Each week, HoopsHype’s staff gives the Top 10 candidates for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. Of course, with the season coming to a halt due to the coronavirus outbreak, these might be the final rankings for the season, which would help the No. 1 player’s case.
Which stars have stood out? Here are our latest MVP rankings:
10. CHRIS PAUL, OKLAHOMA CITY
Last week’s ranking: Unranked.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offseason trades went down, shipping out Russell Westbrook and Paul George and netting them Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (among more players and a ton of draft capital), most expected them to become a fringe playoff team in 2019-20 – if that. Instead, at the point the season was suspended, the Thunder sit at 40-24 and No. 5 in the West with the league’s No. 11 net rating (+2.5). A lot of that has to do with Paul’s play this season. Not only are his raw metrics – 17.7 points, 6.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game – impressive, but the future Hall-of-Famer has been one of the most clutch players in basketball on the year, hitting a league-leading 46 field goals inside the final five minutes of games with the score within five points, and shooting 53.5 percent from the floor in those “clutch situation”, the sixth-best mark in the NBA this campaign. His contract going forward may be ugly, but Paul is proving this year he’s still got plenty left in the tank.
9. JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI
Last week’s ranking: No. 10.
One of just six players putting up a 20/6/6 stat line this season, Jimmy Butler’s addition has catapulted the Miami Heat from missing the playoffs last year to the East’s No. 4 seed in 2019-20 with a Top-10 net rating (+3.0). Unlike in his past stops, Butler seems happy in Miami and has proven to be a great leader for the Heat’s group of young and hungry up-and-comers. Butler recently joined former teammate JJ Redick’s podcast and somewhat opened up about what led to his summer departure from the Philadelphia 76ers. Apparently, a lack of clear leadership was at least part of the problem:
“Hell yeah, it was difficult. It was so different, and on any given day, me as a person, as a player, I didn’t know who the f— was in charge. I think that was my biggest thing. I didn’t know what the f— to expect whenever I would go into the gym, whenever I’d go into the plane, whenever I’ go into the game. I was like: ‘Man.’ I think I was as lost as the next m———–. […] There was so much going on on every given day, I was like yup, guess I’m just here to work I didn’t know who to talk to.”
And that’s how Philadelphia’s loss became Miami’s enormous gain.
8. NIKOLA JOKIC, DENVER
Last week’s ranking: No. 6.
After an extended strong stretch of play, Nikola Jokic experienced a pretty big slump over the last five games prior to the suspension of play, averaging just 12.4 points and 10.8 rebounds while hitting just one of his 13 three-point attempts in that stretch. Of course, as we’ve seen over recent years, the Denver Nuggets will only go as far as the big Serbian will take them, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team went 2-3 over that run of play, including embarrassing losses to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
7. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND
Last week’s ranking: No. 7.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Portland Trail Blazers, but that’s not Damian Lillard’s fault, as the five-time All-Star has been excellent on the campaign as a whole, averaging 28.9 points (No. 5 mark in the NBA) and 7.8 assists per game (No. 6 mark league-wide). Even despite Lillard’s excellence on the campaign (the Blazers are 8.9 points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor), however, Portland currently sits outside of the Western Conference playoff rankings, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the all-important eighth seed.
6. KAWHI LEONARD, LA CLIPPERS
Last week’s ranking: No. 8.
The Los Angeles Clippers are 7-1 over their last eight games, with the lone loss coming against one of the league’s elite teams who we’ll get to talk about at length in just a bit. Over that stretch, Leonard was averaging 24.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per contest while shooting 51.1 percent from the floor and 84.2 percent from the foul stripe. Leonard has looked as explosive as he has all year recently…
…and with both he and Paul George finally fully healthy at the same time, the Clippers have looked like a different level of beast over the past few weeks.
5. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS
Last week’s ranking: No. 5.
There’s no doubt that Luka Doncic is posting arguably the greatest age-20 season in league history, with averages of 28.7 points (No. 6 in the NBA), 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists (No. 4) per outing. Doncic is the only player in league history to put up a 28/9/8 stat line prior to their age-21 season, and he’s doing it in the tougher Western Conference, where he has the Dallas Mavericks sitting No. 7 overall with a 40-24 record. Outrageously impressive stuff by Doncic, which makes it scary when you realize the best is still ahead for him.
4. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON
Last week’s ranking: No. 2.
Prior to the Houston Rockets’ last game before the league suspension, James Harden had been in a pretty big rut, averaging 25 points nightly but shooting 31.7 percent from the floor over a five-game stretch where Houston went 1-4 while being outscored by 45 points. Harden bounced back in his last game, scoring 37 points on 11-for-19 shooting, but that porous run of form was enough to knock the bearded 2-guard out of the Top-2 of these rankings for the first time in a while. It’s had its bright spots, but the Rockets’ super small-ball experiment has had its bouts of inconsistency, too, and they’re seemingly affecting Harden more than they have Russell Westbrook, who has been on fire for over a month now.
3. ANTHONY DAVIS, LA LAKERS
Last week’s ranking: No. 4.
As if Anthony Davis wasn’t already performing at a high enough level, the big man is also on a hot streak from three, hitting 42.2 percent of his outside looks over his last 10 games, eight of which were wins for the Los Angeles Lakers. Add that hot outside shooting to his 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game and Defensive Player of the Year-caliber point-stopping, and you have one of the most effective two-way players in basketball at the moment. Even so, Davis actually gave a different player credit when asked about league MVP for this season…
…and it’s the player coming up next on our list.
2. LEBRON JAMES, LA LAKERS
Last week’s ranking: No. 2.
LeBron James made a major statement towards MVP, winning back-to-back games against the Milwaukee Bucks and the player coming up No. 1 on our list before then beating Leonard and the Clippers two days later. In those two outings, James averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor and converting 82.8 percent of his 14.5 nightly free-throw attempts. As far as storylines go, James having the season he’s having at 35 years old while leading the Lakers to the second-best record in basketball will go a long way in MVP voting – if and when that time comes.
1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Last week’s ranking: No. 1.
Of course, storylines and talking points only go so far when determining league MVP, as we must weigh statistics and team records more heavily than the typical water-cooler talk. And on the year, Antetokounmpo blows everyone away when you look at those factors. Not only are his raw statistics – 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.0 blocks nightly – out of this world, but in the catch-all advanced metrics, Antetokounmpo beats James in every single one, most of them by a pretty big discrepancy. Oh, and the Bucks have the league’s best record at 53-12 and net rating (+10.7) by a wide margin. If we’re just looking at the numbers and not at other outside factors like age or national TV performances, Antetokounmpo is still comfortably the frontrunner for league MVP this season.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.