NBA Most Valuable Player: Tyrese Haliburton, Galen Bronson, and Domantas Sabonis

Overall, we have the spreads in place to identify, in descending order, the best players in the league. We have the top of the food chain, legitimate MVP candidates. We all have guys in the NBA, who aren’t MVPs in the game but are better than just All-Stars. And we have all stars.

But this season there have been three guys who have outdone me who don’t quite fit into any of those categories. I would call them the best player in the league in terms of the value they have to their teams with almost anyone in the league, but at the same time, it’s no lock they’d even make an All-Star team, let alone the NBA.

And they are as follows.

Indiana had to give up a really good player in Domantas Sabonis (who you’ll be hearing about soon) to get Haliburton, but what a deal that really turned out. Haliburton should definitely be an All-Star, but start by running on guard in the east. It is not a guarantee.

Whether he makes it or not, Haliburton’s value to the Pacers, one of the two most surprising teams in the league (along with the Kings), looks far greater than the usual All-Star. This year was supposed to be a wash in Indiana. Instead, they are only one behind from the top six seed.

Indiana operates by narrow margins. Only two teams have played in more clutch games (within five points in the last five minutes), and when Haliburton was on the ground, they were 15-10 in such contests. We tend to think of our top performers as enthusiasts like DeMar DeRozan, but Haliburton continues to create for his teammates in times of crisis; 18 clutch assists in his trail only Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic.

Indiana’s hope meter rose with Halliburton at the helm. He is second in the league with 10.2 assists per night. He is 1st in total assists, 4th in total steals and 10th in total made 3 made. No other player is in the top ten in all three categories. You could, in fact, cut Halliburton’s assists all the way down to five assists per game, and he’d still be the only player in the league to average at least 20 points, five assists, and at least 1.5 assists from 39 percent of his 3-pointers. Forget about that funky look; This dude is money.

Halliburton’s joy factor is also off the charts. This is important from the point of view of the feeling of vitality, which seeps into your products on the ground and beyond. “This is the most fun basketball I’ve had in a very long time,” said Aaron Nesmith, and why not? Halliburton is a willing magician. He has to give up a dime not to look any further than someone who is not called Nikola Jokic. He zips through the air with a ball, which is supposed to be forbidden, but consistently delivers dishes on time from twist-and-turn positions. This is a point guard that guys want to play with. For a small market/non-free agent destination team, this is a big asset come recruiting time, if only for the right players.

To me, if Haliburton didn’t make the All Star team that would be a joke. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t do that. But that distinction alone doesn’t do justice to what it’s meant to this franchise in such a short time. He’s not an MVP candidate. But he sits at the top of the list of the best players in the world.

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Turn the Bronson Knicks into… wait for it… a fully qualified basketball team. They don’t beat themselves often. They average the fourth fewest turnovers and shoot the fourth free throws. Bronson is behind those two numbers. His ability to hit the paint (18.9 drives per game, fourth-highest in the league) opens up everything for what was, prior to his arrival, an erratic New York offense.

Bronson’s footwork near the rim is elite. interlocutor. Spins. Ascending and descending. vanish. No guard in the league has landed more shots in the paint than Brunson, who is extremely patient when stopped, never speeding, in chips smaller than Luka Doncic’s block. He’s already scored four 40-point games this season, the same amount he scored over four years in Dallas. With a higher chance, Bronson is clearly the single most valuable player the Knicks have had in a while.

Everything is more organized with Bronson in control. Julius Randle is no longer mistaken as a primer, and when properly deployed, you see how good it can be. There’s a dependability about the Knicks, who are as durable as their premium pickups they can count on, especially on the stretch of trail. Only two players have scored more than 95 points from Bronson’s clutch, and he converts with more than 55 percent slippage in those situations.

Defense has been at the center of New York’s recent winning ways, and Bronson doesn’t play a huge part in that. In fact, statistically speaking, it detracts from effort. I’m not interested. Bronson is the heart of what looks like an important move for the Knicks, a starting lineup that, with Quentin Grimes in the fold, leads opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions, in glass-cleaning. It may not be an all-star team. It doesn’t matter. Its worth more than that distinction anyway.

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De’Aaron Fox could easily be the Kings player we feature here, but I’d go with Sabonis. When the Kings traded for him, they became a true team. Going into Saturday play, they are No. 4 in the West. Even writing feels crazy.

Sabonis is jokic-lite. His 48.1 touches on the field per game ranked third in the league, behind only Jokic and Joel Embiid. It’s the pivot that the Kings’ third-ranked offense revolves around – handoffs, screens, passing high positions, pop linebackers, and Sabonis is a master of it all. He shoots 50 percent between the restricted area and the three-point line. It’s nearly 40 percent of 3.

And that’s all before he gets close to the basket, where it’s impossible to deny. Sabonis makes approximately 70 percent of his shots within five feet. Leads the league in rebounding. He fouls more than 20 percent of his shot attempts, just like Embiid, who fouls as effectively as anyone in the league.

That, along with improved shooting on Fox and the benefits of spacing out players like Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray, is a big reason the Kings are not just a rushing team, but a team that ranks third on half-court offense, according to CTG. Sabonis is a good bet to make the All-Star team, and probably better than Fox for positioning purposes, but he should actually be getting some marginal MVP talk.

I do not say legal words. It is not in this category. But mentioning a name here and there, more than just a guy on the All-Star line, because, in the context of an organization that hasn’t made the playoffs in 16 years, there aren’t more than a handful of guys who’ve done more for their teams this season.

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