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:
10. DONOVAN MITCHELL, UTAH
STATS: 24.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 46.1 FG%
Over their last 15 games, the Utah Jazz have been the league’s best team in net rating, with a robust +10.5 mark and a 14-1 record to their name in that stretch. Prior to missing Utah’s last game and most of the contest prior to that due to illness, Donovan Mitchell was leading the way for the Jazz in their impressive turnaround, averaging 24.8 points and 6.0 assists over his last 13 full outings while shooting 51.7 percent from the floor. Mitchell’s assists are up over the past month because he’s taken over primary playmaking duties for Utah after offseason acquisition Mike Conley, who has been a disappointment so far in his first campaign with the Jazz, went out with injury. The new role has suited Mitchell well.
9. KAWHI LEONARD, LA CLIPPERS
STATS: 25.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 45.4 FG%
Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard started the season off on a cold streak shooting from the outside, followed that up with a long stretch of accurate marksmanship and has now seen his accuracy from beyond the arc plummet again. Leonard has hit just nine of his last 38 attempts from three, good for a paltry 23.7-percent clip. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Clippers have struggled in those six outings Leonard has suited up in, going 3-3 in that stretch including a humiliating 26-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. On the season, L.A. has struggled to really get things going at an elite level because Leonard and his superstar running partner on the wing, Paul George, have only played together 18 times with both missing time due to injury and injury maintenance. In those 18 games, however, the Clippers boast a 14-4 record, indicating how nasty they are when they have their two All-NBA-caliber forwards available.
8. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND
STATS: 26.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 7.6 APG, 3.4 3PTM, 44.1 FG%
As the Portland Trail Blazers’ season continues to go down the drain, Damian Lillard is doing his best to prevent things from truly bottoming out, ranking eighth league-wide in scoring, eighth in assists and fourth in total three-pointers. Portland, who sits at 16-24 on the year, is a bit lucky it’s a down year for the bottom of the West, though, so they’re only two games out of the eighth seed as we approach the All-Star break. Without Lillard’s superhuman efforts this season, the Blazers would be closer to fighting for the top pick in the 2020 draft than for a shot at the postseason.
7. JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI
STATS: 20.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.9 SPG, 44.7 FG%
The numbers (those that indicated that the team’s record was vastly outpacing their production on both ends) finally caught up to the Miami Heat last week, as Miami followed up an impressive road win against the Indiana Pacers with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets and, even more disappointingly, the New York Knicks. It’s hard to fault Jimmy Butler for the two losses, however, as the four-time All-Star averaged 29.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in those two games. It must be noted, though, that Butler’s shooting continues to be an issue on the year, as this stat would indicate:
With that said, it’s kind of insane that Butler still ranks among the Top-10 players in the league in multiple advanced metrics, including Value Over Replacement Player, Box Plus/Minus and Win Shares per 48 Minutes, despite his poor shooting.
6. NIKOLA JOKIC, DENVER
STATS: 19.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 6.4 APG, 51.0 FG%
It was quite the productive week for Nikola Jokic, who has averaged 29.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists on ridiculous 59.2/56.5/71.0 shooting splits over his last four games. Jokic’s massive jump in play over the past month and change has helped propel the Denver Nuggets to a 27-12 record, the league’s No. 9 net rating and the No. 2 seed in the West. As such, Jokic has seen his placement in our weekly MVP rankings increase every week for the past month.
5. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS
STATS: 29.1 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 9.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 46.8 FG%
It was a rough week for Luka Doncic, shooting-wise, as the Slovenian star has made just three of his last 15 three-point attempts and shot under 40 percent from the floor in that stretch. With Doncic’s struggles, the Dallas Mavericks have likewise hit a rough patch over the past week, dropping two out of three games, though their last contest was a solid bounce-back win for Dallas against the Philadelphia 76ers. Like Doncic recently said after a humbling defeat against the Los Angeles Lakers, even despite his insane production early on in his career, he still has a lot of areas he can improve. That’s a scary thought considering as is, he’s already posting a near 29/10/9 stat line, but it’s true. That’s how insane his upside is.
4. ANTHONY DAVIS, LA LAKERS
STATS: 27.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.6 BPG, 50.4 FG%
Anthony Davis’ last few games don’t give us much to discuss, considering he’s missed time with a bruised tailbone, but for the season as a whole, the Lakers power forward has looked like one of the very best players in the league. Sure, he’s done that before, but this season, Davis has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can do it on a contender, unlike his time with the New Orleans Pelicans. On the season, Davis’ is the league’s highest-scoring pure big man (the player coming up at the top of our list is still more of a wing than a big) while ranking second in blocks and fourth in paint points. Few players can match Davis’ two-way dominance this campaign.
3. LEBRON JAMES, LA LAKERS
STATS: 25.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 10.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 48.8 FG%
The league leader in assists per game, LeBron James is winning the ongoing battle against Father Time, proving that age is nothing but a number by dominating even as he hit 35 years old. We’ll let Butler, who came up at No. 7 in this ranking as in an elite player in his own right, explain in his own words what makes James so good:
“So … the five toughest players I’ve ever guarded. Let’s get to it. LeBron James, Positionless, Los Angeles Lakers. I didn’t want to talk about LeBron here. I really didn’t. I wanted to give some other guys some shine. But you can’t have a 5 Toughest list and not have LeBron on it. He’s still the best all-around player in the league. He literally does everything well. He can shoot. Pass. Attack the rim. Defend. You need a bucket? LeBron’s got you. You need a rebound, a steal or a block? He’s got you. Whatever you need, whenever you need it. Bron’s got you. When you talk about a combination of speed and athleticism, plus a combo of strength and explosiveness, you gotta start with LeBron.”
Couldn’t have said it any better ourselves, Jimmy.
2. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON
STATS: 37.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 38 3PT%
For the first time in a long time, James Harden laid an egg last week, dropping 17 points on 17 field-goal attempts in a 21-point loss for the Houston Rockets against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It came at an inopportune time for The Beard, at least as far as these rankings go, because Harden came close to surpassing the top player on our list last week before falling further behind in this week’s edition. It should be noted: Harden bounced back quickly from that stinker, dropping 32 points on 17 field-goal tries two nights later in what was a 30-point win for Houston.
1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE
STATS: 29.8 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 55 FG%
The Milwaukee Bucks don’t usually dominate headlines, unless it’s the media discussing whether or not Giannis Antetokounmpo could leave one day as a free agent, which is unfortunate, because, as it turns out, they’ve been by far the best team in the league this season while being led by the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo isn’t just the league’s No. 2 player in scoring average or No. 6 player in rebounding average or an improved shooter making over 32 percent of his three-point looks, he’s also a leading candidate for Defensive Player in the Year, as the Bucks boast the league’s stingiest defense thanks to Antetokounmpo’s prowess on that end. Simply put: Antetokoumpo dominates in just about every facet of basketball on a nightly basis, and that should get talked about more often than his free agency, which is still a decent amount of time away.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.