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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Several surprises play their way into early season MVP discussion with the usual suspects in the NBA

    Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, right, spins around Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso (6) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)
    Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) looks for an opening around Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey (3) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

    Denver — SGA for MVP has a certain ring to it. The notion isn't far-fetched, either.

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is among the early season surprises who have played their way into the MVP conversation, joining the usual list of NBA stars that includes Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid.

    Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrese Maxey, Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards, Bam Adebayo and De'Aaron Fox are turning in MVP-caliber seasons as the NBA In-Season Tournament heads into the knockout phase (minus Jokic and the defending NBA champion Nuggets).

    Indeed, Jokic keeps doing Jokic-type things: posting triple-doubles galore as he dishes out jaw-dropping, no-look passes. It's the reason why the Nuggets' big man remains the early favorite, according to the FanDuel Sportsbook. Reigning MVP Embiid is right up there, too, along with the familiar names on the list like Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

    And let's not forget about the seemingly ageless LeBron James. The soon-to-be 39-year-old continues to defy Father Time. He's working his way into the mix for a fifth MVP award as he posts numbers similar to when he won the honor in 2012-13.

    A look at some of the names not always routinely part of the MVP conversation:

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City

    Averages: 30.4 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists (as of Monday).

    Team Record/In-Season Tournament standing: 11-5, second in the West; 1-2, eliminated.

    FanDuel Sportsbook MVP odds: plus-1300

    Why Gilgeous-Alexander is a contender: An All-NBA First Team member a season ago, the 6-foot-6 guard out of Kentucky has taken his game to another level. He's taking the Thunder along with him. The young Thunder have won six of seven to vault up the Western Conference standings. He's first in steals per game (2.3) entering Monday and fourth in scoring. The emergence of rookie big man Chet Holmgren — who may give Victor Wembanyama a run for the rookie of the year award — has taken the pressure off, too. Gilgeous-Alexander was fifth in the voting last season.

    Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia

    Averages: 26.4 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists.

    Team Record/In-Season Tournament standing: 11-5, fourth in the East; 2-2, waiting to see if they earn a wild-card spot.

    FanDuel Sportsbook MVP odds: plus-11,000.

    Why Maxey is a contender: The trade of James Harden to the Los Angeles Clippers has meant more touches for Maxey, the 6-2 guard out of Kentucky whose numbers are all trending north. He's playing like the co-star the 76ers envisioned for Embiid when they had Harden, Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons. Maxey dropped 50 points on Indiana earlier this month, making 20 of 32 shots from the floor, including 7 of 11 from 3-point range.

    Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana

    Averages: 25.4 points per game, 3.9 rebounds, 12.1 assists.

    Team Record/In-Season Tournament standing: 9-6, fifth in the East; 4-0, advanced to the quarterfinals.

    FanDuel Sportsbook MVP odds: plus-4,000

    Why Haliburton is a contender: Putting up performances that haven't been seen in franchise history. Like on Nov. 4 against Charlotte, when he became the first Pacers player to record 40-plus points and 10-plus assists. Or setting the team mark for points in one quarter with 26 in the third at Atlanta last week. He's also making NBA history, too, by becoming the first to record back-to-back games of 25 or more points, 15 or more assists and no turnovers (Nov. 12 and 14, both against Philly).

    Anthony Edwards, Minnesota

    Averages: 26.7 points per game, 6 rebounds, 5.1 assists.

    Team Record/In-Season Tournament standing: 11-4, leads the West; 2-1, in the mix to advance, host Thunder on Tuesday.

    FanDuel Sportsbook MVP odds: plus-2,600

    Why Edwards is a contender: The player nicknamed "Ant-Man" has only gotten better after his first All-Star appearance last season. The 22-year-old Edwards, who played the trash-talking character in the Adam Sandler movie " Hustle," recently became the fourth-youngest player to record his 100th game of 25 or more points. The only ones ahead of him are James, Durant and Doncic.

    Bam Adebayo, Miami

    Averages: 22.7 points per game, 10.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists.

    Team Record/In-Season Tournament standing: 10-7, sixth in the East; 2-1, in the mix to advance and host Milwaukee on Tuesday.

    FanDuel Sportsbook MVP odds: plus-20,000

    Why Adebayo is a contender: Bank on him for 20 as he's scored at least that many in nine straight games in which he's suited up. It's the longest streak of 20 or more points in his career. An All-Star last season, the center out of Kentucky helped the Heat to the NBA finals last season, where they lost in five games to the Nuggets. He has six career triple-doubles, which are the third-most in team history behind James and Butler.

    De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento

    Averages: 29.9 points per game, 4.3 rebounds, 6 assists.

    Team Record/In-Season Tournament standing: 9-6, sixth in the West; 3-0, in good position to advance, host Warriors on Tuesday.

    FanDuel Sportsbook MVP odds: plus-5,000

    Why Fox is a contender: A demonstration of what Fox can do — he scored 43 points, on 14 of 24 shooting, in a win at San Antonio on Nov. 17. He added eight rebounds and seven assists for good measure. The electric guard out of Kentucky already has three career games that included 40-plus points, five or more rebounds and five or more assists. That trails only Oscar Robertson (71), Tiny Archibald (six) Mitch Richmond (four) in franchise history.

    LeBron James, LA Lakers

    Averages: 25.5 points per game, 8 rebounds, 6.6 assists.

    Team Record/In-Season Tournament standing: 10-7, seventh in the West; 4-0, clinched West Group A.

    FanDuel Sportsbook MVP odds: plus-7,500

    Why James is a contender: James is posting similar numbers to when he won in 2012-13 (26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists). Not a bad start for a player who turns 39 on Dec. 30. Win a fifth MVP and he ties Bill Russell and Michael Jordan for second-most in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leads the way with six.

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