It’s a shame we only have one Most Valuable Player trophy to hand out annually, with a growing number of stars sticking their hands up as threats in this award race. Some of their claims are more legitimate than others and with a third of the season now in the books, a portion of the league’s premier talents are doing their best to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Four new players crack the top-10 after indifferent starts to the season – proving that we’re going to in for a tight MVP race over the entire season.
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Honourable Mentions: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Anthony Davis, Paul George, James Harden
10. Damian Lillard, Trailblazers (12-9)
Season Stats (20 games): 29.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 7.3 APG; 45.4 FG%, 37.7 3P%, 94.7 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
I meant no offence to Dame by leaving him off the initial top-10 and with CJ McCollum out, Lillard is proving why he should be a staple on the ladder for the rest of the season. Including the Atlanta game that McCollum got hurt in, over the last eight contests Lillard is averaging 32.4 PPG with 8.0 APG – missing just two of his 66 free throw attempts during that span. That only translated to a 4-4 record for the Blazers and once again, their record will be the biggest factor working against Lillard’s MVP case. Still, without McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic in uniform, Portland’s leader is doing everything within his power to keep his side in the playoff mix.
9. Luka Doncic, Mavericks (9-14)
Season Stats (22 games): 27.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 9.6 APG; 45.9 FG%, 29.6 3P%, 78.8 FT%
Last Rank: 5th ( 4)
Per game averages look nice, but Luka Doncic has taken a step backwards so far this season. Taking the biggest tumble from the 1.0 rankings, Doncic and the Mavericks have gone 3-10 since we last explored the MVP landscape, now finding themselves second last in the Western Conference. Luka isn’t to blame for all of Dallas’ shortcomings, but his poor shot-selection and lacklustre percentages in that stretch (45.4 FG% & 31.4 3P%) certainly haven’t helped things. Doncic will still put up enough stats for casual NBA fans to place him amongst the award MVP favourites, but there’s nothing valuable about his play right now.
8. Rudy Gobert, Jazz (18-5)
Season Stats (23 games): 13.1 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 2.7 BPG; 60.0 FG%, 56.2 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
With Utah the proud owners of the best record in the league, they deserve to have someone inside the top-10. Enter Rudy Gobert, who is once again in pole position to claim Defensive Player of the Year honours. Gobert’s offensive numbers have dipped from year’s past, but he is on pace to be amongst the league leaders in rebounds (3rd), blocks (3rd), screen assists (1st) and shot contests (3rd) – highlighting just how important his impact is on the defensive side of the ball. I’d be surprised if Gobert actually received any votes for the award by season’s end, but the anchor of one of the stingiest defences in the entire league deserves more recognition than he’s getting.
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (14-8)
Season Stats (21 games): 27.3 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 5.9 APG; 56.2 FG%, 28.2 3P%, 61.0 FT%
Last Rank: 7th (level)
Giannis’ low ladder rung can be attributed partially to voter fatigue, with the majority of his 2021 averages mirroring his stats in his first MVP season. Jrue Holiday’s presence and the continued improvement from Khris Middleton has seen Antetokounmpo lose some of the buzz that surrounded him in year’s past, but the Greek Freak is still one of the most dominant matchups in the entire association. Milwaukee are winners of three straight at the time of typing and if they pass the test coming up in the shape of a four-game West road trip, Giannis may find himself higher in the pecking order once the 3.0 rankings drop.
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6. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers (17-7)
Season Stats (20 games): 26.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.3 APG; 50.8 FG%, 38.4 3P%, 90.3 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
Paul George was the Clipper getting all the award love last time out, but Kawhi Leonard is now the prime MVP candidate. In his second year with the inferior L.A. franchise (sorry Clips fans), Kawhi has continued to steer the Clippers towards one of the best records in the league – currently one of just six players averaging 26/5/5 on the season. ‘Load management’ hasn’t been a factor for Leonard this year and as he nudges closer to joining the 50-40-90 club I only expect his chances of claiming his first regular-season MVP to improve.
5. Steph Curry, Warriors (12-10)
Season Stats (22 games): 28.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.1 APG; 47.1 FG%, 41.3 3P%, 93.2 FT%
Last Rank: 4th ( 1)
Steph Curry continues to carry the Warriors on his back this season, keeping Golden State above .500 and in the postseason picture with his highest PPG average since the 2016-17 season. No player has scored more total points than Curry so far and Golden State has needed all 620 of them to stay afloat in the West given the offensive struggles from Kelly Oubre Jr and Draymond Green in particular. Whenever Steph’s held in check and scores less than 25 points the Dubs own a 2-5 record, so Curry will need to stay en fuego to keep the Warriors in the hunt for a playoff seed and also remain in this award race.
4. Kevin Durant, Nets (14-10)
Season Stats (18 games): 29.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 6.4 APG; 52.9 FG%, 44.9 3P%, 87.2 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
COVID protocols are the only thing that can slow down Kevin Durant right now, with Bradley Beal the only player owning a higher PPG average than KD. His scoring numbers took a slight hit thanks to a bizarre situation against Toronto that saw Durant finish with just eight points in 19 minutes, however, before this confounding situation the scoring sensation had hardly put a front wrong on the court. Having scored 20+ points in every other contest, Durant is showing no ill-effects of his torn Achilles and when he does return to the floor, his play will help him remain in MVP contention for the rest of the season.
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3. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (12-9)
Season Stats (21 games): 26.1 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 8.4 APG; 56.6 FG%, 38.4 3P%, 83.1 FT%
Last Rank: 3rd (level)
If you need any proof as to why Nikola Jokic maintained his place as a top-3 MVP candidate, look no further than his recent matchup against Utah and No. 8 on this very ladder. The Jazz had no answer for Jokic last Sunday, with the Nuggets center tying his career-high with 47 points against the player most believe is the best defensive big in the NBA. His 13-point outing four nights later against the Lakers is part of the reason he hasn’t climbed higher from 3rd, however, Denver’s man in the middle has more than justified his place amongst the MVP frontrunners.
2. LeBron James, Lakers (17-6)
Season Stats (23 games): 25.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 7.7 APG; 49.6 FG%, 40.9 3P%, 71.4 FT%
Last Rank: 1st ( 1)
We’ve become accustomed to averages of 25/7/7 from LeBron, but somewhat impossibly, it appears as though the King is still improving his game as he approaches his late 30’s. James is currently shooting the best clip from three-point land of his 18-year career, all while taking the most attempts per-game at the same time. He’ll need to keep winning a ton of games if voters are going to write LeBron James on their end of year ballots and shooting the lights out will certainly help sway those who may be on the fence.
1. Joel Embiid, 76ers (16-7)
Season Stats (18 games): 29.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 2.7 APG; 55.9 FG%, 42.3 3P%, 85.0 FT%
Last Rank: 2nd ( 1)
16-7 is good for the best record in the Eastern Conference right now as Joel Embiid and the Sixers aim to finally live up to their promise as both player and franchise. Without Embiid in the lineup, Philly is a measly 1-4 on the season and his presence in the middle has been the driving force behind their success thus far. As is the usual case for Embiid though, he’ll need to prove he can remain on the court and shoulder the burden of an entire season if he’s serious about contending for this year’s MVP trophy. So far, so good.
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