The race for the MVP down the stretch promises to be one of the most competitive and hotly debated in recent memory.
For the last several months, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden have each taken their turn atop our MVP Power Rankings, the Greek Freak riding a wave of consistent two-way excellence for the team with the league's best record with the Beard answering behind the one of the most prolific scoring months in NBA history.
The front-runners now have some company.
For the first time this season, three players received first-place votes from our panel of NBA.com Global writers and editors who submit their top five each week.
Paul George is now squarely in the conversation thanks to a feverish run in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break. Did he do enough to pass either Harden or Antetokounmpo?
In this week's rankings, we'll set the stage for what each of our top five contenders needs to do from here until the end of the regular season to state their best case for taing home the hardware.
5. Stephen Curry
Key stats: 28.8 PPG, 48.9 FG pct, 5.2 Made 3s PG, 45.0 3-pt FG Pct
Path to winning MVP: Curry might not even be the best MVP candidate on his own team as Kevin Durant has likewise had a brilliant season. That the Warriors went 5-6 during Curry's absence earlier this year however does help spin the narrative that Curry might be the more important piece to the puzzle.
Realistically, there's not much of a chance that Curry wins the award.
For him to seriously enter the conversation, Golden State would need to end the season on a tear, perhaps going something like 22-3 after the All-Star break with Curry contributing on Harden-like levels. He got off to a strong start in the sprint to the finish, dropping 36 points on 10 made 3s in a win over the Kings in his first game post-break. He'd need many more performances like that one while also grabbing hold of a few statistical barometers to help sell his narrative.
50-40-90 is in play and he's also averaging more made 3s per game than when he won the unanimous MVP in 2015-16. It's a long shot, but not entirely out of the equation.
4. Nikola Jokic
Key stats: 20.4 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 7.7 APG, 2nd-place in Western Conference
Path to winning MVP: When push comes to shove, there's not much of a realistic shot of Jokic seriously entering the fray.
But never say never and at an absolute minimum, a late push by Jokic would rely on the Nuggets finishing with the best record in the NBA. Not just the West, the entire league.
Should Denver finish with the NBA's best record with just a single All-Star in an era defined by super teams and in the midst of overcoming more missed games due to injury than any other team , that would be a serious feather in Jokic's cap.
In all likelihood, that by itself wouldn't be enough without some style points of his own and help from others.
Harden would need to fall off from his scoring tear while the Bucks falling to second in the East would help tip the scales. As for style points, the Nuggets play on national television in the United States nine more times including multiple games against the Warriors and one against LeBron James and the Lakers. Those are precious opportunities to wow MVP voters and leave a lasting impression.
3. Paul George
Key stats: 28.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.3 Stls PG
Path to winning MVP: For the first time this season, George received a first-place MVP vote from our panel of voters. His case is picking up some serious steam as PG13 averaged 37.7 PPG over his final nine games heading into the All-Star break, a stretch that included back-to-back games with at least 45 points and 10 rebounds.
George might be the favourite to win Defensive Player of the Year. That he's now also threatening to finish second in the league in scoring just adds fuel to the fire.
With George on the floor, the Thunder are a whopping 21.6 points per 100 possessions better than when he's on the bench, the best mark in the league.
All of that to say... if George performs at that level with the Thunder finishing second in the West, he'd have a very strong case. George might need help in the form of Milwaukee finishing second in the East or Harden cooling off ever-so-slightly, but that's not a guarantee. George is playing well enough that he just might control his own destiny.
Should he lead the league in steals and reach 30 points per game - not out of the realm of possibility - he could end up hoisting the MVP trophy.
2. James Harden
Key stats: 36.5 PPG, 37.4 Mins PG, 7.7 APG, 2.2 Stls PG
Path to winning MVP: I feel compelled to mention that I voted Harden first on my personal fake ballot. What he's doing from an offensive standpoint is truly historic and something we've only seen a handful of times in the history of the league.
That said... I get it. Following their loss to the Lakers in which they blew a 19-point lead, the Rockets are still fifth in the West, but just a half-game ahead of the Jazz and Spurs.
Russell Westbrook proved two seasons ago that it's possible to win the MVP while finishing in the bottom half of the playoff seeding. The biggest difference is that Westbrook's primary competition for the MVP didn't play for the team with the NBA's best record while Harden is dealing with the Greek Freak.
For Harden to win the MVP, not only will he need to keep up this torrid scoring pace, he'd likely have to keep the Rockets in the top four especially if Milwaukee continues to cruise in the East.
Kobe Bryant didn't win MVP when he averaged 35.4 points per game. Ditto for Michael Jordan when he averaged 37.1 points per game. Scoring alone likely won't be enough.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Key stats: 27.2 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 6.0 APG, best record in Eastern Conference
Path to winning MVP: His candidacy is in part tied to Milwaukee's simply magnificent season. It's not only that they have the NBA's best record, it's that they're doing it while posting a scoring differential that would rank among the best 15 teams in NBA history.
This isn't your average "best team in the league" both in the sense of performance and with respect to roster construction.
With apologies to Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and every other player on the roster, Antetokounmpo is far and away the premier talent on this team without a true star sidekick. This is typically not what a top-15 of all-time team looks like on paper.
If the Bucks finish with the best record in the NBA and Antetokounmpo offers up a 27-13-6 (which by the way has never been done before in the history of the league), this is Antetokounmpo's award to lose.
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