NBA MVP Race: James Harden climbs into the Top 3

NBA MVP Race: James Harden climbs into the Top 3

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NBA MVP Race: James Harden climbs into the Top 3

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Each week, HoopsHype’s staff gives our Top 10 candidates for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. This list highlights stars who are in the mix for the 2019-20 MVP award due to their impressive play.

Which stars have stood out? Here are our latest MVP rankings:

Photo by Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

10. PASCAL SIAKAM, TORONTO

STATS: 25.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.3 3PG, 47.0 FG%

Siakam is making the Raptors look smart for giving him that four-year, $130 million extension. This is Siakam’s first appearance in our Top 10, but he’s been playing well all season. Even if he doesn’t receive significant MVP love this year because there are so many great candidates, it’s possible that he could become the first player in NBA history to win the Most Improved Player award twice. One could make the argument that his growth over the last year (+8.8 ppg, +1.7 rpg, +1.1 apg) is just as impressive as his sophomore-to-junior leap (+9.6 ppg, +2.4 rpg, +1.1 apg). Regardless of whether he wins MIP for a second-straight year, he’s made huge strides this season. Becoming a team’s No. 1 option and a 25-point-per-game scorer is extremely hard, but Siakam has made it look easy. The 25-year-old has essentially filled the Kawhi Leonard role in this offense and it’s been amazing to watch his development in recent years. He has the Raptors sitting at 9-4, which is the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

9. KAWHI LEONARD, LA CLIPPERS

STATS: 26.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 6.0 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.6 3PG, 1.0 BPG

Leonard dropped down our list over the last week because he’s missed three-straight games due to a left-knee contusion that he suffered in the Clippers’ loss to the Houston Rockets last Wednesday. Leonard has been terrific on both ends of the floor when he’s suited up, but he’s now missed five of a possible 14 games this season. As we wrote in this space last week, voters tend to reward players who haven’t missed significant time when considering Most Valuable Player. The last 15 MVP winners have missed an average of 3.93 games in the season in which they won the award (with no individual missing more than 10 games). The Clippers are likely going to be cautious with Leonard moving forward to ensure that he’ll be at 100 percent for their playoff run (like the Toronto Raptors’ approach that worked so well last year). Also, when two MVP candidates have teamed up in the past (like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry on the Golden State Warriors), voters weren’t sure what to do and they basically canceled each other out. It’s possible that could happen with Leonard and 2018-19 MVP finalist Paul George, who returned recently.

Photo by Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

8. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND

STATS: 28.6 PPG, 7.1 APG, 4.9 RPG, 3.3 3PG, 1.1 SPG, 45.2 FG%

The big news in the NBA over the last week was the Trail Blazers’ decision to sign free agent Carmelo Anthony. After sustaining numerous injuries and getting off to a slow start (5-9, which is the third-worst record in the Western Conference), Portland is hoping that Anthony can help revitalize this team. Last time Anthony was in the NBA, he averaged 13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 threes while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from three-point range in 10 games with the Houston Rockets. It remains to be seen how much this addition will impact Lillard and CJ McCollum, who are Portland’s top options on offense. Lillard is averaging career-highs across the board, but he’s received little help from his supporting cast, which is why the Blazers are struggling so much.

Photo by Gregory Shamus-Getty Images

7. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, MINNESOTA

STATS: 27.0 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.4 SPG

Not only has Towns been filling the stat sheet, he’s been extraordinarily efficient in the process. He’s shooting 51.2 percent from the field on 17.9 field goal attempts and he’s making 43.5 percent of his threes on 9.0 attempts. Only James Harden (4.9) is making more threes per game than Towns (3.9), and the big man’s three-point percentage is 6.5 percentage points higher than Harden’s. Also, Towns currently ranks fourth in Box Plus/Minus (+10.1), fourth in PER (30.4) and fifth in Value Over Replacement Player (1.2). With Towns making his presence felt all over the court and Andrew Wiggins playing the best basketball of his career, the Timberwolves are now 8-6 and holding the Western Conference’s eighth seed, putting them just 3.5 games back from the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

6. ANTHONY DAVIS, LA LAKERS

STATS: 24.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, 3.2 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 47.5 FG%

It didn’t take long for Davis and LeBron James long to develop chemistry, as they’ve been a terrific one-two punch for the Lakers thus far. As our Bryan Kalbrosky noted, James is passing the ball to Davis 25.2 times per 36 minutes, which is more than he dished to any other past teammate, including Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Chris Bosh and Kevin Love. It’s clear that James trusts his big man and if they’re playing this well with very little time spent getting acclimated to each other (and their many new teammates), it’ll be interesting to see how well they’ll be playing together toward the end of the season when they’ve learned each other’s tendencies more. Davis is leading the NBA in blocks per game and he’s swatted 24 shots in his last seven games.

Photo by Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

5. KEMBA WALKER, BOSTON

STATS: 23.4 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.5 RPG, 3.7 3PG, 39.7 3PT%

Kyrie Irving who? When news broke over the summer that Irving (and Al Horford) planned to leave Boston via free agency, it seemed like the Celtics were going to take a significant step back. It would’ve been understandable if they shifted their focus to developing Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Co. Instead, the Celtics found a terrific replacement for Irving in Kemba Walker. The 29-year-old is posting impressive numbers and he has Boston sitting at No. 1 in the Eastern Conference standings with an 11-2 record (which is also tied for the best record in the entire NBA). It seems that Walker brings production similar to that of Irving without the behind-the-scenes drama and chemistry issues that hurt the Celtics last year. If Boston can keep this up and sit atop the East, Walker would get some MVP consideration (and deservedly so) and Brad Stevens would likely get some Coach of the Year love. And as Walker gets more comfortable with his new team, his play should only improve. With that said, there seems to be a significant gap between the Top-4 players on this list and everyone else.

Photo by Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

4. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS

STATS: 29.5 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 9.3 APG, 2.8 3PG, 1.2 SPG, 47.7 FG%

Doncic is used to having unprecedented success for someone his age. Remember, he won the Euroleague MVP award at 19 years old prior to entering the NBA. Now, as a 20-year-old sophomore in the Association, his numbers aren’t too far off from what Russell Westbrook averaged back in 2016-17 when he won MVP (31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists and 1.6 steals). While posting triple-doubles no longer seems to draw the same jaw-dropping reaction since Westbrook normalized it, it’s unheard of for a 20-year-old to be having this kind of success. He had an MVP performance on Monday night, dropping 42 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds and 5 threes in a win over the San Antonio Spurs. Only two players in NBA history have posted a 40-point triple-double at age-20: Doncic and LeBron James. The sophomore is having a special campaign, his Mavericks are fifth in the West at 8-5 and he deserves to be high on this list as long as he keeps this up.

Photo by Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

3. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

STATS: 39.2 PPG, 7.6 APG, 5.7 RPG, 4.9 3PG, 1.6 SPG

If the season ended today, Harden’s 39.2 scoring average would be the highest since Wilt Chamberlain posted 44.8 points per game in the 1962-63 season. In fact, Harden is on pace to join Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to average 39 or more points in a season. (Michael Jordan came close in 1986-87, but he finished the campaign averaging 37.1 points). Harden’s shooting percentages aren’t pretty – 42.5 percent from the field and 34.0 percent from deep – but when Houston is winning and he’s averaging nearly 40 points and eight assists per game, it feels like nitpicking to complain about his efficiency. Also, it’s worth noting that his True Shooting Percentage (.618) is actually up from last season. The Rockets have won eight-straight games and are 11-3, which is the second-best record in the Western Conference (and the third-best record in the NBA). If Harden continues at this pace, this season will go down as one of the most impressive offensive displays in league history.

Photo by Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

2. LEBRON JAMES, LA LAKERS

STATS: 25.0 PPG, 11.2 APG, 7.6 RPG, 1.9 3PG, 1.2 SPG, 49.0 FG%

At this point, James has the “best player on the best team” argument going for him. He’s filling the stat sheet on a nightly basis and it’s translating into wins for the Lakers, who are an NBA-best 11-2 (with a league-best +10.2 average point differential) thus far. Can the Lakers sustain this level of play? That remains to be seen, but James will have a strong case as long as they do. If James were to win his fifth MVP award this season, he’d become the second-oldest MVP in NBA history behind only Karl Malone (who was named Most Valuable Player in his age-35 season). Malone was 35 years and 284 days old at the end of the 1998-99 regular season. James is also in his age-35 season, but he would only be 35 years and 107 days old at the end of this regular season. Whether he ultimately wins the honor or not, nobody can deny how impressive it is for James to be producing like this at 35 years old.

Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE

STATS: 30.3 PPG, 14.0 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.5 BPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.4 3PG

Antetokounmpo is having another incredible season and while it may not feel like past years because his cheat-code dominance is no longer fresh and surprising, at the end of the day, he’s the reigning MVP and he has somehow managed to improve his stats across the board. He’s averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, three-pointers made, three-point percentage, Player Efficiency Rating, Box Plus/Minus, Defensive Rating and the list goes on and on. The advance stats love him too, as he leads all NBA players in Box Plus/Minus, Value Over Replacement Player and PER. He’s led the Bucks to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 10-3 (with an East-best +9.5 average point differential). He has the numbers, record and signature performances to potentially win back-to-back MVP awards. Also, he’s doing this without another star on his team, unlike LeBron James (who has Anthony Davis) and James Harden (who has Russell Westbrook). It remains to be seen if voters will take that into consideration, as they have in the past.

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