NBA MVP Race: Giannis going for the repeat

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

NBA MVP Race: Giannis going for the repeat

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NBA MVP Race: Giannis going for the repeat

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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:

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10. JOEL EMBIID, PHILADELPHIA

STATS: 22.4 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.2 3PG, 45.4 FG%

Joel Embiid creeps into our MVP rankings for the first time, as he has led the Philadelphia 76ers to a 15-6 record, and four straight victories. It’s interesting that this is finally the week Embiid has broken into our weekly ranking series, considering the fact that last Monday, he started the week off with the worst game of his career, going scoreless against the Toronto Raptors on 0-for-11 shooting. However, in the three games after that horrific performance, Embiid has averaged 30.7 points, 14.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while attempting nearly 15 free throws per contest. Perhaps his horrid showing against Toronto was the best thing that could have happened for Embiid/Philadelphia, since it has unlocked a new level of aggression from the supremely talented center. If he can maintain that level of play, he’ll continue to creep up our rankings as the season progresses, as well as help the Sixers win a whole lot of games.

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9. KEMBA WALKER, BOSTON

STATS: 21.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 3.4 3PG, 38.6 3PT%

After suffering a scary injury last weekend, Kemba Walker bounced back wonderfully this week, dropping 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets in his first game back on Wednesday, and averaging 24.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists in the three outings since his return. Walker has helped push Boston to a 14-5 record this season not just with his All-Star-level play, but by being such a positive locker-room presence in the stead of the now-departed Kyrie Irving. Walker’s leadership has been huge for the Celtics, and head coach Brad Stevens has taken notice:

Boston has two big games coming up this week, facing the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets, two teams near the top of their respective conferences, and with a couple of big performances, Walker could shoot his way up this ranking ahead of next week.

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8. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND

STATS: 27.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 3.3 3PG, 44.7 FG%

It appears that after a worryingly slow start, the Portland Trail Blazers have finally turned things around, and a lot of that has to do with the consistently awesome level of play they’re getting out of Damian Lillard. The 29-year-old is averaging career-highs in points, assists and free-throw percentage this season, and with the addition of a motivated Carmelo Anthony (who just won Player of the Week in the Western Conference, by the way), Lillard should be able to help lead Portland right back into the thick of the cutthroat playoff race out west. Lillard ranks seventh in Value Over Replacement Player, sixth in Win Shares and 10th in Player Efficiency Rating in 2019-20.

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7. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, MINNESOTA

STATS: 25.9 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.4 BPG, 3.8 3PG, 50.2 FG%

According to most advanced metrics, Karl-Anthony Towns has hovered around Top-5 player status this season, and just by looking at his raw averages, it’s easy to see why. Towns is distributing the basketball better than ever before this year (career-high 22.1 percent assist rate) while continuing to protect the rim and knock down threes at ridiculous paces (he’s launching nearly nine threes nightly and making them at a 42.1 percent clip, the ninth-most accurate mark in the league). Most importantly, Towns’ play has pushed the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 10-9 record, placing them 7th in the Western Conference playoff race. The Wolves will need Towns to maintain his level of form in order to reach the postseason with how loaded the West is, but considering how easy Towns is making it look, that shouldn’t be a problem for the big man.

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6. PASCAL SIAKAM, TORONTO

STATS: 25.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.5 3PG, 47.0 FG%

Raptors swingman Pascal Siakam is playing at such an insane level that there’s actual talk out there that he might deserve to take home Most Improved Player honors for the second year in a row. Siakam is shooting 6.5 threes per game (up from his previous career-best of 2.7) and knocking them down at the most accurate rate of his career, a healthy 39 percent. The 25-year-old is one of the most impactful two-way wings in basketball, capable of doing a multitude of things, including make plays for others, throw it down in transition and knock down open threes, all while being a multi-positional defender on the other end of the floor. Siakam has been so good that even without team leader Kyle Lowry around due to injury for the last few weeks, he still has Toronto, who have won seven games in a row, absolutely humming. The trajectory Siakam is presently on is downright scary.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

5. ANTHONY DAVIS, LA LAKERS

STATS: 26.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.8 BPG, 47.9 FG%

The No. 2 option on the best team in the league (by record, at least), Anthony Davis is performing at a ridiculous level considering it’s his first time suiting up for a team with championship expectations. Davis ranks eighth league-wide in nightly scoring and is tied in first in blocks per game, which just goes to show how much of an impact he makes on both ends of the floor on a nightly basis. The Los Angeles Lakers will want him to improve his three-point shooting a bit (34.4 percent for the year), but other than that, it’s been smooth sailing for Davis, who set the record last week for highest scoring performance in a player’s first game against their former team, when he dropped 41 on the New Orleans Pelicans.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

4. LEBRON JAMES, LA LAKERS

STATS: 25.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 10.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 50.1 FG%

Davis’ super teammate, LeBron James, also had a great week, averaging 27.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists over four games. James currently leads the league in nightly assists while ranking 11th in points per game. It’s crazy to see how productive he remains despite being in Year-16, not just statistically, but with his ability to much such a strong impact on winning. This upcoming week will be a big one for LeBron and Co., as, after a relatively soft schedule in November, they’re set to face the Nuggets, Jazz, Blazers and Timberwolves, giving them the chance to silence those who believe their 17-3 record is mostly a byproduct of a weak strength of schedule.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

3. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS

STATS: 30.6 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 9.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 48.3 FG%

Posting one of the greatest statistical second-year campaigns of all time, Luka Doncic has absolutely exploded as a sophomore. Even Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki admitted to being surprised by how quickly Doncic has acclimated to the NBA game, and with good reason; 20-year-olds shouldn’t be as productive as Doncic has been. Doncic currently ranks third in the league in scoring, 17th in rebounds and second in assists while guiding (carrying, really), the Mavericks to a 13-6 record, including a huge road win against the Lakers on Sunday. The contest featured a near Doncic triple-double and a step-back three over LeBron that will be featured in Doncic’s 2019-20 highlight tape for eternity.

If Doncic keeps up this level of play, he’ll become the fifth-youngest player in league history to receive MVP votes. Not bad.

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2. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

STATS: 38.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, 44.6 FG%

James Harden’s scoring has been so otherworldly that he dropped 60 points on Saturday and didn’t even win Player of the Week for the Western Conference. His game may not be the prettiest (he currently has the second-highest nightly free-throw attempt average… ever), but there’s no doubt he’s a maestro when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop. The only thing preventing Harden from ranking higher on this list is the fact that the Houston Rockets have a worse record and a lower net rating than those of the No. 1 ranked player’s team. Even so, barring injury or an unpredictable drop in form, Harden will be one of the top finalists for MVP come the end of the season.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE

STATS: 30.9 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 56.0 FG%

A destructive force on both ends of the floor, Giannis Antetokounmpo is an early frontrunner to win his second MVP trophy in a row. Over four games last week, the Greek Freak averaged 34.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. The Milwaukee Bucks won all four games by a total of 63 points. And that’s why we rank Giannis No. 1 in this week’s ranking: Not only is he putting up insane numbers while defending at an extremely high level – he’s also the best player on the best team in the league. Milwaukee is tied with L.A. in record at 17-3, but is first in net rating by a long shot at +10.3. The next closest team in net rating are the Raptors, who are at +8.8. What’s more, the Bucks are 10.7 points per 100 possessions better with Antetokounmpo on the floor, proving his importance to the squad. Giannis is a force of nature, and if he keeps this up, he’ll be adding a second MVP trophy to his mantle.

You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.

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