MVP Race: Jayson Tatum makes the Top 10 for the first time

Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

MVP Race: Jayson Tatum makes the Top 10 for the first time

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MVP Race: Jayson Tatum makes the Top 10 for the first time

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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. Some of them are big men, others are ball-handlers and still, others are wings. Some come from the best teams in the league while others are doing enough to put themselves in this conversation merely by having their squats in a position to fight for a playoff spot.

Which stars have stood out? Here are our latest MVP rankings:

Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

10. JAYSON TATUM, BOSTON

Last week’s ranking: Unranked.

An outrageous run of form recently was enough to get Jayson Tatum in these rankings for the first time this season, as the third-year forward has been out of his mind since the All-Star break. Over his last 12 games, nine of which were victories for the Boston Celtics, Tatum is averaging 30.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest on fiery 49.4/48.1/76.9 shooting splits. Sure, his three-point shooting might cool off a bit going forward, but the fact that the young Duke product is getting to the foul line over seven times per contest in that stretch indicates his new level of aggressiveness could help him sustain this high level of play to an extent. Tatum is already gaining fans from league legends around the Association…

…and if he can keep it up in the playoffs, we could one day look back at this stretch from Tatum as the period when he legitimately became a superstar.

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

9. JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI

Last week’s ranking: No. 10.

After a run of poor form saw the Miami Heat drop games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves over a four-game stretch, Jimmy Butler and Co. have turned things around recently, winning three in a row, including one outing against a Western Conference playoff team in the Dallas Mavericks and also one versus the best team in basketball, the Milwaukee Bucks. Miami is now the only team to beat Milwaukee twice this season, indicating that they could be a tough out come playoff time. The Heat are 6.2 points per 100 possessions better with Butler on the floor this season, and he’s without a doubt been the team’s most important player on the campaign, particularly when he’s aggressive on offense.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

8. KAWHI LEONARD, LA CLIPPERS

Last week’s ranking: No. 7.

After the Los Angeles Clippers went through a somewhat concerning three-game losing streak a couple of weeks ago, the team was able to get healthy and get right back to their winning ways. Los Angeles went 4-0 last week, including noteworthy blowout wins over potential playoff foes, the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets, who the Clippers beat by a combined 56 points. Kawhi Leonard has been excellent over that stretch, averaging 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 50.0 percent from the floor and 90.3 percent from the foul stripe.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

7. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND

Last week’s ranking: No. 5.

Due to a groin injury, Damian Lillard hasn’t played since Feb. 12, a loss that has been brutal for the Portland Trail Blazers to overcome, as the team is 2-4 in their last six games. Lillard is hoping for a Wednesday return, a date that can’t come soon enough for a Portland team missing its best player. Lillard ranks fifth this season in scoring (29.5) and sixth in assists (7.9).

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

6. NIKOLA JOKIC, DENVER

Last week’s ranking: No. 8.

Following a humbling defeat at the hands of the Clippers, Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets bounced back nicely over the weekend, downing an elite Raptors team 133-118 behind one of the big Serbian’s best games of the season. On the evening, Jokic went off for 23 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists, becoming just the second player this season to produce a 23/18/11 stat line in 2019-20. And Jokic did it in one less minute. What’s more, with that triple-double effort, the Nuggets star became the third-youngest player ever to amass 40 career triple-doubles, trailing just two Hall-of-Famers:

Decent company there for Jokic.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

5. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS

Last week’s ranking: No. 5.

Recently turned 21-year-old Luka Doncic continues to play at an elite level, even despite carrying an ankle injury that is probably still hindering him. In his five games since returning from the knock, Doncic has averaged 27.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 9.4 assists per contest while leading Dallas Mavericks to a 4-1 record over that stretch. Doncic’s Slovenian countryman, Goran Dragic, had high praise for the former Real Madrid player recently, telling the media:

Considering how great Doncic already is, it’s scary to consider what his eventual ceiling will be.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

4. ANTHONY DAVIS, LA LAKERS

Last week’s ranking: No. 4.

One of the leaders for this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award who also happens to be averaging 26.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, Anthony Davis is one of the most dominant two-way players in basketball at the moment. His efficiency lately has seen a bit of a downturn, though, as the supremely talented big man is shooting just 40.8 percent from the floor over his last four games, so it was probably smart of the Los Angeles Lakers to rest him on Sunday to let him heal up and get back to his dominating ways.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

3. LEBRON JAMES, LA LAKERS

Last week’s ranking: No. 2.

It’s almost as if LeBron James knows when the most eyes will be on him, and takes his play to an even higher level on those evenings. After all, the four-time league MVP’s last two performances against the New Orleans Pelicans and Zion Williamson have been nothing short of extraordinary, with James dropping 34 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists in a 122-114 win for Los Angeles on Sunday. According to Basketball Reference’s Game Score metric, it was merely James’ fourth-best game this season, which just goes to show how insanely productive the Lakers forward has been on the campaign. He’s been so excellent, in fact, that his play this past weekend led to Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry saying:

High praise for LeBron, though we must say, there are a couple of other pretty strong candidates out there.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

2. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON

Last week’s ranking: No. 3.

Although it may be Russell Westbrook who is putting up the bigger numbers since the Houston Rockets went super small, James Harden has still been the team’s engine helping propel them to six straight wins prior to Monday night’s defeat against the New York Knicks, and the West’s No. 4 seed. In that stretch, Harden has averaged 32.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game while slashing 47.2/39.2/83.3 splits. Additionally, Harden remains the league’s No. 1 scorer by a wide margin, putting up 34.9 points nightly. Fans may complain about the aesthetics of his game, but he’s as dominant as ever offensively and remains a strong candidate for MVP.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE

Last week’s ranking: No. 1.

Perhaps it’s because his dominance is so ridiculous that it has gotten boring to talk about, but there’s no doubt Giannis Antetokounmpo remains the frontrunner for MVP for the second year running. On the campaign, Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.9 points, 13.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 55.4 percent from the floor. What’s more, in 2019-20, the Greek Freak ranks first in Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares per 48 minutes and Player Efficiency Rating, and no lower than second in overall Win Shares and Value Over Replacement Player. Oh, and he has the Bucks on pace to win roughly 70 games this season. So yeah, Alvin Gentry, that’s why LeBron James isn’t just being handed MVP this season.

You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.

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