The NBA has set a date on when the season can conclude and the postseason can begin. The regular season will begin on July 31st and each team will play a total of eight games. These eight games will decide the seeds for the playoffs and will serve as a warm-up for playoff basketball.
This postseason will be even more gripping because the league has three teams you can consider favorites instead of one overpowered superteam. Each of these teams has one player that should be unanimously seen as one of the best in the game.
The Milwaukee Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP and soon to be back to back MVP, the Lakers have LeBron James who is second in the MVP race, and the league leader in total assist and assists per game and the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard who is the 2019 NBA Finals Champion and Finals MVP.
All three of these players are undoubtedly at the top of the NBA, but which one is the best? The case for each is strong but a true answer will not come until a champion is crowned in October.
Throughout the last two seasons, Giannis has not let much get in the way of his individual dominance. He surprised many by taking a massive leap into the conversation for the best in the game last season with his dominant regular season and MVP trophy to validate the numbers.
However, the MVP looked like he was on his way to storm into the NBA Finals unscathed when he ran into the Toronto Raptors wall. This wall formed by the likes of Kawhi, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka forced Giannis out of an easy path to the rim. Giannis had to shoot from outside the paint or get fouled on his way to the rim.
He shot an abysmal 58% from the free-throw line and 45% overall which was way below his regular-season average. The Bucks lost the series in six but they have not let the loss deter them from more regular-season success.
In 2020, the Bucks have the best record in the NBA, and Giannis will win another MVP award. The numbers Giannis is posting are better than last year with an improvement in points, rebounds, and 3 point percentage. Giannis will have a better chance of becoming the best in the league this season than last.
There is no team with the combination of an elite wing defender that can match Giannis and a great defensive big men that can challenge the Greek Freak at the rim like Toronto had last year. The Raptors lack the elite wing defender and the Clippers lack the defensive big men.
To become the best in the world, Giannis must dominate on both sides of the ball. Giannis must carry his DPOY caliber defense into the postseason and force the Lakers or Clippers to earn every basket in the paint and shoot well from deep if they want to beat the team with the best record in the NBA.
If Giannis can win the NBA Championship and claim the Finals MVP with a great individual performance, then the crown will officially be passed on and the next generation might officially begin. LeBron, Curry, Durant, and Kawhi have been at the top of the league for a long time and Giannis has been the first younger player to challenge their rule. Giannis outplaying one or two of them head to head could symbolize the passing of the torch.
The next generation of NBA superstars is quickly getting better with Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and Jayson Tatum all making an All-Star team. Were Giannis to win the title, this would also mean he would more than likely stay with the Bucks long term. If he were to lose to Kawhi or LeBron in the NBA Finals or even worse sooner in the playoffs, it would have two major impacts.
The first is the narrative that could come with his name if he does not perform well. He will be rightfully seen as a dominant regular season player but not a winner when it matters most in the playoffs. This narrative could also be overstated if he continues his dominance but still loses in a close seven games.
In this scenario, the talk could shift from him underperforming to him needing to get a better supporting cast. Giannis will be a free agent in the year 2021 but is eligible to sign a major deal with the Bucks this off-season. If they fail to win a ring in the next two years, Giannis will have the ability to go to any team of his choosing. He will be in his prime at the age of 27 and can put himself in the best possible position to win.
LeBron James has been on a revenge tour this season rebounding from missing the playoffs in 2019 to leading the Lakers to the number one seed in the West in 2020. The Lakers struggled to hold a playoff spot when LeBron got injured and even when he came back they were unable to string together wins against easier opponents.
The narrative became Lebron was no longer the best in the NBA and couldn’t take over a game like he used to. Several key changes were made in the off-season for the Lakers. They traded for Anthony Davis giving LeBron a superstar to play with instead of up and coming young players. Lebron also vowed to officially take on the point guard position.
Both key off-season changes have resulted in the Lakers becoming the number one seed in the Western Conference and giving them a real shot to win the NBA Championship. LeBron James has thrived at the point guard position dishing out a career and league-high 10.6 assists this season. The longer the season pressed on the more noise LeBron made in the MVP race.
The highpoint of the season for the Lakers was right before the NBA hiatus where LeBron led the Lakers to wins against the Bucks and the Clippers with a 9.5 point average margin of victory in those two games. If LeBron wants to once again signify that he is the best player in the world. he not only has to outplay his competition, but he also will have to make sure he is the best player on the Lakers.
Out of all the candidates for best in the world, LeBron is most likely to not win Finals MVP because he has the best co-star in Anthony Davis. LeBron needs to utilize several of his many basketball gifts to earn the crown. He must use his passing ability to give others on his team open shots. If his teammates can hit these open shots, then the Lakers will be in good shape to beat the Bucks.
As for the Clippers, LeBron must play at an elite level because the Clippers have several elite wing defenders that can limit LeBron’s overall impact. The final piece to Lebron becoming the best in the game once again is him having another one of his classic performances when all the pressure is on. Lebron is the best Game 7 performer of all time and it will take at least one more of these to win the title.
If Lebron takes the title of the best player in the world in October, it will elevate his all-time great status not only as an NBA player but also as a Laker. The 4th championship with a 4th Finals MVP will mean LeBron has won a ring with all three teams he has played within his career. The GOAT debate will become as polarizing as ever with even more fans and media members crowning him as the GOAT.
While becoming the GOAT from this title is a stretch, a 4th championship will cement his legacy as being second to only Michael Jordan. There will be no debate over who is in the GOAT debate, it will be Michael Jordan and LeBron James and nobody else can touch them. Another ring for LeBron turns a stale Goat debate into a legit argument with both sides having well-reasoned points.
If LeBron loses the title and Giannis or Kawhi claims it in October, Lebron’s best chance at winning the title has most likely passed. While it would still certainly be possible, LeBron will have even tougher competition in the upcoming seasons with the Nets and Warriors joining the championship picture.
Kawhi Leonard has taken a major jump in both current and all-time rankings over the last year. Before 2019, he was seen as the best two way player in the NBA, but he took the next step by being able to be the leader of a championship team and having the best postseason in 2019.
His regular-season went under the radar because he missed a significant amount of games. The Raptors played well in those games and there was a question of how much better the Raptors were without Kawhi. He put all those questions to rest in the playoffs where he outplayed everyone in his path to winning the title.
Kawhi carried the Raptors for stretches against the Sixers and outplayed both Giannis and Curry in the ECF and NBA Finals respectively. In the off-season, Kawhi decided to team up with Paul George in Los Angeles. The Clippers instantly became title contenders and the battle of L.A. had begun.
The Clippers have in some eyes underperformed this season despite holding the two seed in the West. Kawhi and George have dealt with nagging injuries that kept them from playing together for the majority of the season. When the Clippers were completely healthy, they went 11-1 with a 2-1 record against the Lakers.
Kawhi has been producing great numbers and performing well in the big regular-season games. Kawhi must enter his postseason mode to give the Clippers an advantage against the Bucks and the Lakers. Leonard in the playoffs not only plays incredible defense but also becomes an elite scorer and improves every area of his game.
His elite defense has proven to give both LeBron and Giannis problems in the past and could be the determining factor in the NBA Finals. Kawhi can also become an elite offensive player in the playoffs with the ability to score 30-40 points on great efficiency at his best.
Kawhi Leonard winning the title and Finals MVP would cement him as an all-time great player of this generation with three rings and three Finals MVPs. He would be the only player in NBA history to win three MVPs on three separate teams. While he does not have incredible regular-season success, his postseason performances would boost his overall legacy to becoming at least a top 20 player of all time.
Kawhi would have brought a championship to not one but two franchises that have never won an NBA title. He would be the back to back champion and Finals MVP, which is a feat that is very hard to accomplish in NBA history. Kawhi has the least to lose in this race because he has already won a title as the clear cut best player on the team unlike Giannis, and he doesn’t have to deal with all the GOAT talks like LeBron does.
If Kawhi loses, he will not be criticized as much as LeBron or Giannis will be. Kahwi is the least popular player of the group and requires the least amount of attention which will go in his favor if he fails to win a championship in his first year as a Clipper.
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