LAST year I churned out the first MVP rankings after 4-5 games with some interesting names emerging. This year, I’ve waited until we have more of a sample size, with most if not all the players on the first annual MVP ladder having featured in 10 games or more. I wouldn’t be surprised if the top half remained contenders for the whole year, but a question has surfaced that is set to dominate the race all season long. Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo in his quest to become the 12th player in league history to go back-to-back?
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Honourable Mentions: Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Malcolm Brogdon
10. Kemna Walker, Boston Celtics (8-1)
Season Stats: 25.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.6 APG; 41.7 FG%, 43.7 3P%, 91.1 FT%
NOW that Gordon Hayward has been hit for six Boston’s going to need Kemba to keep performing like an MVP candidate if they want to stay hot. Winners of eight straight, the Celtics are flying through the first block of fixtures with Walker’s production behind the arc the main catalyst. The former Hornet is on track to average 25+ PPG for the second straight season and if he can keep netting a league-best 4.2 three’s each night his hat will stay in the MVP ring for a while longer.
9. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat (7-3)
Season Stats: 19.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.6 APG; 44.1 FG%, 23.8 3P%, 80.3 FT%
I’M all in on Miami for this season and if they’re going to push their way into the upper echelon of teams in the East then they’ll need guidance from Jimmy Butler. After missing the first few games of the season, Butler made his Heat debut against the Hawks with the team rolling to a 5-2 record since his return. Part of their success is coming on the defensive end with Miami owning the 3rd best defensive efficiency at the moment, but owning an All-NBA calibre player like Butler will really be the key to vaulting themselves into the ‘genuine contenders’ bracket.
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8. Kawhi Leonard, L.A. Clippers (7-3)
Season Stats: 26.9 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.9 APG; 44.4 FG%, 31.8 3P%, 87.1 FT%
IT feels strange to have Kawhi ranked so low, but his MVP odds will solely depend on his games played total. With Leonard’s load management already becoming a trending topic in NBA circles, if he wants to push for the highest individual offer available then Leonard will need to feature in 70 or more contests. That’s a feat the former champion Spur and Raptor has only managed twice in eight pro seasons so far and the imminent return of Paul George will help to soften Kawhi’s workload and potentially allow him to play more games. I wouldn’t hold my breath though.
7. James Harden, Houston Rockets (7-3)
Season Stats: 37.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 8.3 APG; 40.7 FG%, 29.8 3P%, 88.1 FT%
HOW can a man averaging north of 37 points a game be ranked SEVENTH in the MVP ladder you ask? Well when you make less than 30% of your three-point tries, but you insist on throwing them up at a historic rate, eyebrows are going to be raised. As it stands right now, Harden is taking an NBA record 14.1 three’s a night, besting his own mark of 13.2 attempts per game from a season ago. To put that into perspective, in 1991 when Michael Jordan won his first championship, the Denver Nuggets led the league with just 12.9 attempts from three a night. Much like Harden, they connected on under 30% of their attempts, so for Harden to rise up the MVP ladder he can keep shooting the deep ball like it’s 2019, as long as his percentage stops reflecting the early 90’s.
6. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (8-2)
Season Stats: 24.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 11.0 APG; 47.1 FG%, 31.4 3P%, 69.6 FT%
THIS might not be the year LeBron captures a 5th MVP trophy, but he might just pace the league for assists. No player has racked up more dimes through the first month of the season, with James relishing the chance to play alongside another generational talent in Anthony Davis – more from him in a minute. The highest assist-turnover ratio of LeBron’s career so far is a good indicator of how switched on he is, with the King’s game aging like the fine wine he is so commonly associated with. Rest and load management don’t seem to be on the forefront of his mind, but the luxury of owning an Anthony Davis type means the Lakers can afford to give Bron some rest as the season ages. However, it may be at the detriment of his MVP candidacy.
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5. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (7-2)
Season Stats: 26.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.9 APG; 48.5 FG%, 35.0 3P%, 85.2 FT%
WE weren’t sure what to expect from Pascal Siakam this season, with more responsibility heading his way. Was he just an unreal sidekick with Kawhi Leonard? Does he have the talent to be the Raptors’ No. 1 option? Will he grow into a premier star in the NBA? If his first nine games are any indication then there are positive answers to all three of those questions, with Siakam putting forth a legitimate case to win back-to-back Most Improved Player awards. Scoring nearly 10 PPG better than a year ago, Toronto will continue to lean on Siakam as far as he can take them, which at the moment looks seems to be in the right direction.
4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (6-3)
Season Stats: 28.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 9.1 APG; 48.5 FG%, 31.8 3P%, 84.4 FT%
THE type of numbers Luka Doncic is posting right now aren’t meant to be possible by a player with just 82 career games under his belt. Then again, Luka Doncic isn’t your ordinary NBA sophomore. Having competed in big games ever since his early teens, no moment appears too big for Doncic, who is putting up some eye-popping numbers to being his second pro season. Playing a high-IQ type of ball with such a lofty level of poise rarely seen in veteran players, let alone by a guy who can’t legally order at a bar until 2020. Averaging a near 30-point triple-double seems unsustainable, but if he can even flirt with such numbers then Doncic is bound to finish the year as a top-5 MVP threat.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (7-3)
Season Stats: 17.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 6.1 APG; 43.7 FG%, 22.4 3P%, 75.0 FT%
SOMETIMES, players just deserve to be in the running for the MVP because they have the ability to hit back-to-back game-winners. This is one of those times. Nikola Jokic’s efficiency and overall numbers are down from a year ago, but he’ll still be in the running for this award all year long. Denver’s early ‘problems’ aren’t being talked about as much as before following Jokic’s epic buckets from the weekend, where, in two outings he broke the hearts of two separate fan bases. More magic like this throughout the year is only going to strengthen his case.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) November 11, 2019
2. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (8-2)
Season Stats: 26.3 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.3 APG; 48.7 FG%, 29.6 3P%, 88.5 FT%
ANTHONY Davis’ legitimacy for this award will go as far as his injury-plagued body will take it. The early showings of Davis in a Lakers jersey are exciting for casual fans and the hardcore L.A. faithful alike, with the uber-talented big man finally starting to get the recognition he deserves. Through 10 contests Davis would find himself high up on the pecking order for Defensive Player of the Year honours as well, with no-one able to pull off the rare DPOY/MVP double since Hakeem Olajuwon did it over 25 years ago. I’m sure AD will be focused on his health over his trophy cabinet, but if he can get the first thing right, his cabinet will take care of itself.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (7-3)
Season Stats: 29.7 PPG, 14.3 RPG, 6.8 APG; 58.5 FG%, 30.8 3P%, 64.5 FT%
DUH. 10 games into the year, no player has performed at the same level as the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s a scary concept to consider, but through a small portion of the 2019-20 season, it appears that Giannis has gotten better. In just a fraction more court time than a year ago, the Greek Freak is putting up better point, rebound, assist and block stats all while shooting better from the field and the three-point line. Milwaukee will need to lean heavily on him to replicate last season’s successes as well, with Malcolm Brogdon now with division rival Indiana and Khris Middleton set to miss several weeks with a thigh injury. If anyone can carry a team though, it’s a near 25-year old out to make himself a household name – if he hasn’t done so already.
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