Image Credit: Loud City Photography
Today is the day: NBA basketball is back! After a week away from regular season games being played, the wait is finally over. With around 25 games left to play for each team, there’s still plenty left to be decided by the season’s final slate of games. While some teams’ schedules get much easier, the road to the postseason becomes much more difficult for others. For example:
See the graph in the top right corner, right next to Denver? Yeah, that’s Oklahoma City. The Thunder have the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA, with a combined opponent winning percentage of .572. For reference, a .572 winning percentage would qualify for the 6 seed in both the Eastern and Western conferences. A team that’s had the 17th-hardest slate of games to this point, OKC has its work cut out for it the rest of the way.
No need to hit the panic button if you’re a Thunder fan. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Oklahoma City has an MVP candidate on the roster. In Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, those following the team are no strangers to watching the best of the best over the years. This year is certainly no different, with Paul George taking the league by storm and becoming a mainstay in the league’s MVP conversation.
Now in his second season with the Thunder, George is averaging career-highs in points (28.7), rebounds (8), assists (4.1) and steals (2.3). Not only is he putting up those eye-popping numbers, but he’s doing so on a career-best eFG% of .546. Oh yeah, OKC is currently just two games back of third place in the Western Conference as well. Averaging 38 points a contest in the month of February, George’s MVP campaign seems to be gaining steam with every passing game.
Back to the schedule. Although George’s performance thus far in the season has been thoroughly impressive, the final stretch of the 2018-19 campaign is what matters. An NBA player’s momentum can be either driven to new heights or completely extinguished depending on how he closes out the year.
With nationally-televised games against the Jazz, Nuggets, 76ers, Trail Blazers, Warriors, Raptors, Lakers and Rockets still left to play, George will have ample opportunities to make his case. On the flip side of that coin, a few off nights could prove costly. All eyes will be on the former Indiana Pacer to step up in the brightest of moments moving forward.
Let’s not forget to take into account who George is competing against for the award. Giannis Antetokounmpo has captained the Eastern Conference’s best team to this point while averaging 27.2/12.7/6.0 on 58% shooting. James Harden has scored at least 30 points in 31 consecutive games and is pouring in nearly 37 a night for the Houston Rockets.
This year’s MVP race is as highly-contested as we’ve seen in recent memory. Players throughout the league have popped up in discussions, but it appears we are down to three top contenders. James Harden. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Paul George. The next month-and-a-half should be full of excitement, and the race to the proverbial MVP finish line is no different.