MVP Race: Damian Lillard soaring up the ranks

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MVP Race: Damian Lillard soaring up the ranks

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MVP Race: Damian Lillard soaring up 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. RUDY GOBERT, UTAH

Last week’s ranking: Unranked.

One of the league’s most dominant big men on the defensive end, Rudy Gobert was finally rewarded for his excellent play over the past few years with his first All-Star Game nomination this season. In 2019-20, the French center ranks No. 2 in nightly rebounds and No. 5 in blocks per game, consistently terrorizing opponents in the painted area. As we get near to All-Star Weekend, Gobert has helped push his Utah Jazz club to the West’s No. 4 seed and a 35-18 record, and his ridiculous +14.4 swing rating has a lot to do with that success.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

9. JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI

Last week’s ranking: No. 9.

Missed time due to injury and a three-game losing streak for the Miami Heat caused Jimmy Butler to slip a bit in our rankings this week, but regardless, there’s no doubt the 30-year-old has been one of the NBA’s most impactful wing players on the campaign as a whole. On the year, Butler is averaging 20.5 points and a career-high 6.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists per contest while producing 1.8 steals nightly (sixth-highest average in the league). Butler is one of just six players posting a 20/6/6 stat line this season, and the other five are all players who you’ll either find on this list or who have won MVP in the past (Russell Westbrook). Butler looks right at home in his first season in South Florida.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

8. KAWHI LEONARD, LA CLIPPERS

Last week’s ranking: No. 8.

Kawhi Leonard, No. 8 in the league in scoring this season (27.1 points per game) and No. 5 in steals (1.9), continues to produce at an elite level for the Los Angeles Clippers, who are No. 5 in the NBA in net rating this year. If it weren’t for load management, there’s a good chance Leonard would rank even higher on our list, but missing action once every other week will likely do enough to prevent the reigning Finals MVP from making a legitimate run at regular-season MVP this year. For shame, because when he does suit up, Leonard is one of the most destructive two-way forces in basketball.

Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

7. NIKOLA JOKIC, DENVER

Last week’s ranking: No. 7.

Over the past five games, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is averaging 28.0 points, 12.2 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.8 blocks per game, a stretch in which the Nuggets are 4-1. That’s, to put it lightly, ridiculous. In one of those outings, Jokic was up against Utah’s own MVP candidate big man Gobert in a game following a major trade where Denver had just seven players available. Jokic finished that outing with 30 points on 58.3 percent shooting, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, hitting the game-winning jumper over his French opponent in the process.

Not a bad stretch of games for Denver’s franchise cornerstone.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

6. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS

Last week’s ranking: No. 6.

A second extended absence due to ankle troubles has all but killed any real chance Luka Doncic had to make a run at league MVP this year because for a 20-year-old to win the award, they’d need to be perfect all season long. That’s not to say Doncic hasn’t been spectacular when he has played – his numbers, 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, indicate he has been – but just that the bar for a second-year player to win the prestigious award is even higher than it is for veterans, so Doncic’s MVP odds have taken a huge hit over recent weeks as he recovers from his ankle sprain.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

5. LEBRON JAMES, LA LAKERS

Last week’s ranking: No. 3.

The league-leader in assists per game at 10.7, LeBron James has had trouble with his efficiency recently, which is part of the reason why he’s seen his spot in our rankings slip over the last few weeks. In his last six games, the four-time league MVP is shooting 44 percent from the floor and 63 percent from the foul stripe. Even so, the 35-year-old forward is producing at an insane level considering his age and the number of miles he’s got on his body, and he has the Los Angeles Lakers in position to make a championship run this season.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

4. ANTHONY DAVIS, LA LAKERS

Last week’s ranking: No. 5.

Besides Anthony Davis’ monstrous numbers this season (26.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.4 blocks per game), the Lakers big man is also arguably the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year in 2019-20, which speaks to his otherworldly dominance in his first campaign in L.A. When comparing the advanced analytics between Davis and James, the results are pretty split, with the former getting the nod in Value Over Replacement Player and Box Plus/Minus and the latter taking Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares per 48 Minutes. Either way, the Lakers are blessed to have such elite talent in their frontcourt.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

3. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND

Last week’s ranking: No. 4.

The player who has been soaring up our rankings over recent weeks, and with good reason, Damian Lillard has been on an absolute tear, helping his Portland Trail Blazers stay within striking distance of the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed. Over his last 15 games, Lillard is averaging 37.2 points per game on preposterous 50.3/46.6/88.1 shooting splits, along with 8.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds nightly. The most exciting part of all this is the fact that Lillard doesn’t appear to be slowing down and gets the All-Star break now to rest up a bit, so this run of incredible form should continue into the home stretch of the season. If he does, don’t be surprised to see the five-time All-Star climb his way even further up this list.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

Last week’s ranking: No. 2.

Former league MVP James Harden has been slumping for a while now, so this could very well be his last week at this spot in our rankings unless he turns it around after the All-Star break. In his last 15 outings, Harden is averaging “just” 27.9 points per game (he was averaging 38.5 points prior to this 15-game stretch) and shooting 27.9 percent from the floor, 27.1 percent from beyond the arc. Regardless, Harden has still been fantastic on the season as a whole, and with the Houston Rockets shifting towards this super small-ball lineup, the bearded 2-guard could get right back on track with all the added space.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE

Last week’s ranking: No. 1.

There’s not much to say about Giannis Antetokounmpo that we haven’t written before. He’s somehow found a way to improve upon his insane 2018-19 season, which didn’t seem possible; his defense remains absurd; he’s averaging over 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists per game; his Milwaukee Bucks have been the league’s best team this year, and it hasn’t been all that close. So this week, we’ll write something about the Greek Freak we haven’t been able to say prior to today: Congrats on being a first-time father!

Antetokounmpo has missed the last few games with his newfound parental duties, though the teams Milwaukee has played in that stretch probably don’t mind his absence all that much.

You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.

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