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Best player in the league so far this season?
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Steve Aschburner: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reigning MVP has gotten better or more productive in pretty much every category, and his willingness to hoist 3-pointers is more important at this point than his 30.4% success rate. Meanwhile, his leadership, spoken and unspoken, is unsurpassed. I get the craving for variety that voters for the major awards often feel, but intentionally looking for an alternative MVP — even at this early stage — strikes me as a mistake.
Shaun Powell: It’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it’s also closer than you might think. He remains a handful each night and seems to take great pride in being the best player on the floor at all times. Still, by the All-Star break, he’ll be overtaken by Luka Doncic if the youngster keeps this up. And if we’re grading this on the best player based on age, then obviously it’s LeBron here on the verge of turning 35.
John Schuhmann: Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s the driving force on both ends of the floor for a team that ranks in the top two in both offensive and defensive efficiency. His jumper remains a weakness, but keeping him away from the basket remains impossible; His 18.7 points in the paint per game are up from 17.5 last season, which was the most since Shaquille O’Neal in 2002-03. He plays every night and he doesn’t take possessions off.
Sekou Smith: Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit as unstoppable to date this season as he was all last season, a remarkable thing to see from a young player with so much room to improve certain aspects of his game. The fact that he’s as good as he is on both ends of the floor only serves to cement his claim to the top spot. There’s a robust crowd on his heels (LeBron, Harden, Luka and more) but I’ve got “The Greek Freak” out front.
Michael C. Wright: As eye-popping as his performances have been this season, it’s still too early for me to put Luka Doncic in this conversation, as I’d like to see more. And you’ve got to show some love for what ‘Washed King’ LeBron James is doing. But let’s give Giannis Antetokounmpo his due here. The man is following up his Kia MVP season with a higher usage rate, and a better player-efficiency rating, while averaging more points and rebounds. You can also see that Antetokounmpo is trying to expand his game, taking nearly five 3-point attempts (4.9) per game after averaging 2.8 in his MVP season.
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Best duo in the league so far this season?
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Steve Aschburner: LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The sample size for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George down the hall at Staples Center is too small. Besides, I’m more a fan of complementary players than I am of matched sets. It’s been interesting to see James defer to and serve another superstar’s game the way he has so far (while still serving his own game just fine).
Shaun Powell: LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the new Shaq and Kobe in L.A., a pair of generational players doing a tag-team number most nights. They’re taking turns throwing haymakers at the opposition and becoming tough to contain. Basically, they’ve been just as advertised and obviously the main reason the Lakers are looking down at the rest of the West in the standings.
John Schuhmann: That LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been the best duo so far is not a surprise, especially because Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have played in only seven games together. What is somewhat surprising is that James and Davis have been as much of a force defensively as they have offensively. James has been more active on that end of the floor than he’s been over the last few years and Davis has been fulfilling his potential as a Kia Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The Lakers have allowed less than a point per possession with their two stars on the floor, and building those defensive habits early on will pay off come April and May.
Sekou Smith: As good as LeBron and Anthony Davis have been together and could potentially be, the sight of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teaming up on both ends for the Clippers has me wondering how crazy an all-L.A. playoff series would. Daydreaming aside, the length, athleticism and versatility of the Clippers’ duo just feels like it has more mileage you can get out of them long-term. Longevity, and the health status of both guys, are the only things that give me cause for pause.
Michael C. Wright: I’m really excited to see Jrue Holliday and Zion Williamson or Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, but right now, the best duo for me is Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. This duo just combined for 65 points in a win over the Wizards, and in Leonard and George you’ve got a pair of dogs that are not just bona fide closers, but defensive stoppers. The Clippers have scored 150 points twice this season, and what’s scary is that coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game that Leonard and George haven’t even yet practiced together in the same lineup.
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The best acquisition from the offseason is clearly _______________.
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Steve Aschburner: Well, we all know that Carmelo Anthony is the best acquisition of the early season … so I’m sticking with Anthony Davis. Look, I loathed the disruption that he and his reps caused not just for the Pelicans but for the entire NBA last winter. I would have preferred he languish another season in New Orleans and learn to act like a professional before moving only in free agency. But there is no denying that what they tried to force then has proven to be a insta-contender now.
Shaun Powell: If we’re talking about a singular player, then Anthony Davis is the answer if only because the Lakers are winning big because of him. But remember, Kawhi Leonard came with Paul George attached. Meanwhile, here’s the team that’s done the most under the radar with its additions: Indiana, with Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb all doing well and holding it down until Victor Oladipo suits up.
John Schuhmann: It’s not clearly anybody. It’s either Anthony Davis or Kawhi Leonard, but it’s too early to make that determination. Leonard brought Paul George with him, but his efficiency is way down from last season, the Clippers are still in the early stages, and Davis gets similar points for helping LeBron James become more engaged defensively.
Sekou Smith: Kawhi Leonard (with Paul George, too). This is potentially the sort of game-changer in the vein of the 2007-08 Celtics (when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce), the 2010-11 Heat (when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade) and the 2016-17 Warriors (when Kevin Durant joined Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson). If the Clippers turn this combo into just one championship, it’ll be worth whatever price the Clippers paid to make it happen.
Michael C. Wright: Kawhi Leonard, easily. The man has won a championship every team he’s been on, and there’s a good chance he grabs another title with team No. 3. Leonard has low-key improved a facet of his game nearly every year he’s been in the league. The lockdown defense is a given, but Leonard has really made strides as a playmaker over the past couple of seasons. He’s currently averaging career-highs in assists (5.3) and rebounds (7.9), and he leads in a quiet, hardworking way that inspires others to match his work ethic.
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