MVP Race: Ben Simmons joins the ranks

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

MVP Race: Ben Simmons joins the ranks

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MVP Race: Ben Simmons joins the ranks

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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. BEN SIMMONS, PHILADELPHIA

STATS: 16.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 8.4 APG, 2.2 SPG, 58.5 FG%

Over the past few weeks, Ben Simmons play has sky-rocketed for the Philadelphia 76ers, as he led the team to a 6-3 record over that stretch, including a double-digit win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. In those nine outings, Simmons averaged 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 2.3 steals per contest, showing a ridiculous level of dominance of both ends of the floor. Of course, the difference with Simmons’ opportunities recently has been the absence of Joel Embiid, who has been nursing a hand injury, so that only continues to raise questions about their potential as a duo. Regardless, it was an extremely impressive run for Simmons, one that shows how absurd his ceiling truly is.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

9. JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI

STATS: 20.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 44.3 FG%

Only five players this season can boast a 20/6/6 stat line; four of them will find themselves on this ranking, including Jimmy Butler, while the fifth is Russell Westbrook, a stat-stuffing machine. So Butler’s marks in 2019-20, even despite the porous shooting (particularly from three), have been elite. And it must also be noted that they’re far from empty, as the Miami Heat are an eyebrow-raising 10.3 points per 100 possessions better with Butler on the floor this year. The 30-year-old forward has been a two-way beast all year long, and he’s not looking like he’s slowing down anytime soon.

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8. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND

STATS: 28.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 45.5 FG%

No. 5 in the NBA in scoring average and No. 6 in nightly assists, Damian Lillard has been the difference between the Portland Trail Blazers being within shouting distance of the West’s eighth seed this year and fighting for the top pick of the 2020 draft. He’s been performing at an outstanding level while his team has struggled without Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum (for a stretch). Lillard is a lock to earn All-Star honors when the reserves are chosen by coaches soon.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

7. NIKOLA JOKIC, DENVER

STATS: 19.7 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 50.7 FG%

Nikola Jokic’s hot stretch of play has continued recently, with the star center averaging 23.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists over his last six games, leading his Denver Nuggets to a 4-2 record over that stretch. Despite his slow start to 2019-20, Jokic ranks fifth in Value Over Replacement on the season, sixth in Box Plus/Minus and ninth in Win Shares, which just goes to show how well he’s been playing for a couple of months now. Jokic has led the Nuggets to the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed and a Top-10 ranking in Net Rating.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

6. KAWHI LEONARD, LA CLIPPERS

STATS: 27.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 46.6 FG%

Despite all the hoopla regarding load management, Kawhi Leonard has continued to perform like one of the very best players in the league this season, ranking seventh in nightly scoring and fifth in steals. Leonard’s also continuing to show the frightening ability to keep improving elements of his game, with this season the betterment coming to his playmaking, where he’s shattering career marks in assist average (5.2, when his previous career-high was 3.5) and assist rate (28.1 percent, when his previous career-best was 18.9). Leonard’s become the complete package on offense, and that, plus his already elite defense, has turned him into an even bigger monster of a player.

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

5. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS

STATS: 29.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 8.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 46.4 FG%

First-time All-Star Luka Doncic has maintained a steady-but-excellent level of play recently for the Dallas Mavericks, without any super memorable performances but without hitting a nadir, either. Doncic became the youngest European player ever to be named an All-Star last week, and the youngest All-Star starter since LeBron James, decent honors for the 20-year-old Slovenian, who is going to amass many more before it’s all said and done.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

4. ANTHONY DAVIS, LA LAKERS

STATS: 26.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.5 BPG

A complete beast on both ends of the floor, Anthony Davis ranks 11th in scoring this year and third in blocks, all while shooting nearly 87 percent from the foul stripe, an insane rate for a big man attempting over eight free throws per game. It’s that touch at the line along with the frequency that helps make Davis such a dominant, efficient scorer despite his struggles as a three-point shooter, where he’s sinking just 30.4 percent of his opportunities. Either way, Davis, arguably the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, has been one of the league’s most dominant players this season.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

3. LEBRON JAMES, LA LAKERS

STATS: 25.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 10.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 49.4 FG%

Over the weekend, LeBron James passed the unforgettable Kobe Bryant for No. 3 in the league’s all-time scoring list, and spoke to the Black Mamba over the phone in the locker room one last time before the unthinkable tragedy that occurred the following morning.

Now, James is taking it upon himself to carry on Bryant’s legacy, as he mentioned in this poignant Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! 😢😢😢😢💔. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation💜💛 and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Life❤️🙏🏾 #Gigi4Life❤️🙏🏾

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

…and if there’s anyone that can uphold what Bryant stood for, on and off the floor, it’s LeBron James.

It feels like we’re about to see a different LeBron over the second half of the season. That’s a scary notion for the rest of the NBA.

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2. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

STATS: 36.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 43.9 FG%

Prior to getting rest over the past week to nurse an injured thigh, James Harden’s play had taken a huge dip, with the former league MVP averaging just 23.0 points and 6.0 assists over his previous five games before the injury, on brutal 33.3/13.6/85.0 shooting splits. Perhaps the rest will allow Harden to find his previous form, where it looked like he could get close to averaging 40 points nightly, because if play does continue to regress, the Houston Rockets will be in serious trouble come playoff time.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE

STATS: 30.0 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 55.7 FG%

The Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo is posting a legitimately unbelievable campaign, as the Milwaukee Bucks forward has a chance to become just the fourth player in league history to post a 29.9/12.0/5.0 stat line, along with Wilt Chamberlain (who did it twice), Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor. That’s pretty decent company to be in for Antetokounmpo, who would be joining the ranks alongside three Hall-of-Famers. Then again, if Antetokounmpo continues to perform at this level for another few years, there’s little doubt he’ll be joining those players in the Hall of Fame one day, too.

You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.

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