NBA MVP Power Rankings 6.0

Kevin Reyes
NBA Analyst

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. 

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, 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 fifth MVP Power Rankings for the 2020-21 NBA season, updated after the first week of the second half of the regular season

Fifth Place: LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)

Team record: 28-13, second place in West

Stats: 25.8pts/8.1reb/8ast/1.1stl/0.6blk on 51/36/70 shooting

Despite playing without their second best player (Anthony Davis) since last month, the Lakers have still maintained their elite play on both ends of the court, which in turn has them as the second seed in the West. That success has been led by LeBron, who has been able to play efficient basketball on both ends after the return of Dennis Schröder. For the last two weeks, the Lakers have gone 4-0 with James averaging 25/8/10 on 56/46/75 shooting. His “MVP Performances” during that stretch include a 25/12/12 triple-double against the improving Timberwolves, and his 37/8/6 gem against the Hornets on Thursday.

While his play has been great, the other players on this list have been playing way better recently.

Fourth Place: Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)

Team record: 24-16, tied for fifth place in West

Stats: 26.9pts/11.1reb/8.6ast/1.6stl/0.6blk on 56/41/87 shooting

Simply looking at the numbers, Jokic has been a top five player this season. Many have had him in their top five for the MVP all season, and some have had him as the front-runner all the time. However, my thing with him has been the Nuggets’ struggles in the early parts of the season, with their team defense and overall offense (outside of Jokic) being underwhelming. Recently, though, the team has improved to the tune of winning seven of their last eight. Because of that, it would be very hypocritical of me to not have him in the top five now.

Even while his team has improved, Jokic has kept the elite numbers that had him in the award race in the first place, with 26/12/9 on 58/38/84 shooting being his numbers during this eight-game span. More recently, 24/12/8/1.5 on 54/36/77 shooting are his numbers since the All-Star Break, with Denver going 3-1 in that span. “MVP Performances” since the Break are two: 28/15/7/2 at Memphis, and 32/14/5/4 versus the Pacers.

For so long, the argument against Jokic has been his team’s record. He now has that, and if it wasn’t for these next three guys playing out of their minds recently, he would be higher. But he’s on the right track.

Third Place: Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)

Team record: 24-16, tied for fifth place in West

Stats: 30.6pts/4.5reb/7.8ast/0.9stl on 45/38/93 shooting

Even after losing his two best teammates, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić, Lillard has led the Blazers to, not only maintain a playoff seed, but a top five record in the wild Western Conference. And now that McCollum is back, they should be even better (in theory).

Dame has gone on an insane scoring stretch since the CJ injury, but it’s been on a whole other level since March began: 33.5pts, 5.1reb, 6.9ast and 0.9stl on 48/41/94 shooting have been his averages in this month. Since the Break, he’s led Portland to a 3-2 record while averaging 35/6/6 on 51/41/95 shooting. And though it might seem like a stretch, all their victories featured him having a “MVP Performance”: 25pts and 10ast against the Wolves, and back-to-back spectacular outings against the Pelicans, scoring 50pts (13-20 from the field, 18-18 on free throws) with 10ast and 6reb to lead a comeback win in the first game, and 36pts (21 in the first quarter) in the second game.

If the Blazers finish with a top three record in the West, Lillard has to be a top five candidate for MVP, no questions asked. If he finishes higher, it would be interesting to see if the national media gives him his flowers. Nevertheless, he currently stands as a top three candidate in a loaded field

Runner-up: James Harden (Brooklyn Nets)

Team record: 28-13, tied for first place in East

Stats: 25.5pts/8.2reb/11.2ast/1.2stl/0.8blk on 47/37/87 shooting

Remember when Harden was still with the Rockets, and the discourse was that he was a “locker room cancer”? Remember when he was portrayed as a “bad teammate” for the first month of the season? It was dumb at the time, and it’s even dumber in hindsight. Even when he was traded to the Nets, there was still the serious discourse of “they’re going to need three balls lol”. And boy oh boy how that has also aged poorly.

Granted, the trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden have only played in seven games together (out of 28 the team has played since the Harden trade), but James fitting in so well so quickly is still a marvelous sight. Playing without Durant for the last couple of weeks, who was in the MVP discussion before suffering various injuries/COVID situations, the Nets have improved their record to a top two record in their conference. A large chunk of the credit should go to Harden, who has been killing it in a stretch where Brooklyn has won 14 of their last 15 games, including six in a row. Since play resumed after the All-Star Break, Harden has averaged 26.8pts/11reb/12ast/1.3stl/1.5blk on 42 percent from the floor with numerous “MVP Performances”, the most notable being his play against the Pacers (40pts, 10reb and 15ast).

He would actually be my MVP in this Ranking if not for the monster play from a certain someone looking to make history.

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

Team record: 26-14, third place in East

Stats: 29.1pts/11.8reb/6.2ast/1.3stl/1.3blk on 56/29/67 shooting

For the entire season, Giannis has quietly been playing excellent basketball. In fact, one could argue he’s playing better than the previous two seasons when he won back-to-back MVP awards. However, Antetokounmpo has suffered from three things: first, his team isn’t as good as the two previous seasons (they’re third this year, as opposed to the runaway best team in the league). Second, there is way more competition for the MVP than in previous seasons (you can make a legitimate argument for seven players to be the MVP). And third, and most importantly, “voter fatigue” (which I talked about in the last edition of this piece).

However, the gig is up. For the first time all season, it seems like many are finally realizing the disrespect that’s been put on Giannis’ name. After a small struggle, the Bucks have won nine of their last ten, and the current MVP has been no small factor in that with averages of 32/12/7 with one steal and one block. In the last two weeks specifically, his averages are 30pts/13/9/1/1 on 62/41/86 shooting, with the Bucks going 4-0. He notably scored 30+ in the last three outings, the best of them being his 32/15/5 outing against the 76ers.

The gig is up on Giannis being a sleeper. He should be one of the main figures in this conversation, looking to become only the fourth player in NBA history to win three MVP awards in a row. If it were another player, that stat would be pushed more strongly, whereas with Giannis it isn’t. That has to stop. Give the man his praise already.

Honorable Mentions: Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)

What does your MVP list look like at the moment? Tweet at me and let me know!

Full Season MVP Power Rankings:

PlayerPointsPosition in Ladder
Joel Embiid45MVP
LeBron James28Runner-up
Paul George / Giannis Antetokounmpo14Third Place
James Harden13Fourth Place
Damian Lillard12Fifth Place
Nikola Jokic11
Kevin Durant6
Jayson Tatum5
Stephen Curry4
Malcolm Brogdon / Kawhi Leonard3
Kyrie Irving1

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