Marquist Parker Sports Editor
Valentine’s Day is here and that means love is in the air. Valentine’s Day also means that we are getting closer to the All-Star break in the NBA and with that, the second half of the season is on the horizon. This season has been exciting, drama filled, and competitive. The top players have given us plenty to look forward to, but in the spirit of Valentine’s Day let’s look at the players to love heading into the All-Star Break:
Luka Doncic—The 19-year-old rookie from Slovenia has been turning heads all season and is showing all the skills and poise of a future NBA superstar. Luka is averaging 20.8 points, 5.5 assists, and 7.1 rebounds a game in his first season, those numbers have him in some elite company. Among teenagers in NBA history only Luka and LeBron have put up those numbers. If you eliminate the age requirement, the list adds three names: Tyreke Evans, Oscar Robertson, and Michael Jordan. Putting up historic numbers is great, but it’s Luka’s poise in big moments that have fans and players alike singing his praises. You rarely see young guys come into the league so polished. Being the most hyped European prospect of all time has its pressures, the mentorship of Dirk Nowitzki, the greatest European player of all time, has been invaluable for Doncic. If Luka keeps up this pace, he’ll run away with the Rookie of the Year award, and make fans fall in love with his game for the next decade.
Giannis Antetokounmpo—What can be said about Giannis that hasn’t already been said? He already has the admiration of the fans and the respect of the players. Two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant spoke glowingly about the Bucks’ star, saying, “His ceiling is probably — he could end up being the best player to ever play if he really wanted to. That’s pretty scary to think about.” If the reigning champion is scared, the rest of the league should be as well. Giannis is putting together a season for the ages, averaging 27.1 points,12.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks for the East-leading Bucks. The Eastern Conference is better than it has been in years and the Bucks are looking better than all of them. The Greek Freak is finally beginning to approach his giant potential, and when that happens, no team in the league will love seeing the Milwaukee Bucks on their schedule.
Kevin Durant—The Kevin Durant sweepstakes are about to begin. The Warriors look like a lock to win their third consecutive title and cement their place as a dynasty. Afterwards, however, there is a lot of uncertainty. Three of the Warriors five stars are set to be free agents this summer, none bigger than Durant. Plenty of teams will be courting KD this summer, including the Knicks, Clippers, and Lakers. He has been criticized since leaving Oklahoma City to join the Golden State super-team, but any way you slice it he’s a back-to-back NBA champion. Durant is currently averaging 28.5 points per game—his highest total since averaging 32 points per game during his 2013 MVP campaign—and that’s in a potential contract year. Durant has a player option for 2019 that he’ll likely decline, so he’ll undoubtedly be one of the most sought-after free agents in the NBA next year. The entire league will line up this summer to get KD to fall in love with their team.
Anthony Davis—Another one of the NBA’s most eligible bachelors is Anthony Davis. The Pelicans’ star recently asked for a trade and the entire league jumped at the chance to trade for a 25-year-old generational talent. The reports out of AD’s camp is that he would love to be in Los Angeles with LeBron and the Lakers. When the Lakers’ GM Magic Johnson offered all of his young players and most of his draft picks to New Orleans for AD, the NBA community thought the trade was a sure thing, but that proved to be wrong. This summer has the potential to change the direction of basketball, and the bidding war for Anthony Davis will be at the center of it all.
Paul George—A lot of attention is being paid to Russell Westbrook and his record, setting a triple-double streak, but Thunder forward Paul George has looked like the team’s best player. In his last 10 games, PG is averaging 37 points, on 50% from the field, with 8.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals. While Westbrook and the rest of George’s teammates have contributed to OKC’s success, it is clear that George is the engine that makes this team run. In the minutes that George is on the floor without Westbrook, OKC is outscoring opponents by nearly 11 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass. In the minutes Russ plays without George, they are a minus 7.5 points per 100. OKC is 37-19 and is looking like a team that could put the Warriors’ dominance in jeopardy.