NBA MVP Race: Giving in to Luka-mania

NBA MVP Race: Giving in to Luka-mania


NBA MVP Race: Giving in to Luka-mania

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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:

Sean M. Haffey-Getty Images


STATS: 25.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.8 3PG, 43.5 FG%

Leonard hasn’t been super effective in the three games that he’s played since returning from a left knee contusion. The Clippers managed to win all three contests (over the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans), but Leonard seems a bit limited. Sure, Kawhi at 70-80 percent is better than most players at 100 percent, but we dropped him down our rankings a bit as he gets back to full strength. (And, as previously mentioned in this space, voters dock players who miss a significant amount of games). It’s worth noting that Leonard has been much less efficient than usual this season, which is something that the 28-year-old will surely work on. He’s shooting just 43.5 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from three-point range – both of which would easily be career-lows for Leonard. He’s only appeared in 12 games, though, so perhaps it’s just a small sample size. Fortunately for the Clippers (and basketball fans in general), Leonard and Paul George are finally playing together and it’s been fun to watch. So far, L.A. is undefeated when they have their two stars in the lineup at the same time.

Ronald Martinez-Getty Images


STATS: 27.3 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4.9 RPG, 3.2 3PG, 1.1 SPG, 44.3 FG%

Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls was a perfect example of how adding Carmelo Anthony may help the Blazers win some additional games this season. Lillard scored just 13 points on 40.0 percent shooting from the field and 25.0 percent from three, but Portland still won because Anthony had 25 points on 50.0 percent shooting from the field and 57.1 percent from three. Lillard has been outstanding for the Blazers this year, but one player can only do so much. If Anthony continues to score this efficiently, it’ll be difficult for defenses to shut down Carmelo, Lillard and CJ McCollum. Lillard recently missed a game due to back spasms (insert joke about Dame carrying the Blazers on his back) and the point guard said that the issue is going to linger for a bit, so that may be why he’s struggling as of late. On the season, Lillard ranks fifth in Offensive Box Plus/Minus (6.9), seventh in Win Shares (2.4), seventh in Value Over Replacement Player (1.1) and 10th in Player Efficiency Rating (25.0).

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports


STATS: 18.9 PPG, 6.7 APG, 5.4 RPG, 2.6 SPG, 43.6 FG%

This is Butler’s first time cracking our MVP rankings this season, but he’s been playing well all year for the Heat. Butler’s decision to leave the Philadelphia 76ers for Miami was one of the biggest surprises of this past offseason, but the 30-year-old forward has fit in perfectly with the Heat’s culture. With Butler leading the way on the perimeter, Miami currently has the second-best defense in the NBA (allowing just 100 points per 100 possessions). This has helped the Heat get off to a 12-4 start, which is the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Over the weekend, Butler returned to Philadelphia to face off against the Sixers for the first time since his departure and while he would’ve loved to have a monster showing and get the win, he finished with just 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals while shooting 30.8 percent from the field (including 0-2 from three) in a losing effort. Still, Butler is having a strong campaign and he has the Heat near the top of the East, which is why he’s in our Top 10 this week.

Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports


STATS: 25.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.3 3PG, 47.4 FG%

Siakam has emerged as an elite scorer this season, while continuing to play the strong defense that we’ve seen from him in the past. At the moment, Siakam is ranked ninth among all players in Defensive Win Shares (0.9), 16th in Win Shares (1.8) and 18th in Value Over Replacement Player (.7). Interestingly, Siakam’s stats (25.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.3 threes, 0.8 steals, 47.4 FG%, 37.4 3P%) are actually very similar to the numbers of his former teammate Kawhi Leonard (25.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.8 threes, 2.1 steals, 43.5 FG%, 30.0 3P%). Everyone expected the 25-year-old to take on a bigger role this season and show some progress in Leonard’s absence, but this kind of leap is just incredible. He’s becoming one of the game’s elite two-way players and he seems poised for superstardom. Not bad for someone who didn’t play organized basketball for the first time until he was nearly 18 years old!

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports


STATS: 26.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.0 3PG, 3.9 APG, 1.5 BPG, 1.1 SPG

Towns continues to shoot the ball extremely well, making 44.4 percent of his three-pointers on 9.0 attempts per game. He’s more than doubled his number of three-pointers per game this season, which has made him an even scarier offensive weapon for Minnesota. Believe it or not, Towns’ 57 three-pointers is third-best in the NBA behind only James Harden (79) and Devonte’ Graham (60). The 24-year-old’s game perfectly fits in the modern NBA. Between Towns’ strong play and Andrew Wiggins’ drastic improvement, it’s possible that the Wolves could shock everyone and sneak into the playoffs for just the second time in 16 years. After winning three-straight games (including an impressive victory over the Miami Heat), Minnesota has the seventh-best record in the Western Conference at 9-8.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports


STATS: 25.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 2.9 BPG, 1.5 SPG, 47.4 FG%

The Lakers’ roster features 11 new players (including Davis), but you’d never know it from watching this team play. Rather than struggling out of the gate as they try to develop chemistry and get everyone on the same page, L.A. opened their season by winning 15 of their first 17 games. Davis and LeBron James have been a terrific one-two punch out of the gate, bringing the best out of each other. Davis may not be posting the jaw-dropping stat lines we got used to seeing from him with the New Orleans Pelicans, but that’s because he has a better supporting cast now and the Lakers aren’t asking him to carry the team on his own. Still, he’s been a dominant rim protector (leading the league in blocks) and he’s capable of scoring from anywhere on the court (averaging a career-high 1.2 threes per game). It may be tough for Davis to win MVP because he’s playing alongside James (and vice versa, perhaps), but there’s no question that he’s having a terrific season. It’ll be interesting to see how this Lakers team looks at midseason once they’re even more cohesive (and once their schedule gets a bit more difficult).

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports


STATS: 37.9 PPG, 8.0 APG, 6.1 RPG, 4.6 3PG, 1.6 SPG, 43.6 FG%

Last week, we praised Harden’s offensive output and moved him up our rankings because the Rockets held the second-best record in the league and were in the midst of a seven-game winning streak. Unfortunately, Houston went on to drop their next three games to tough teams (the Denver Nuggets, L.A. Clippers and Dallas Mavericks). Harden continues to score at will, despite constantly being double-teamed by opponents. He recently voiced his displeasure with the constant double-teaming, telling reporters: “The whole season, they’re running doubles teams at me. I’ve never seen that in an NBA game where you’ve got really good defenders and someone else running at the top of the key. Y’all let me know the last time you’ve seen that.” He uses this to his advantage at times, drawing contact from both defenders and getting to the foul line (which he’s doing more often than anyone since prime Wilt Chamberlain). With the Rockets’ current losing streak, Harden dropped one spot this week, but there’s no question that he’ll be in the mix for this award come the end of the season as long as he stays healthy.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports


STATS: 31.1 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 6.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 56.3 FG%

The Bucks have now won 13 of their last 14 games (including eight-straight), climbing to No. 1 in the Eastern Conference standings. Not only have they lost just one game in the month of November, they’re winning convincingly – as evidenced by their +9.3 average point differential, the highest in the NBA. That’s in large part due to Antetokounmpo, who continues to dominate on both ends of the floor. On Monday, he had perhaps his best outing of the season in a win over the Utah Jazz, finishing with 50 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 threes, 2 steals and 0 turnovers. The Jazz entered the game with the NBA’s top-ranked defense (allowing just 99.3 points per 100 possessions), yet Giannis did whatever he wanted against them. Antetokounmpo became just the second player in NBA history to hit all of those statistical marks in a single game, joining Michael Jordan (who did it against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989-90).

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports


STATS: 25.6 PPG, 11.0 APG, 7.4 RPG, 2.0 3PG, 1.2 SPG, 49.3 FG%

Recently, a courtside fan captured a funny interaction between James and a referee, with James saying, “I know you’ve been reading and they’re saying that I haven’t been playing defense these last couple of years, but it’s a new year!” Well, this season, it seems that James’ main focuses are defending and facilitating. His much-improved defense is perhaps the starkest difference between 2018-19 and this year. James ranks fifth in the NBA in Defensive Win Shares (+1.0) and 20th in Defensive Rating (101.9), and his effort on that end of the floor has been significantly better. Perhaps Anthony Davis deserves credit for this, as he’s been saying since the offseason that he was going to hold LeBron accountable and push him to play at an All-Defensive-Team level like he’s capable of doing. After Monday’s games, the Lakers actually have the best defense in the NBA (allowing just 99.7 points per 100 possessions). As for LeBron’s playmaking, he leads the league in assists per game (10.8) and assist percentage (50.7) by wide margins. In fact, he’s been involved in 49.0 percent of the Lakers’ points, which is easily the highest percentage among all NBA players this season. Los Angeles has won eight-straight and sit at 15-2, which is the NBA’s best record.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports


STATS: 30.6 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 9.8 APG, 3.3 3PG, 1.4 SPG, 49.5 FG%

Early in the season, people were praising Doncic’s game while wondering when the sophomore would come back down to the Earth. Well, rather than regressing, Luka has only gotten better and he’s even closer to averaging 30-10-10. Doncic currently leads all NBA players in Win Shares (3.6), Box Plus/Minus (14.2), Value Over Replacement Player (2.2) and Player Efficiency Rating (33.3). In fact, his 33.3 PER puts him on pace for the best single-season efficiency rating of all-time. He makes the game look incredibly easy, destroying teams offensively. Not only does he have the league’s second-best scoring average (30.6), he ranks second in the NBA in assists per game (9.8) and assist percentage (48.9), showing just how many buckets he’s creating for himself and others. Doncic secured this week’s top spot after delivering an MVP-like performance in Dallas’ win over James Harden and the Houston Rockets, finishing with 41 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 5 threes, 2 steals and 1 block. And his production is translating into victories for the Mavs, as they’ve now won five-straight games. Dallas is 11-5, which is the fourth-best record in the Western Conference. Right now, Doncic may be the frontrunner for the Most Valuable Player award and the Most Improved Player award.

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