We’re only 20 games into the 2021-22 NBA season, but the frontrunners for the Most Valuable Player of the Year have staked an early claim for the award.
Stephen Curry’s lights-out shooting has propelled the Golden State Warriors to the top of the league with an 18-2 record, while DeMar DeRozan is having a career year in Chicago as the Bulls solidify themselves as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Down the list, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic is putting together another stat-stuffing season, while two-time winner Giannis Antetokounmpo is more than in the mix.
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That four-man group headlines the early contenders, but there’s one man who’s quietly going about his business and deserves to have his name alongside them.
LA Clippers star Paul George.
The Clippers entered the season with big doubts following Kawhi Leonard’s off-season meniscus surgery ruling the two-time Finals MVP out for an extended period.
With Paul George carrying the team during the playoffs last season, many questioned whether he could do it for the bulk of the regular season. With the ball in his hands as the clear No. 1 option on offense, the 31-year-old is now having his best season since he finished third in MVP voting in 2018-19 with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Paul George stats last four seasons (NBA.com/Stats)
In Leonard’s absence, George has taken full control of the Clippers offense, with his career-high 33.7 percent usage rate, the second-highest in the league behind only Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic.
Aside from his scoring, George is impacting the offense with his improved playmaking helping create easy looks for role players like Terance Mann, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein, who have all flourished under his leadership.
George currently leads the Clippers in assists at 5.2 per game, tying his career-best mark from last season.
“We need him to do everything that he’s doing for us to be in position that we are,” Jackson said. “I think he’s playing at the best level and he’s in the best mindset that he’s been in.”
What’s perhaps been the most surprising part of the Clippers’ 11-9 start to the season, good for fifth in the Western Conference, has been their defense, led by George, who this season looks more like the dominant two-way threat we’ve come to expect on a nightly basis.
The Clippers currently rank second in defensive rating, giving up 102.2 points per 100 possessions and according to Basketball Reference, George is second in the NBA in Defensive Win Shares behind reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
“PG alone doesn’t get enough credit for the guy he is, the teammate he is, you know how positive he always stays, and the motherf— can play,” Clippers forward Marcus Morris said. “I haven’t played against a guy or with a guy who’s been that smooth in his game at 6-9, 6-8, being able to do what he does.
“He deserves this chance to be able to be mentioned with the great players, and I just feel like he’s always getting left out. I don’t know what it is.”
George’s value to the Clippers on both ends of the floor only solidifies his MVP case, especially doing so without their No.1 option in Kawhi Leonard.
While he may not be getting the plaudits just yet, there’s no denying George’s value to his squad.