance Stephenson for Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic and Will Barton. And Denver turned it down.

Doc Rivers, I talked to him about that very deal. He said not true. There’s no way Blake’s getting traded.

It would have made sense for the Clippers to make that offer.

Gallinari is a versatile and underrated forward who’d provide the spacing the Clippers get with Griffin sidelined while significantly boosting their talent. Faried would provide a reasonable, though lesser, alternative to Griffin’s lob-finishing when the Clippers want a player of that style. Jokic is in the running for most impressive rookie, non-Karl-Anthony Towns, non-Kristaps Porzingis division. Barton is a high-flying wing who could win Most Improved Player and plays a position where the Clippers need more talent.

This is the type of monster haul that would justify trading a star like Griffin.

For similar reasons, it’s too much for the Nuggets to give up. Plus, they have the added problem of trying to re-sign Griffin in 2017. Keeping him in medium-market Denver would be challenging as is. Doing so after stripping the roster to acquire him would be far too daunting.

So, did this trade offer really happen?

Maybe.

I believe Griffin won’t be traded, because Rivers said Griffin wouldn’t be traded. It’s not that I believe Rivers is above misleading the public. But going back on his word would make Rivers look bad. I don’t think he would have said Griffin would remain a Clipper unless he were certain that’d be the case.

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