Injuries – they’re arguably the worst part of professional sports and the NBA has been dealt some major blows in that department in the past month. Heavy MVP favourite Joel Embiid and his biggest competition LeBron James are both donning street clothes at the moment, throwing the award race into chaos and leaving the door wide open for the rest of the field to make up some ground. There are still big names at the top of the pecking order and the final third of the regular season is where the 2020-21 MVP will be truly won or lost.
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Honourable Mentions: Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Rudy Gobert
10. Rudy Gobert, Jazz (35-11)
Season Stats (47 games): 14.6 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 2.9 BPG; 64.8 FG%, 60.7 FT%
Last Rank: 8th ( 2)
Just because Rudy Gobert is a long, long, LONG shot to win this award doesn’t mean he should be excluded completely from the top-10! You could make the case for Donovan Mitchell as Utah’s best player and therefore more realistic MVP front-runner, but Gobert’s impact on the defensive end has been the greatest contribution to their team success so far. Gobert’s offence still leaves a bit to be desired but converting on 65% of his field-goal attempts shows that he’s far from an afterthought on that end of the court. Don’t get caught sleeping on the Stifle Tower!
9. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers (32-17)
Season Stats (40 games): 26.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.9 APG; 51.5 FG%, 38.5 3P%, 87.4 FT%
Last Rank: 6th ( 3)
It may seem unfair to penalise Kawhi Leonard and slide him further down the MVP rankings, but he’s hardly made his presence felt in this award race. The Clippers are struggling to find the consistency commonly associated with a genuine championship contender and as a result, Kawhi’s case for a top ladder rung has been hampered. It’s worth pointing out Leonard hasn’t missed back-to-back games in over five weeks, which is a testament to his consistency this season. However, if he wants to win this award Kawhi will need to start being more selfish and jack up his per-game numbers.
Image from sixerswire.usatoday.com
8. Steph Curry, Warriors (23-24)
Season Stats (40 games): 29.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.2 APG; 47.5 FG%, 40.9 3P%, 92.7 FT%
Last Rank: 5th ( 3)
Steph Curry has done his best to keep the Warriors above .500, but their middling season thus far has probably derailed his MVP chances. Curry returned to the Dub Nation lineup last time out against Chicago and helped them snap a four-game skid, taking his individual W-L record to 22-18 on the year. His personal numbers have been impressive over the entire season, but similarly to Kawhi, we’ve come to expect these efforts night in, night out from Curry. As unfair as it seems, unless he does something special to stand out over the final few months, there are other players that will maintain their place above Curry on the ladder.
7. Damian Lillard, Trailblazers (29-18)
Season Stats (45 games): 29.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.8 APG; 44.7 FG%, 37.9 3P%, 94.3 FT%
Last Rank: 10th ( 3)
A few weeks ago, the Dame MVP hype train had well and truly left the station and was hitting full speed with Lillard scoring absurd buckets without the support of his stellar teammates. Recently, both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum have returned to the lineup which should help the Blazers stack up the wins in an effort to surge up the standings, potentially aiding Lillard’s end of year vote tally. Every season Lillard has the personal statistics to support an MVP push, but once again the seeding Portland earns out West will determine just how close he comes to actually winning the trophy.
6. Luka Doncic, Mavericks (25-21)
Season Stats (41 games): 28.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 8.9 APG; 48.8 FG%, 37.7 3P%, 74.4 FT%
Last Rank: 9th ( 3)
Since early February, the Luka Doncic we expected to contend for the league’s highest individual honour has started to show his face. In the first 20-ish games, Dallas hardly looked like a title threat, with Doncic’s inconsistent play a large reason for the Mavericks’ slow start. However, a 17-8 stretch has put them right back in the postseason mix – and it should come as no surprise to learn that Doncic’s numbers have been fuelling their success. Should the Mavericks reel off another 17-8 run that would take their record to 42-29 with one game remaining. While that will likely see Dallas rewarded with a top-6 playoff spot out West, that win-loss ledger probably won’t be good enough for Luka to stake his claim as the league’s premier player for season 2020-21.
Image from thesmokingcuban.com
5. LeBron James, Lakers (30-18)
Season Stats (41 games): 25.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.9 APG; 51.3 FG%, 36.8 3P%, 70.3 FT%
Last Rank: 2nd ( 3)
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to mount a case for LeBron as the 2020-21 MVP, especially if The King stays sidelined with his ankle issue for close to another month. LBJ isn’t expected to appear again until at least late April, with a postseason push for a title the real prize he and the rest of his L.A. teammates will have their sights on. With Anthony Davis in street clothes as well, the Lakers’ quest to repeat as champions got just that little bit more difficult – so it’s hard to envision LeBron making a late run for yet another individual accolade. It’s a shame James didn’t get to challenge for his 5th MVP over the duration of the whole season, but there’s no reason why he can’t run it back and be amongst the favourites again next year.
4. James Harden, Nets (33-15)
Season Stats (41 games): 25.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 11.1 APG; 46.3 FG%, 35.9 3P%, 87.0 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
It feels somewhat strange to include James Harden on the ladder, but with Kevin Durant still on the sidelines, Harden has looked every bit like an MVP contender for the Nets. KD has been absent for 22 of the last 23 games and in that time Harden has buoyed Brooklyn as the focal point of their offence, coming close to averaging a triple-double and looking like the best player in the league while doing it. From an ethical point of view, Harden faces a tough ask to become a real threat for the award following his lethargic effort in Houston earlier in the year. As a Net though, the former winner has again evolved his game to best suit the rest of his teammates – well and truly throwing his hat into the MVP ring.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (30-17)
Season Stats (43 games): 28.3 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 6.3 APG; 55.6 FG%, 30.3 3P%, 67.9 FT%
Last Rank: 7th ( 4)
Here comes Giannis and the Bucks! Winning the last two Maurice Podoloff trophies led to a lot of stories regarding “voter fatigue” for Antetokounmpo, although as he and Milwaukee hit their stride more and more people are giving in to the Giannis MVP buzz. Seven straight wins out of the All-Star break and outstanding games from Giannis saw him re-enter the chat as an award contender, but more efforts like his 16-point showing in a loss to the Celtics last week will see him fall out of favour just as quickly. We know that Antetokounmpo is capable of producing an MVP calibre season and a flurry over the final 20-25 games could see him enter rare air as just the 4th player in league history to claim three consecutive MVP awards.
2. Joel Embiid, 76ers (32-15)
Season Stats (31 games): 29.9 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 3.3 APG; 52.5 FG%, 42.2 3P%, 85.9 FT%
Last Rank: 1st ( 1)
Call me crazy, but I can still see Joel Embiid pulling off an improbably MVP win this season. Philly’s man in the middle is expected to return to the court this weekend, giving Embiid just over 20 games to reaffirm himself as the favourite for this award. Before going down with a knee ailment the Sixers were thriving with Embiid as the star of the show, with career-best numbers across the board leading to a 24-7 record when their center is in the lineup. That puts them in good stead to challenge for the No. 1 seed in their conference, which would only further enhance Joel’s case as the best player this season. If Embiid can seamlessly rejoin Philadelphia’s lineup in the coming days, a lack of games played is the only real detractor in his MVP argument.
1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (29-18)
Season Stats (47 games): 26.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 8.5 APG; 57.1 FG%, 42.5 3P%, 86.7 FT%
Last Rank: 3rd ( 2)
Availability really is one of the greatest abilities in the NBA and no one personifies that more than Nikola Jokic. Those in the anti-Jokic camp have pointed to Denver’s inconsistent season and their residence as a 5th seed right now as a detriment to his award candidacy. From an individual perspective though, Jokic hasn’t put a foot wrong all year. He’s currently the league leader in PER (31.7), win shares (10.4), box plus/minus (11.9) and sits second for total triple-doubles (12). Don’t gloss over or ignore those advanced metrics, they highlight the fact that Jokic has by far been the most consistently great player since the season began to the point we’ve reached. Now the question remains, can he hold onto his lead?
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