MVP Race: Donovan Mitchell enters the picture

MVP Race: Donovan Mitchell enters the picture

Ranking

MVP Race: Donovan Mitchell enters the picture

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It’s time for the fourth part of our 2020-21 NBA MVP rankings.

Every member of our team voted on their personal Top 15 rankings for the prestigious award, and we averaged out the results to get a cumulative team ranking.

There hasn’t been a change at the top this week, but for the first time this season, a Utah Jazz player has made the Top 15, which is only right considering the team has just ripped off eight wins in a row.

Check out our new MVP rankings below.

1
Nikola Jokic (Denver)

Reigning Western Conference Player of the Week Nikola Jokic retains the top spot in our MVP rankings in this edition, only natural considering his outrageous level of play and the fact that the Denver Nuggets, winners of four straight, have finally turned the corner in the win-loss column.

Over the past week, Jokic has averaged 26.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 53.7 percent from the floor.

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle recently had high praise for the big Serbian center, telling the media:

Jokic, the current league-leader in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Win Shares (WS), continues to dominate on a nightly basis, and it’s getting hard to see anyone taking his spot at No. 1 anytime soon.

2
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Joel Embiid has three All-Star appearances and two 2nd Team All-NBAs under his belt, and yet, it could be argued he’s never been as good as he is this season.

Embiid’s averaging a career-high 27.7 points per game while knocking down a career-best 40.5 percent of his three-point looks, and that’s to go with 11.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks per contest.

What’s more, Embiid is presently smashing his previous career-high marks in multiple catch-all advanced metrics, including Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WS/48), which he leads the league in at 0.292, and BPM, where he’s posting a +8.0 in 2020-21 after never finishing a season higher than a +4.9.

One thing that has seemingly helped Embiid’s this year has been the Philadelphia 76ers’ renewed team chemistry under Doc Rivers. This season, it appears Embiid is able to talk to Ben Simmons more openly about how they can continue to improve together…

…something that probably wasn’t as easy in years prior.

3
LeBron James (LA Lakers)

The Los Angeles Lakers have been the NBA’s best team this season by record and net rating (+9.7), and until recently, they were doing it with LeBron James posting just decent numbers by his otherworldly standards.

That has changed over the past week, however, as James has exploded over the past seven days, averaging 32.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists while shooting 56.7 percent from the floor and 56.5 percent from three.

Among those contests, James had a 34-point, eight-assist game against the Milwaukee Bucks in what was an eight-point win for Los Angeles, as well as an even more impressive 46-point, seven-triple outing against his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

That night, James became the oldest Laker with a 40-plus-point game since Kobe Bryant’s 60-point night, and he’s also set to become the oldest player to average a 25/7/7/ stat line over a full season.

For James to still be at this level at 36 is downright scary.

4
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)

The Brooklyn Nets have gone through a bit of an acclimation period since the addition of James Harden, going just 4-2 over that stretch, but one constant has been the MVP-level play of Kevin Durant.

Since the team picked up Harden, Durant has averaged 32.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists on fiery 49.1/42.5/87.2 shooting splits.

Durant recently spoke about Brooklyn’s chemistry under their newly founded Big 3 of Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving, claiming that the trust is already there between the three parties (via The Athletic):

“The trust is already there,” Durant said of Brooklyn’s “Big 3.” “The familiarity with each other is there already. We know each other’s games from the last decade. It’s just a matter of what plays we’re going to run at certain times, what lineups we’re going to have out there. I think both the coaches and the players are fine-tuning everything. We’re going to have spurts where we play inconsistent just because we try things, but for the most part, our minds and our hearts are in the right place when we’re out there. We try to take care of business every possession.”

As the Nets continue to figure things out behind their superstar trio, they’re only going to get more and more potent, particularly if Durant maintains this level of form, which is to be expected.

5
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Somewhat quietly, the Los Angeles Clippers have played fantastic basketball this season, sitting No. 2 in the West with a 13-4 record and posting the NBA’s third-best net rating at +7.7.

A lot of that has to due with Kawhi Leonard’s absurd level of play, who’s averaging 25.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.0 steals this season with a scorching 61.1 true shooting percentage to go with it.

Leonard is now set to miss some time due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but there’s no doubt he’ll be right back to putting up MVP-like numbers when he does suit back up for the Clippers.

6
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

The Milwaukee Bucks have seen some struggles over the past week, dropping games to the Nets and Lakers back-to-back before bouncing back with a win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

In that stretch, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been his usual self, averaging 28.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting nearly 59 percent from the floor, but it wasn’t quite enough for the Bucks to secure wins against two of the team’s most potent clubs.

Milwaukee will need more from their supporting cast if this is really going to be the year they get over the playoff hump in the Eastern Conference.

7
Anthony Davis (LA Lakers)

Lakers big man Anthony Davis is averaging the third-lowest scoring mark of his career this season at 21.8 points per game, but is more than making up for it by chipping 8.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks while shooting a career-high 34.9 percent from three.

Davis, a potential frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year this campaign, recently opened up about his final season with the New Orleans Pelicans and how unhappy he was with the team that drafted him by the end of his tenure there (via The Bird Writes):

“When you’re losing, you don’t realize that you’re not happy,” Davis said. “You made a ton of money. You can do whatever you want. You can live this lifestyle, quote-unquote ‘The American Dream,’ but losing sucks. I {realized that} I’m not happy. I want to be happy. And you kind of go through these times where it’s like, do I really want to play basketball? Am I really good enough? You start doubting yourself because you’re not happy. Or it might be stuff in your personal life where you’re not happy. Whether it’s in a relationship or family, whatever it may be. I had some of those things where it’s like I’m going through something off the court. I’m not happy and it’s reflecting my game. It starts leading to minor injuries, you’re not playing hard enough, things like that.”

Good on Davis to admit his mental health wasn’t in a great spot that last year with New Orleans and doing something about it, but Pelicans fans probably won’t be thrilled reading about how their former superstar basically admitted he quit on the team.

8
Luka Doncic (Dallas)

Over the past four days, Luka Doncic has taken his game to another level, putting up 32.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 11.7 assists over the Dallas Mavericks’ last three outings, but still hasn’t been enough for his team to get off the schneid.

Dallas is 2-5 over their last seven games and currently rank 10th in the West with an 8-9 record. Additionally, their net rating (-0.4) is 15th league-wide, and way lower than it should be considering the Mavericks have an MVP candidate as their best player and All-Star in Kristaps Porzingis as his sidekick.

Things have gotten shaky enough for Dallas that the club had to resort to the dreaded team meeting after their most recent loss to Denver:

Whatever was said in the meeting is a mystery, but the Mavericks need to turn things around before the frustration continues to fester and potentially gets even worse.

9
Paul George (LA Clippers)

After sitting out the fourth quarter of a recent win against the Oklahoma City Thunder with hamstring tightness, Paul George, like Leonard, is now set to miss time due to COVID-19 protocols.

Regardless, George has had a spectacular season so far, averaging 23.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.2 steals while posting an absolutely insane 67.0 true shooting percentage. George is also tied with Nets forward Joe Harris as the league-leaders in three-point percentage this year at 48.4 percent.

Between George and Leonard, the Clippers have two MVP-level performers in 2020-21, and will be a tough out for anyone come playoff time.

10
Donovan Mitchell (Utah)

For the first time this season, a player from the Jazz has rightfully entered the ranking, and it’s All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.

Utah has come out victorious in an impressive eight games in a row and currently sits third in the West at 12-4 and has the league’s fourth-best net rating at +6.9.

Over that span, Mitchell has been the team’s unquestioned leader, averaging 27.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists on extremely tidy shooting splits of 51.0 percent from the floor, 50.0 percent from three and 89.5 percent from the foul stripe.

Recently, however, Mitchell has found himself in an odd beef with NBA Hall-of-Famer and Inside the NBA member Shaquille O’Neal, who, for whatever reason, thought it would be a good idea to tell Mitchell directly that he didn’t think the young guard had what it took to reach the next level as a player… immediately after Mitchell had a 36-point game on national TV in a double-digit win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Mitchell’s response to Shaq? “All right.”

Since then, O’Neal has kept the beef going on social media, posting the following on Instagram on Monday (via CBS Sports):

O’Neal has been roundly criticized for the interview, with both fans and modern stars like Kevin Durant and LeBron James speaking in Mitchell’s defense. But rather than apologize for his statement, O’Neal has doubled down on it. On Monday, O’Neal posted an Instagram slideshow showcasing former teammates Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Steve Nash, Gary Payton, Penny Hardaway and LeBron James with a caption that read: “This is what greatness at the guard position looks like. I played with the best ever-to do it. You know I know what best look like. #donthavetohate. Y’all kno I got G14 classification to say what I say.”

One has to wonder if TNT realizes how bad of a look it is to hear former all-time greats like O’Neal and Charles Barkley constantly trash the NBA’s product and its current crop of stars.

Either way, kudos to Mitchell for taking the high road here.

11
Damian Lillard (Portland)

Since backcourt mate CJ Mcollum has gone down with injury, Damian Lillard has taken his already great play up a notch, averaging 33.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 8.0 assists over the Portland Trail Blazers’ last three games while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 96.8 percent on 10.3 nightly free throws.

Lillard and his fiancee Kay’La Hanson recently announced the arrival of twins, with the Blazers star posting on social media the following (via People):

Lillard shared the news of his twins’ birth with an Instagram post, sharing a photo of the family from the hospital. “Just call me Daddy Dame from now on…” Lillard wrote in the caption, going on to explain his new son and daughter’s names. “Kali Emma Lee Lillard (Callie…girl) and Kalii Laheem Lillard (kuh-lee ..boy )”

12
Stephen Curry (Golden State)

In what has been a solid-but-not-great campaign for the Golden State Warriors to this point, the one consistent thing for the team has been Stephen Curry’s All-NBA-level play.

Curry is averaging 28.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per contest while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor. The former two-time league MVP is also heating up from three recently, knocking down 47.7 percent of his outside looks over his past four games.

This weekend, Curry surpassed NBA Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller for No. 2 in the league’s all-time three-point shooting list when he hit 2,561 triples for his career and, unlike Shaq, Miller had nothing but praise for the Warriors superstar:

Now, Curry only has Ray Allen and his 2,973 career three-pointers left to pass on the list, and it’s more than likely only a matter of time before he gets there.

13
Jaylen Brown (Boston)

The Boston Celtics, 10-6 this season and No. 2 in the East, have been led by Jaylen Brown for the majority of the campaign, who is putting up shocking averages of 27.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while posting a career-best 59.5 effective field-goal percentage.

Brown has been so excellent, in fact, that he even made history this weekend by becoming the first player in the shot-clock era to score at least 33 points in fewer than 20 minutes of action:

Over his past four games, Brown is averaging 31.8 points and shooting 52.0 percent from three, so don’t be surprised to see him make a move up these rankings coming up.

14
Nikola Vucevic (Orlando)

Despite the Orlando Magic’s injury-plagued campaign, the team has remained in the playoff picture with an 8-10 record thanks to Nikola Vucevic and his awesome form.

Vucevic is putting up 23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this season while shooting 43.5 percent from three.

Among all players, Vucevic third in VORP behind just Jokic and Doncic, fourth in BPM behind the two aforementioned players and Embiid, and eighth in WS, proving he deserves to be in this year’s MVP rankings.

15
Domantas Sabonis (Indiana)

Indiana Pacers center Domantas Sabonis has been one of the best big men in basketball this campaign, putting up 20.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.6 rebounds.

Sabonis is the only player this season averaging a 20/12/5 stat line, and his mix of tenacious rebounding, face-up prowess and post-up effectiveness have helped Indiana start the year 10-7 and sit No. 4 in the East despite so much turnover to their roster in 2020-21.

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