NBA MVP Race: Kawhi Leonard re-emerges

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

NBA MVP Race: Kawhi Leonard re-emerges

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NBA MVP Race: Kawhi Leonard re-emerges

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Each week, HoopsHype’s staff gives the 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. KAWHI LEONARD, LA CLIPPERS

STATS: 25.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, 45.0 FG%

A 42-point, 11-rebound performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves was enough to vault Kawhi Leonard back into the Top 10 of our MVP rankings for the first time in a few weeks, and served as a reminder of how dominant the 2019 Finals MVP can be when he gets going. This season has been a bit of a slog for Leonard, as his career-low 49.4 effective field goal percentage would attest to, but the Los Angeles Clippers’ load management plan with him resembles that of the Toronto Raptors last year, and should help Leonard look fresh by the time the playoffs roll around. Of course, the Clippers hope their strategy pays off like Toronto’s did in 2018-19.

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9. KEMBA WALKER, BOSTON

STATS: 23.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 3.8 3PG, 40.7 3PT%

Kemba Walker has arguably been an upgrade over the departed Kyrie Irving for the Boston Celtics, and is well on his way to earning All-Star honors for the fourth year running thanks to his exquisite level of play this year. Walker is shooting a career-high 40.7 percent from three in 2019-20, and is posting career-best marks in multiple advanced metrics, including Box Plus/Minus and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes. Walker has helped push the Celtics to a 17-7 record and the East’s No. 4 seed through 24 games.

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8. JOEL EMBIID, PHILADELPHIA

STATS: 22.8 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 BPG, 46.1 FG%

Considering the standard the big man set over the past few seasons, Joel Embiid’s play this year has been a bit disappointing… and Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were sure to let him know that during a segment on TNT last Tuesday. How did Embiid respond? By having his best game of the season on Thursday, against a very good Celtics team, no less, exploding for 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists on 12-of-21 shooting. Head coach Brett Brown joked after the game that he was considering hiring Barkley and Shaq as motivational coaches. Maybe not the worst idea.

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7. PASCAL SIAKAM, TORONTO

STATS: 24.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 45.4 FG%

After a hot start from the three-point line this season (39.3 percent from deep over his first 17 games), Pascal Siakam has gone cold over the past eight outings, shooting just 31.1 percent from the outside during that stretch. That cold spell has coincided with the Raptors’ worst stretch of the season, with Toronto going just 4-4 over their last eight, and that’s probably not a coincidence. The Raptors will need Siakam to find his outside stroke again if they want to get back to their elite early-season form.

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6. JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI

STATS: 21.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.1 SPG, 42.9 FG%

The league leader in nightly steals, Jimmy Butler’s addition to the Miami Heat has transformed the team from a mediocre mess to the league’s No. 7 squad in net rating. Miami is probably still a piece or two away from being legitimate title contenders, but with Butler as the centerpiece, they’ve become one of the more entertaining, and tough to beat, teams around the Association this year. Butler averaged 23.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists over three games last week.

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5. ANTHONY DAVIS, LA LAKERS

STATS: 27.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 2.6 BPG, 49.9 FG%

A frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year who also happens to be averaging over 27 points, Anthony Davis has been an absolute force on both ends of the floor this season. Davis is 18th in nightly steals this year and second in blocks while his 27.4-point-per-game average is good for seventh in the league. For a big man to be able to score down low with such ease, have a respectable jumper, draw a lot of fouls and make them at over an 85 percent rate is legitimately unfair. If the Los Angeles Lakers do win a title this year, Davis could be the difference-maker.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

4. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS

STATS: 29.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 8.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 48.1 FG%

Even with an injury-related two-minute performance on Saturday bringing down his averages, Luka Doncic still ranks third league-wide in nightly points, 18th in rebounds and third in assists, and he’s done it all as a 20-year-old. The timing of Doncic’s injury is particularly brutal because it seemed like the Slovenian prodigy was about to take off, as his final game prior to getting hurt was a 41/12/11 explosion against the Detroit Pistons. If we can take solace in anything, it’s that Doncic should only miss around two weeks of action with the ankle sprain, which is a relief considering how ugly the injury looked.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

3. LEBRON JAMES, LA LAKERS

STATS: 26.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 10.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 50.2 FG%

They say Father Time is undefeated, but LeBron James is doing his best to prove that old saying wrong. Turning 35 years old in a few weeks, James is leading the league in assists while pouring in over 26 points nightly and snatching over seven boards per contest, and making over half of his field-goal attempts. LeBron’s level of play is so ridiculous, it truly makes you wonder how he does it, when he’s one of just three players left from his draft class, and the other two, Carmelo Anthony and Kyle Korver, are clearly on the tail end of their respective careers.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

STATS: 39.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 7.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, 36.1 3PT%

You know James Harden is on another level with his scoring when he can drop 55 points one night, follow that up with 54 points in his next outing, and the NBA world sort of just keeps spinning without talking about it as much as it deserved to be discussed. In total, Harden averaged 43.8 points over four games last week, to go with 8.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 48.2 percent from three. Oh, and he did that while shooting fewer than seven free throws nightly, so, in this case, people can’t complain about the aesthetics of his performances. After a slow start to the year with his three-point shooting, Harden is making over 39 percent of his triples over the last month, an impressive mark considering the difficulty of his usual shot attempt.

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1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE

STATS: 31.0 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 56.3 FG%

Like Happy Gilmore learning how to putt, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s improved three-point stroke this season has somehow made the Greek superstar even more effective, which is scary considering he’s coming off an MVP campaign as is. Antekounmpo has 43 made triples this year. That’s as many as sharpshooting teammate Khris Middleton, and more than noted shooters like Jamal Murray and Seth Curry. Because of his improved shooting, according to Box Plus/Minus and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes, Antetokounmpo has been even better this season than he was last. If he’s able to keep this up, there’s little doubt the 25-year-old will be a frontrunner to take home his second consecutive MVP award at year’s end.

You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.

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