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Year in and year out, the Most Valuable Player is the result of an NBA season that people most talk about — besides who wins the championship. With that said, two weeks into the 2020-21 season, we can start talking about it. And while there’s still a big part of the season still left to play, it’s still fun to begin these conversations early and see how opinions change with the passing of time. So, twice a month, I’ll be presenting my top five in the race for the MVP award.
How it works: Once every two weeks, I will be ranking who I think are the top five candidates for the regular season Most Valuable Player award. Each position in the ranking has a different value (first place is ten points, second is seven, third is five, fourth is three and fifth is one), like an actual MVP ballot. All totals carry over to the following rankings (totals illustrated at end of article), until the end of the season where that will determine my vote for MVP. Individual stats, team record, narrative and “MVP Performances” (great games that players have, in wins, that solidify their candidacy) are the things I will take into consideration when making these rankings.
Without further adieu, here’s my third MVP Power Rankings for the 2020-21 NBA season, updated after games from January 22 through February 4.
Fifth Place: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Team record: 13-8, second place in East
Stats: 27pts/11.2reb/6ast/1.1stl/1.1blk on 56/28/60 shooting
Making his first appearance on my MVP Power Rankings, Giannis has fallen victim to being too good, too young. At just 26 years old, Antetokounmpo is already a back-to-back MVP, and is one of only three players in NBA history to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. Along with the Clippers, any regular season success Giannis has will be ignored until he reaches the Finals. And that isn’t even considering the fact that Giannis is looking for his third straight MVP. He would be the fourth player ever to win three in a row (first since Larry Bird), which gives him another disadvantage in the award race (voter fatigue). Having said that, his great start can’t be ignored for another two weeks, so he makes his first appearance on my rankings today.
Yes, there’s still areas of weakness (jump shooting, free throws and shot selection, notably), but his play is still incredible. He’s been dominating all season long, with the last two weeks being no exception: 27pts/14reb/8ast against the Hawks, 24pts/18reb/9ast against the Raptors, and a 21pts/14reb/10ast triple-double against the Pacers were some of his MVP Performances in that stretch.
Fourth Place: Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers)
Team record: 17-6, tied for second place in West
Stats: 26.2pts/5.3reb/5.3ast/1.9stl/0.7blk on 51/40/91 shooting
The Clippers have been one of the top teams in the league all season long, led by two MVP candidates the entire way. For a minute, Paul George was having a monster 50/50/90 season, which earned him the MVP recognition. However, although he’s still playing well, he’s replaced on this edition by Kawhi.
With averages of 29/6/4/1.5/1 on 54/33/95 shooting in the past two weeks, Leonard has taken over the lead role of the team. His passing is at the best it’s been at any point of his career, and his scoring and defense are still elite. Recent MVP Performances include: back-to-back outings against the competitive Thunder (31pts/8reb/2ast/3stl/2blk and 34pts/9reb/8ast respectively), 28pts against the Knicks, and 24pts/6reb at Cleveland. You can flip a coin and determine which player has been the best in this team, but I give the edge to Kawhi for his most recent performances.
Third Place: LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)
Team record: 17-6, tied for second place in West
Stats: 25.1pts/7.8reb/7.7ast/0.9stl/0.5blk on 49/41/71 shooting
You know a player is elite when he’s an MVP candidate even while he’s coasting through the season. Not to mention, he’s 36 and is coming off the shortest offseason break in American sports history. He’s starting to pick up his play, while also having the best three point shooting season of his career (currently has the most threes made, attempted and highest three point percentage in any season in his career). His MVP Performances for the past two weeks show he’s indeed picking things up: 46pts/8reb/6ast in a return to Cleveland, 21pts/7reb/7ast in a Primetime game at Boston, and a 27/10/10 triple-double in a Western Conference Finals rematch against the Nuggets.
LeBron has been great, no doubt about it, and he’s still the best player in the league. But please, don’t be fooled by the annual “LeBron should be MVP” narrative. This year, the argument is centered around the usual “he’s playing at an elite level at *insert age*”. Stop. There are two players with a better combination of numbers and team record.
Runner-up: Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)
Team record: 12-9, tied for fourth in West
Stats: 26.1pts/11.7reb/8.4ast/1.7stl/0.6blk on 56/38/83 shooting
By numbers alone, Jokic has been an MVP candidate all season long. His team’s record, one of the biggest factors in the MVP race, was what was holding his candidacy back. After a 3-5 start, the Nuggets have won nine of their last 14 games (including a five-game winning streak) and now find themselves as a top contender in the West. Alas, Jokic has the numbers and record to have a legitimate case.
He’s had MVP numbers from the jump, but now those are ending up in wins. Those MVP Performances have been spectacular in the past two weeks: back-to-back monster outings against the Suns (31pts/10reb/8ast/3stl in one, 29pts/22reb/6ast in the other), 21pts/11reb against Bam Adebayo and the Heat, and 47pts/12reb/5ast against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz to halt their 11-game winning streak.
If he’s your MVP, I wouldn’t judge you. However, the play of my current pick for the award has been consistent all season, along with his team’s record, and is still the man to beat in this race.
MVP: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
Team record: 16-7, first in East
Stats: 29.1pts/10.8reb/2.7ast/1.2stl/1.3blk on 56/42/85 shooting
Everything that I’ve said on my two previous MVP Rankings (first and second) still rings true when talking about Embiid’s case for MVP. To that, he’s added a 34.5/9.7/2.3/1/1 average over the past two weeks, including a 5-1 record in games he played. 38pts/11reb against the Celtics, 33pts/14reb against the Pistons, 28pts/6reb/4ast against the Lakers, and 34pts/11reb at Charlotte were his notable MVP Performances.
He continues to dominate at an individual level, and the Sixers are still unstoppable when their starting lineup is healthy. Until that changes, Embiid gets injured, or someone puts up Wilt-like numbers and his team goes undefeated in two weeks, he’ll continue being the MVP.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets), Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
Full Season MVP Power Rankings:
|Player||Points||Position in Ladder|
|LeBron James||10||Third Place|
|Nikola Jokic||7||Fourth Place|
|Kevin Durant||6||Fifth Place|
|Malcolm Brogdon / Kawhi Leonard||3|
|Kyrie Irving / Stephen Curry / Giannis Antetokounmpo|
Thank you, Sekou Smith
I never met Sekou, never followed him that much, but one thing I did get from him was the idea to make these articles ranking MVP candidates. For that, thank you Sekou Smith. RIP.
What does your MVP list look like at the moment? Tweet at me and let me know!