By Trevor Smith
Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks young star, has taken another step forward this season placing himself firmly in talks from MVP. He is averaging 31 points per game in the Bucks first nine games on an absurd 56.3 percent field goal percentage. Antetokounmpo leads the team in rebounding at 9.9 rebounds per game and assists at five per game. As the season progresses, Antetokounmpo’s weak jump shot will need to improve if he wants to diversify his offensive games and help lead the Bucks back to the playoffs as well as earn MVP honors along the way.
LeBron James, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James has been the lone bright start for the Cavaliers this season, as they have been overly underwhelming to start the year, garnering a 4-6 record that places them fourth in the Central division. James is nearly averaging a double-double with 28.8 points and 9.1 assists per game, which is his highest assist total since averaging 8.7 this past season. His points per game average is the highest it has been since he averaged 29.7 points during the 2009-10 season, in which he won MVP. The Cavaliers season may not be off to the best start, but with LeBron James playing at an MVP-type rate, they are poised to turn it around.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook may not average another triple double this season, however, he looks to be on pace for a shot at back-to-back MVP’s. Westbrook has helped lead this new look Thunder team to a 4-5 record and last place in the Northwest division. He is averaging 19.5 points in the first nine games which is down from 30.1 last season because of the offseason additions of Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. However, the additions have upped his average assist totals from 10.4 to 11.4 thanks to the added scoring prowess around him. Westbrook will need to improve on his offensive game if he wants a chance at the MVP this season, and with the way Antetokounmpo is playing, Westbrook has a lot of ground to make up.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin isn’t the flashy MVP candidate; however, his play has been vital to the Clippers’ success. The Clippers are second in the Pacific division at 5-4, as they have notched wins against the Jazz and the Trailblazers. Griffin is averaging 23.7 points per game and surprisingly leads the team with 4.3 assists, as he has taken control of the offense with Chris Paul gone. Griffin has expanded his game to behind the three-point line with a 42.2 three-point percentage on five attempts per game. He isn’t the most must-see player on the court or dazzling ball handler, but Griffin has been getting it done in all aspects the season earning him a place in the MVP discussion.