MVP Race: James Harden enters Top 3 for first time this season

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MVP Race: James Harden enters Top 3 for first time this season

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MVP Race: James Harden enters Top 3 for first time this season

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As the fallout from the wild trade deadline continues to settle, the NBA MVP race for 2020-21 remains as hotly contested as ever, with a certain Brooklyn Nets player making a strong move towards the top of the rankings despite not given a chance by many analysts to actually win the award.

He’s been so good lately, however, that it’s starting to become impossible to ignore his case.

Below, you can check out the Top 15 players in our MVP rankings for 2020-21, as voted on by our entire team at HoopsHype.

1
Nikola Jokic (Denver)

As has been the case a lot over the past couple of months, Nikola Jokic has retained the top spot in our rankings this week, and looking at his recent numbers, it’s easy to see why.

Over the past week, the Denver Nuggets superstar is averaging 23.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists while leading the team to a 3-1 record over that stretch. What’s more, for the season, Jokic is averaging 8.5 assists nightly, the second-highest mark for a single campaign by a center in league history behind only Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68 (8.6 assists per game that year), per ESPN Stats & Info.

The Nuggets did well at the trade deadline to get help around Jokic, too, with the additions of the defensive-minded JaVale McGee and, more importantly, a starting-caliber, versatile power forward in Aaron Gordon, who Jokic believes is already proving to be a good fit with the team (via ESPN):

The Nuggets got a glimpse of Gordon’s versatility as the forward switched on defense and stayed in front of Atlanta’s Trae Young on one possession. “The main thing and the best thing that he did is that he accepted the role,” Jokic said. “He knows why he came here, he knows what he can do and he knows how he can help and he is doing that. Defense or offense, it doesn’t matter, he accepts it and is embracing it. “I think he kind of saw how we played and he didn’t try to do too much. He saw that if he’s open, the ball is going to find him. Really good debut for him.”

After those two strong pickups, it’s full-speed ahead for Jokic and the Nuggets, who currently rank fifth in net rating league-wide thanks to the unbelievable play from their big Serbian down low.

For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.

2
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

The Milwaukee Bucks’ somewhat odd up-and-down season has continued this past week, with the team losing three in a row now after winning 13 of their previous 14 games, though Giannis Antetokounmpo did miss one of those contests.

Regardless, Antetokounmpo has been so good prior to this relatively rough stretch that he still worked his way up to the No. 2 spot in these rankings for the first time this season.

Bucks general manager Jon Horst recently spoke glowingly of Antetokounmpo and his MVP prospects with Sports Illustrated. Needless to say, Horst believes the Greek Freak is better than ever this season:

Playmaking – Antetokounmpo is averaging a career-best 6.4 assists – has been an area of growth for Giannis, something team officials attribute to the game continuing to slow down for the 26-year old two-time reigning MVP. “The pace that he is playing at is different,” Bucks GM Jon Horst said in a telephone interview. “He’s playing with more control. He’s picking his spots. That’s the kind of thing you only get through maturity.” Regarding the MVP race, Horst offers the strongest possible endorsement. “He is a better player this year than in the years he won,” says Horst.

And considering the month-long stretch Antetokounmpo had from late-February to late-March, where he averaged 31.6 points, 11.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists while shooting 58.1 percent from the floor over 11 games, Horst could very well be right.

For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.

3
James Harden (Brooklyn)

It’s become impossible to ignore the possibility that James Harden might be the best player in the league this season with his level of play recently.

Over his last 11 games, Harden is averaging 28.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 12.0 assists to go with 1.7 steals, and led the Brooklyn Nets to a 10-1 record over that run of games.

For what it’s worth, Harden hasn’t been shy about his MVP chances this season (via ESPN):

After dropping 44 points in a win over the Pistons on Friday night in Detroit, James Harden said that he doesn’t simply believe he belongs in the Most Valuable Player award conversation – he should sit atop the list. “Do I feel like I belong in it? I feel like I am the MVP,” the Brooklyn Nets star said. “I mean, it’s just that simple. I don’t want to be speaking individually on myself. I am just going to leave it at that.”

To be totally honest, if it weren’t for Jokic being on another level, Harden might not be wrong. Regardless, the bearded 2-guard has been absolutely spectacular this season, especially since getting to Brooklyn.

For the latest James Harden rumors, click here.

4
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Joel Embiid went from the top spot in these rankings to No. 4 solely due to the knee injury he suffered on March 12, one that we still have no idea when he’ll return from.

The latest from a local reporter in Philadelphia, courtesy of head coach Doc Rivers indicates, however, that Embiid might be getting close to a return:

Regardless, the time Embiid has missed probably cost him his shot at taking home league MVP honors this season, which is unfortunate because the level he was at before going down, putting up 29.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while hitting 42.2 percent of his threes, was truly MVP-worthy.

For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.

5
Damian Lillard (Portland)

The league’s third-leading scorer at 29.8 points per game, Damian Lillard has been in a bit of a slump recently, averaging merely 21.3 points over his last four games while shooting 34.2 percent from the floor and 19.4 percent from three.

Nevertheless, injury could be the main culprit for that, as Lillard missed a game last week with a sore knee, so that could explain his dip in form over his past few games.

Overall, however, Lillard is still having yet another spectacular campaign and has more than earned his place in these rankings.

For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.

6
LeBron James (LA Lakers)

LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Like with Embiid, a medium-term injury halfway through his season more than likely cost LeBron James his shot at winning his fifth MVP forward this campaign, despite the fact he was putting up huge numbers – 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists – before going down.

Teammate Dennis Schroeder recently called James the greatest player to ever play in the NBA, which is certainly possible when you look at his career numbers, but as far as MVP goes, it’s going to be tough for James to get back to the top of these rankings depending on how much more time he misses.

For the latest LeBron James rumors, click here.

7
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

The Los Angeles Clippers, winners of six in a row before last night’s defeat to the Orlando Magic, had been playing at such a high level thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s production.

Over that stretch, Leonard put up 24.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.7 steals and hitting 53.6 percent of his field-goal attempts. He’s also been leading by example in helping Los Angeles break out of their previous slump (via The Athletic):

Leonard has stepped up one aspect of his defense in particular, averaging 3.2 steals over the last two weeks. He has single-handedly dragged the Clippers from the bottom of the league in forcing turnovers going into the All-Star Break to a league-average rate. “Kawhi took the challenge, and whenever he starts the game, it sets the tone for us,” Lue said of Leonard after a five-steal night in San Antonio Wednesday. “He gets everybody else to follow him. So, you know, we need that every single night. He’s been doing it for us in every way.”

Leonard remains one of the very best two-way players the NBA has to offer this season.

For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.

8
Luka Doncic (Dallas)

Luka Doncic missed back-to-back games this weekend due to a sore back and a non-COVID-related illness, but he’s still been performing at an extremely high level recently, averaging 29.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists in his last seven games.

Doncic has helped pull the Dallas Mavericks from fairly low in the playoff picture earlier in the season to the No. 7 spot in the West with a 24-21 record right now.

For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.

9
Stephen Curry (Golden State)

Despite the Golden State Warriors’ somewhat turbulent campaign, the one steadying force has been Stephen Curry, who returned from an extended absence due to a tailbone injury two nights ago with a 32-point, six-assist performance in what was a 14-point win for his team over the Chicago Bulls.

Curry’s name recently made headlines thanks to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who claimed that LeBron James was basically “recruiting” Curry over All-Star weekend by constantly praising him to the media.

Regardless, according to Nick Friedell, the prospects of Curry ever leaving Golden State to team up with anyone is extremely unlikely (via the New York Post):

ESPN’s Warriors reporter, Nick Friedell, was quick to shoot down the idea on the podcast. Curry did not sign a contract extension before the season, which currently means he could become a free agent in 2022, but delaying the extension also makes him eligible to sign an even bigger deal with the Warriors this summer. “He’s gonna sign,” Friedell said. “There’s no way that Steph — who has only ever said he wants to stay with the Warriors his whole career, and who has only ever said, ‘I can’t wait to play with Klay [Thompson] again, it’s going to be great, and Draymond [Green is] still rolling through either the end of his prime or towards that other stage at a different point in his career’ — that Steph is suddenly going to walk away.”

For the latest Stephen Curry rumors, click here.

10
Rudy Gobert (Utah)

Defensive behemoth Rudy Gobert has hovered around the Top 10 of these rankings over recent weeks, which is beyond deserved considering how excellent his two-way impact has been for the Utah Jazz on the year.

Over the past week, Gobert even started scoring more, averaging 19.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game while shooting nearly 69.0 percent from the floor. Meanwhile, the Jazz have won six games in a row, remain league-leaders in net rating (+9.2) for the campaign and Gobert has been undoubtedly their most important player.

All those factors make the big French center an underrated MVP candidate who likely won’t win the award, but deserves more love in discussions for the all-important accolade.

For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.

11
Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

The modern-day Shaquille O’Neal comparison is starting to stick for Zion Williamson, as even Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle mentioned the similarities between the two physical forces recently (via ESPN):

“He’s an unusual force and obviously a great player,” Carlisle said after the visiting Mavs fell 112-103. “We’ll have to figure something a little better out next time, but he’s doing this to everybody. We did have some very good possessions guarding him, but he was a beast. “It presents huge challenges for the defense and for officials. He is just creating collisions out there. This is a Shaquille O’Neal-type force of nature with a point guard skill set.”

Williamson’s play has been improving throughout 2020-21, too, as the freakish forward is averaging 30.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists over his last seven games.

For the latest Zion Williamson rumors, click here.

12
Chris Paul (Phoenix)

The Phoenix Suns are the second-best team in net rating this season (+6.5) and sit No. 2 in the West with a 32-14 record, making it clear how absurdly important Chris Paul’s addition has been for them this season. The future Hall-of-Famer is averaging 17.5 points, 6.0 assists and 1.8 steals over the lat week.

For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.

13
Jimmy Butler (Miami)

Miami Heat’s struggles aside, Jimmy Butler ranks seventh this year in Box Plus/Minus, fifth in Win Shares per 48 Minutes and eighth in Player Efficiency Rating, and who knows how much higher he’d be had he not missed some time due to injury and COVID-19 protocols.

For the latest Jimmy Butler rumors, click here.

14
Trae Young (Atlanta)

The Atlanta Hawks, led by Trae Young, have fallen back to Earth a bit, losing four of their last five games after ripping off eight wins in a row. Over that former stretch, Young is averaging 23.6 points and 10.4 assists, so it’s hard to blame him for Atlanta’s recent struggles.

For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.

15
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)

Kyrie Irving has quietly been the league’s eighth-leading scorer this season, averaging 28.1 points per game to go with 4.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists while converting over 40 percent of his three-point attempts. And he’s been the second-best player over the past month for a red-hot Nets team, which explains his spot in these rankings this week.

For the latest Kyrie Irving rumors, click here.

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