It seems like never before has there been such a glut of top end talent in the league, and that means on any given night fans all over America – and the world – are being treated to the sort of spectacle Adam Silver must have been dreaming about in the preseason.
There seems to be a consensus over the three players front-running for the award, but after them it starts to get murky. The sheer quantity of teams in contention for this season’s championship means there are a number of superstars with legitimate claims for top 5 status in the race for the MVP.
The only way to make sense of it all? A good old-fashioned top ten power ranking.
Let’s get in to it.
10. Joel Embiid
Stats: 22.8 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 BPG, 46.1 FG%
Being ranked as the 10th best in the world is rarely considered disappointing for any person in any profession, but it’s fair to say Embiid hasn’t really lived up to expectations yet this year.
That’s may be more a product of how outrageously brilliant Philadelphia’s big man has been over the last few seasons than anything else, but Embiid’s noticeable drop in performance this season – including pronounced decreases in his stats across the board – been so shocking it even resulted in former NBA centres Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal ripping in to him during a contentious TNT segment on Tuesday night.
Ironically though, if it hadn’t been for that on-air roasting by Barkley and O’Neal, Embiid probably wouldn’t even be on this list at all. The Process responded by ripping the Celtics last Thursday night to the tune of 38 points and 13 rebounds in a critical away win by the 76ers, apparently just to send a message that he’s still here and should not be taken lightly.
He may be 10th in the rankings, but don’t take Embiid lightly. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish the season close to the top.
9. Kemba Walker
Stats: 23.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 3.8 3PG, 40.7 3PT%
There’s now no doubt that Walker is an upgrade over Kyrie Irving at the point guard position, and it’s now only a question of how far he can carry this Celtics team in to the playoffs.
The former Hornets star is shooting a career-best 40.7% from long range, is putting up outstanding numbers in advanced metrics like Win Shares and Box Plus/Minus and – most importantly – has established the Celtics as one of the East’s premier teams, with a 17-7 record.
Boston are a young team across the board, and their lack of a recognized centre will almost certainly return to bite them where it hurts come playoff time, but Walker is establishing himself as one of the NBA’s most respected leaders in one of the league’s harshest cities and that deserves some individual acclaim. He is pushing Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to superstardom, and in doing so building a name for himself after years in purgatory (a.k.a. Charlotte).
8. Kawhi Leonard
Stats: 25.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, 45.0 FG%
If we were going by the criteria of the best overall players in the league, Leonard would be right at the pointy end of this list. However, his notorious propensity for load management – and a career-low effective field goal percentage of just 49.4% – means the reigning Finals MVP can’t be considered as one of the true regular season MVP frontrunners.
That being said, his 42 point, 11 rebound demolition of the Minnesota Timberwolves over the weekend was a timely reminder of just how good the Klaw really is when fit, healthy and motivated. Clearly paltry individual awards are something that just isn’t on Leonard’s – or the Clippers’ – radar, and both will be hoping his continued program of resting on back-to-backs pays off in a similar vein to how it did for the Raptors last year.
7. Jimmy Butler
Stats: 21.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.1 SPG, 42.9 FG%
Butler is having quite some year defensively, leading the league in steals and propelling his Miami Heat to the league’s No.7 net rating.
Not many pundits had the Heat as legitimate contenders – and to be fair they’re at least one more piece away – but the fact they’re even in the discussion is a credit to Butler’s grit and grind attitude. He’s always been the kind of guy to push teammates to the limit, and finally in Miami it seems he’s found a squad receptive to his style of leadership.
Butler has been clutch when it matters, and content to let his guys take over when needed.
Should the Heat continue their march to the top of the East, look for Butler at the top of the MVP race.
6. Pascal Siakam
Stats: 24.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 45.4 FG%
It’s been a bit of a crash back to earth for Spicy P after he began the season on the hottest stretch of shooting in his young career, but a recent 40 point, 10 rebound, 5 assist destruction of the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night may be an indication he’s rediscovered his mojo.
Siakam was going at a ridiculous 39.3% from behind the arc for the first 17 games, but has regressed back to his career mean with 31.1% over the last eight. It’s no coincidence whatsoever that the Raptors have gone 4-4 over that stretch, and some would say that’s an indication of just how important Siakam is to his team; it’s called the Most Valuable Player award for a reason, after all.
Should Siakam regain his shooting touch and lead the Raptors to a top 3 seed in the East – which is, incidentally, looking remarkably strong as compared to previous years – he will demand consideration for the league’s highest individual honours. However, at this stage his raw stats don’t quite warrant a place in the top 5 and, until further notice, we’re going to consider his beginning to the season – rather than this shooting slump of late – as the exception rather than the rule.
5. LeBron James
Stats: 26.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 10.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 50.2 FG%
It is nothing short of remarkable that James is still this good at this point in his career, and yet he continues to amaze on a nightly basis.
Last week the King scored 63 points and dished out 21 assists in wins over Portland and Minnesota, before destroying the Magic with yet another triple-double on Wednesday and then killing the Hawks with 32 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists and three blocks on Sunday for the Lakers’ 14th straight road win. Unsurprisingly, today he was named Western Conference Player of the Week.
James is leading the league in assists and dropping 26 points a night of his own. For context, Carmelo Anthony and Kyle Korver are the only two players left from his draft class. Lol.
4. Anthony Davis
Stats: 27.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 2.6 BPG, 49.9 FG%
When’s the last time a Defensive Player of the Year winner also averaged more than 27 points per game? Anyone?
Anthony Davis is a freak. He’s 18th in the league for steals, second for blocks and seventh for points, which is completely unprecedented. Davis has all the tricks in his offensive arsenal – and showcased all of them in a 50-point demolition of the Timberwolves – whilst also being able to disrupt the game defensively seemingly at will.
Should the Lakers win the West, it’ll likely all be because of Davis.
3. Luka Doncic
Stats: 29.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 8.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 48.1 FG%
Doncic may just be the best 20-year-old we’ve ever seen.
Even with an injury-affected performance against the Heat – in which he played just two minutes – dragging down his averages, Doncic is still third in points per game, third in assists and 18th in rebounds as he continues his stunning ascension to the top of the NBA.
Literally the only reason Doncic isn’t currently ahead of Harden is the slight uncertainty over his injury. Prior to rolling his ankle on Kendrick Nunn’s foot, Doncic was fresh off a 41/12/11 explosion against the Detroit Pistons in Mexico City which showcased all of his amazing skillset.
Doncic is one of a kind, and if he doesn’t win the MVP this year it won’t be long before he does.
2. James Harden
Stats: 39.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 7.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, 36.1 3PT%
It’s not often you can be dropping over 39 points on any given night and not be top of the MVP power rankings, and yet here we are.
Harden put up barely believable averages 43.8 points in four games last week, also adding 8.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks. Just to rub salt in the wounds of the naysayers, he also shot 52.1 percent from the floor and 48.2 percent from three, which took his monthly three point shooting percentage to a respectable 39%.
We are running out of words to describe his ability to score on nearly every possession. It’s impossible to stop. In any other year, Harden would be running away with the MVP award, and yet he’s not, thanks to one man…
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
31.0 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 56.3 FG%
The real question mark over the Greek Freak was whether he would be able to find a way to improve on last year’s historic season. Through two months, he’s answered those questions emphatically.
Antetokounmpo has added a three-point shot to his arsenal, and is now a threat from all areas of the floor. He has 43 made triples already this year; more than guys like Khris Middleton, Jamal Murray and Seth Curry. He’s shooting them at a reasonable percentage, and his stroke looks good.
There is, in short, nothing to suggest that this uptick in shooting isn’t legitimate. If it is, then the Greek Freak will run away with another MVP as his Bucks continue to pace the NBA in the regular season.
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Image by: Keith Allison