Five games in to the 2019 season for most teams, and some would say it’s a bit too early to start thinking about the MVP race.
Not us. It’s never too early.
Four games is more than enough of a sample size to assess who’s been in the gym over the summer; who’s been working on the weaknesses in their game, and who’s perhaps founds themselves in an expanded role on a new-look team.
It’s also been enough time for some early-season contenders to fall by the wayside. Two-time MVP Steph Curry, for one, is already completely out of the conversation after sustaining a broken hand in Golden State’s loss to Phoenix – and probably wasn’t in the picture anyway given their slow start to the season.
Let’s take a look at the top five.
1. Kawhi Leonard
Since his historic playoff run with Toronto, there’s been little left to debate about Leonard’s status in the game; he’s clearly the most complete player – on both ends of the floor – in the NBA, and it’s not even really that close.
There did still remain some questions though about his MVP legitimacy, given the well-known ‘resting’ in the regular season, and his general tendency to treat any games before April as nothing more than dress rehearsal.
Through six games of 2019, Leonard has played five and lost four. In the one game he’s sat – against Utah – the Clippers looked completely outclassed by a team sure to feature at the pointy end of the playoff race.
He’s going at just over 29 points per game – despite playing less than half an hour per contest – and his per 36 numbers are simply astonishing; 35.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.2 blocks and 2.7 steals all while shooting better than 50% from the floor and almost 40% from three.
If Leonard can continue to lead his team to one of the NBA’s best records in the absence of Paul George, and maintain his charge towards the 50/40/90 club (free throw percentage may be the only hurdle), it’ll be impossible not to have him at the top of the MVP ladder, even if he only finishes the season having played 60-65 games.
2. Anthony Davis
It’s not often you don’t sit on top of the MVP power rankings while averaging 28.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, but hey, it says a lot about the transcendent talent of Leonard.
In any other era – indeed in any other year – Davis would be the clear MVP front-runner. He’s led his Lakers to a commanding 3-1 record (the one loss coming to Kawhi’s Clippers), and become the first Laker to put up 40 points and 20 rebounds in a single game since Shaquille O’Neal in the process.
The chemistry between Davis and LeBron James has been something to behold in the early going, and if it continues – and Davis can continue his absurd point, rebound and defensive numbers – it’s going to be extremely hard to pick anyone but him as the MVP.
3. Luka Doncic
Confession: we love Luka. To be fair, what’s not to love?
The sheer tenacity of the 20-year-old Slovenian is something to behold, and the combination building between he and the Lanky Lithuanian Kristaps Porzingis is already looking as if it might end up being one of the NBA’s most lethal.
Through four games, Doncic has his Mavericks sitting with a hugely-impressive 3-1 record – including a big win over the Western Conference powerhouse Denver Nuggets – and one loss to the Portland Trailblazers in controversial circumstances.
Given the low expectations for Dallas going in to this season, if Doncic can lead his team to shock playoff berth – and continue his ridiculous 25 point, 8.8 rebound, 6.8 assist averages – expect to see him right at the top of the MVP rankings by season’s end.
4. Karl Anthony-Towns
We, for one, did not expect the Timberwolves to be competitive this season, let alone competitive enough to pose a legitimate threat in the stacked Western Conference.
As impressive as Andrew Wiggins has been – and make no mistake he’s shown a lot early in the season – Minnesota fans have one man to thank for their resurgence; Karl Anthony-Towns.
Towns is averaging 27.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks per game in the Timberwolves’ 3-1 start, and overall is doing things big men in the league just shouldn’t be able to do. Exhibit A, B and C:
There is – even so early in his career – already an argument to be made that Towns is the sweetest-shooting 7-footer the league has ever seen. Currently he’s hitting his threes at a ridiculous 53% to start the year, and that fact alone is why he’s down at number four rather than leading this list.
As good as Towns is from beyond the arc, that number is just unsustainable, and the correction is likely to be pronounced. If he can somehow continue shooting the three-ball at 45% or more… Jee whiz. Look out league.
5. Pascal Siakam
As a whole, it was really hard to know what to make of the defending-champion Raptors going in to this season. One hand, the Post-Kawhi Era was every chance to hit like a tonne of bricks; on the other, even without Kawhi in the regular-season Toronto were still a better-than-average basketball team and there were signs they’d be able to make it work.
Well, they’ve made it work, and it’s thanks to the remarkable continued improvement of newly-minted star Pascal Siakam. The 25-year-old broke out in a big way last year – winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award – and has sustained his meteoric rise through five games of this season.
His Raptors are currently 4-1 and have looked basically untroubled in doing so, their one loss coming on the road to the Celtics.
Siakam is averaging 28.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists, and has found a level of control over his game which we haven’t seen anything like from him before.
Pascal Siakam with an inhuman end to the 3rd quarter: dances all over Thon Maker for the finger roll layup, pulls up for the deep heat-check triple, and then pulls up again with a LONG 2-point jumper to beat the shot clock. Finishes the quarter with 19 points #wethenorth #Raptors pic.twitter.com/lqarqnfPZH
— NBA Daily Clips (@viral_nba) October 31, 2019
Ridiculously, he’s going at 44% from three after coming in to this season as a career 31% three-point shooter.
Could it even be possible for a player to win the MIP two years in a row? Can a guy go straight from MIP to MVP in a single season? We may be about to find out.