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 are my eighth MVP Power Rankings for the 2020-21 NBA season, updated after games from Apr. 2 through Apr. 15.
Fifth Place: Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
Team record: 30-26, fifth place in the East
Stats: 25.6pts/7reb/4ast/1stl on 45.8/38/87 shooting
All the Celtics’ struggles have been well documented at this point, and there’s no denying that they’ve disappointed this season. Nevertheless, when they are playing great, which they have been doing lately, they should be rewarded; especially two of the three bright spots The C’s have had this year in Jaylen Brown and Tatum. Jayson especially has leveled up recently, leading Boston to a 7-1 record in the last two weeks, including a five-game winning streak.
“MVP Performances” during said stretch have been nothing short of spectacular: 25/10/5 against the Knicks, 53/10/4 against Minnesota, 28/10 at Denver, and 32/9/5 (including the dagger three) at Portland. His scoring has been at its peak during this period, his decision-making is improved, and the team seems like they might be turning things around.
Fourth Place: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Team record: 28-28, ninth place in the West
Stats: 30.7pts/5.5reb/5.9ast/1stl on 48.9/42/92.7 shooting
Basing the argument on the simple definition of MVP, being the Most Valuable Player in the NBA, the trophy should go to Steph automatically. It’s the argument that has been used in favor of LeBron James every time he hasn’t won MVP: when he’s on the court, his team functions, and when he isn’t, the team looks awful. In Steph’s case, it’s much more dire: when he’s on the court, his team is average, and when he’s not, it’s a G-League team that has no reliable creators on offense besides Andrew Wiggins (who is above average at best in that regard).
In the past two weeks, the Warriors have a 5-3 record (5-2 with Steph) off the back of Curry’s 39pts per game on 56 percent from the field (on 22 attempts per game), 47.9 percent from three, and 90.9 percent from the free throw line. “MVP Performances” are the most insane of anyone in this top five: 41/6 versus the Bucks, 38/8/5 against the Rockets, 53pts against the Nuggets (also becoming the Warriors’ all-time leading scorer), 42/6/8 at Oklahoma City, and 33/5ast at Cleveland.
Having said all of that, the MVP is much more than being the literal Most Valuable Player, so his record won’t do him any favors in the race.
Third Place: Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
Team record: 40-15, second place in West
Stats: 25.7pts/4reb/4.5ast/0.8stl on 48.8/35/86 shooting
A lot has been said about Chris Paul being the Suns’ MVP, and rightfully so: the impact he’s had on this team is something that can’t be measured, on the court and off of it. With that said, not enough praise is given to Booker, his development, and how well he’s meshed with CP3. His offense and percentages have stayed relatively the same from last season, but his defense has improved because of Paul’s presence.
In the past couple of weeks, Booker has been on a tear, averaging 26.6pts on 45/34/92 shooting. “MVP Performances” during that stretch include: 36/6/6 at Houston, 35pts against the Jazz, and 27/6/6 against the Wizards. Not only is he in his best stretch of the season, and not only is his team winning, but his Suns have amassed the second-best record in the entire league, and are only one game behind the league-leading Jazz.
Booker has always been great and figures to be a top 15 player in the NBA for years to come. Now the winning is there, which puts him in elite territory as of now.
Runner-up: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
Team record: 38-17, first place in East
Stats: 29.8pts/11reb/3ast/1stl/1.5blk on 51/38.9/85 shooting
Yes, Embiid missed significant time with injuries, which will ultimately hurt him big on his quest for the MVP. But, when a player dominates the way he did before the fact and comes back averaging 29/8.8/2blk on 47/26/83 shooting in his six games since returning, he has to be in the race somewhere. As it stands, his basketball has been way too good to be no less than the top three in the race, and here he is.
His impact has been excellent on offense (see already listed numbers), and in defense as the defensive anchor of an elite defensive squad, which adds up to him having a +13 net rating. In his games back, Philly has gone 5-1, with his “MVP Performances” in those wins being sensational: 35/6 versus the Celtics, 36/7 against the Mavericks, and 39/13 against the Nets.
He would be first if it weren’t for another man in his position battling for center supremacy.
MVP: Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)
Team record: 35-20, fourth place in West
Stats: 26pts/10.9reb/8.8ast/1.5stl/0.7blk on 56/41.8/85 shooting
Jokic’s statistical dominance over the league continues, as I detailed in the last edition of this piece. But his team has continued climbing up in the Western Conference standings, as illustrated by their 5-2 record over the past two weeks. Although he doesn’t have the same two-way impact as Embiid, he makes up for it by being the engine by which the Nuggets’ offense lives and dies. His all-around production has been elite up to now, and will have to get even better after the season-ending injury to Jamal Murray.
All his performances in Denver wins were “MVP Performances” during that 14-day stretch: 17/9/16 against Orlando, 27/8/11 against the Pistons, 25/9/10 and 26/13/14 against the Spurs (baseball series), and a 17/10/11 triple-double against the Heat. As I said in the last piece: there are no longer any negative aspects that discredit his case for MVP.
Regardless of who you have in first place between Jokic and Embiid, it is remarkable to see two big men battling to be the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in the 1999-00 season to be the regular season MVP. A position once thought “dead” because of the three-point revolution, the two big men leading the evolution of the position are showing that you can still build a championship contender around a talented tall basketball player that dominates in the paint. It’s poetic justice.
Honorable Mentions: Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks), Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Full Season MVP Power Rankings:
|Player||Points||Position in Ladder|
|LeBron James||28||Third Place|
|James Harden||20||Fourth Place|
|Damian Lillard / Giannis Antetokounmpo||17||Fifth Place|
|Kevin Durant / Jayson Tatum||6|
|Malcolm Brogdon / Kawhi Leonard||3|
|Kyrie Irving / Jimmy Butler||1|
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What does your MVP list look like at the moment? Tweet at me and let me know!