With one team already qualified for the conference finals, and the other three series looking pretty evenly matched for the most part, the time has come for another installment of our weekly Playoff MVP Race series.
This will feature both players still alive in the hunt for a championship and a few who have already been eliminated, with the former grouping obviously getting a bit of an advantage when it comes to their spot in the ranking.
Below, check out the latest part of our playoff MVP series, as voted on by our team of writers.
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)
Playoff stats: 30.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.1 spg, 58.2 FG%
For the third straight week, Kawhi Leonard remains at No. 1 in our playoff MVP rankings, and with good reason. The two-time Finals MVP has been dominant on both ends of the floor, putting up over 30 points per playoff contest as well as over two steals nightly while shooting the ball extremely well.
Leonard has also stepped up consistently when the Los Angeles Clippers have needed him most, with Saturday’s game being the most recent example.
That night, Leonard scored 34 points, had 12 rebounds, dished out five dimes and had two takeaways all while shooting 58.3 percent from the floor in what was a 26-point victory for Los Angeles.
That performance by Leonard sets up a massive Game 4 in L.A. tonight, with the Clippers trying to even the series after going down 2-0 for the second series in a row and the Jazz attempting to take a commanding 3-1 lead.
It’ll be exciting to see what version of Leonard we get; odds are, it’ll be a dominant one.
For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)
Playoff stats: 31.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.6 spg, 1.8 bpg, 42.6 3PT%
Kevin Durant has posted spectacular numbers over the course of the playoffs, though his last two games on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks have been the first time we’ve seen him struggle shooting the ball in a while.
The way the Bucks have defended him (you can see a good example of it in the picture directly above), led by the ferocious PJ Tucker, is a primary reason why. Durant shot 37.7 percent from the floor in Milwaukee and just 25.0 percent from beyond the arc, both of which were losses for the Brooklyn Nets.
Now set to be without James Harden and Kyrie Irving for a game or two, at least, the Nets’ chances will fall on the shoulders of their lone remaining superstar.
Luckily, that one remaining superstar is Durant, a player with two rings, two Finals MVPs and one regular-season MVP on his resume, and if he’s able to keep Brooklyn alive this week, he could easily vault himself to the top spot in these rankings by the next edition of this series.
For the latest Kevin Durant rumors, click here.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)
Playoff stats: 28.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.3 bpg, 58.0 FG%
Despite playing with a tear in his meniscus, Joel Embiid has helped propel the Philadelphia 76ers to a 2-1 series lead against the Atlanta Hawks with a chance to go up 3-1 tonight.
Since returning from the original injury, which Embiid only missed one playoff game from, the big man is putting up 35.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.3 blocks while shooting over 53.0 percent from the floor, absolutely dominating Atlanta on both offense and defense.
Although every injury is different, the fact that Embiid is playing, and playing at an extremely high level, while De’Andre Hunter, an important piece for Atlanta, had to shut it down for the rest of the postseason due to his own slight meniscus tear is noteworthy.
Embiid recently talked about his pain tolerance and playing through the knee injury (via ESPN):
Embiid is receiving steady treatment on the knee, as he forges ahead in the postseason. “Playing with a torn meniscus is not easy,” Embiid said. “Pain is going to be there. You just got to manage it. Tonight, rolling on my ankle, and falling on my back, it’s tough. But, it’s the playoffs, I can’t complain. I’m here to play. I’ve said in the past, whatever I can do, I’m gonna give it the best I got. Even if I’m playing injured, I still got to do my job. That’s why they pay me, and I want to win the championship.
No matter how his playoff run ends, be it hoisting the trophy at the end or not, Embiid deserves nothing but commendation for playing through a potentially serious injury at the level he is.
For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.
Luka Doncic (Dallas)
Playoff stats: 35.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 10.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 49.0 FG%
For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.
Devin Booker (Phoenix)
Playoff stats: 27.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2.3 3PTM, 48.7 FG%
In the first installment of our 2020-21 Playoff MVP series, Devin Booker didn’t earn a spot in our Top 15. In last week’s, he debuted at No. 6. Meanwhile, this week, Booker has earned his highest place in our rankings, sitting at No. 5 with a chance to move up even further as the postseason progresses.
In just his first taste of the NBA playoffs, Booker has helped lead his Phoenix Suns to the conference finals, somewhere they haven’t been since 2009-10, and he’s done so by starting to develop a reputation as an elimination game assassin.
In the first round’s closeout contest against the Los Angeles Lakers, Game 6 in L.A., Booker exploded for 47 points on 15-of-22 shooting while in the conference semi-finals’ closeout outing, Game 4 against the Denver Nuggets, again, on the road, the former Kentucky standout had another 34 points to go with 11 rebounds and four assists.
Whether it be against the Clippers or Jazz, Booker will have another fascinating matchup ahead in the Western Conference Finals, and yet another chance to further cement himself as a top-tier NBA player if he’s able to lead Phoenix to this year’s championship series.
Either way, Booker has beyond proven he’s an impactful, winning player both in the regular and postseason this year, as well as one of the most exciting 2-guards in the game.
For the latest Devin Booker rumors, click here.
Chris Paul (Phoenix)
Playoff stats: 15.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 8.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 50.9 FG%
Of course, Booker isn’t alone in leading the Suns to such great heights this season, as the addition of Chris Paul has been massive for Phoenix, both from a leadership perspective and as far as straight-up production goes.
The fact that Paul is averaging a postseason career-low 15.7 points per playoff outing despite how well he’s playing speaks to both how good Booker and the rest of the young Suns have been, as well as to the fact that Paul is now able to pick his spots regarding when to attack and when to try and create for others.
That has been huge for the 36-year-old floor general who’s been playing through a shoulder injury since Game 1 of the postseason.
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone had huge praise for Paul after seeing his team get swept out of the playoffs by the Suns, telling collected media he considers the future Hall-of-Fame arguably the greatest point guard ever:
Nuggets coach Michael Malone: “Chris Paul could arguably be the greatest point guard of all time.” #CP3
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) June 14, 2021
Tough to argue.
Even if Paul isn’t No. 1 on that list for everyone, there’s no doubt he’s in the running for the honor.
For the Chris Paul rumors, click here.
Nikola Jokic (Denver)
Playoff stats: 29.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.0 3PTM, 50.9 FG%
Despite the best efforts from the regular-season MVP, the Nuggets got swept out of the Western Conference semi-finals.
Nikola Jokic saw his postseason end with a bang, literally, as he was ejected after he received a Flagrant 2 for a hard foul on Phoenix’s Cameron Payne in the third quarter of the elimination game, a play that he said he made in order to try and change the rhythm of the game.
Jokic became the first regular-season MVP since Magic Johnson to get swept out of the playoffs this year, an honor both he and the team will likely want to forget about as soon as possible, though it’s hard to fault the superstar big man for the way his season ended.
Without Jamal Murray, the Nuggets simply didn’t have enough reliable firepower outside of Jokic to compete with the top teams in the West.
Now, next season becomes an important one for Jokic and Co., as the team will want to prove, when healthy, they’re a title contender behind their MVP center.
For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.
Donovan Mitchell (Utah)
Playoff stats: 32.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 43.7 3PT%
Despite what the analytics may say about his regular-season contributions, Donovan Mitchell has without a doubt proven to be a high-level playoff performer.
Mitchell’s explosiveness and stop-on-a-dime outside shooting ability make him nearly impossible to guard in a playoff setting, as the Memphis Grizzlies and Clippers have learned over the past month, and his competitiveness really shines in the postseason.
Clippers head coach Ty Lue even went so far as to compare Mitchell to Doncic, saying that since Mitchell is faster than the Slovenian star, it’s hard to blitz him defensively like they did with Doncic:
Ty Lue on Donovan vs. Luka: "He's faster, and it's hard to try to blitz him, so we just gotta do a better job … one on one."
— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) June 12, 2021
Mitchell did seem to aggravate his ankle injury late in Utah’s Game 3 defeat to Los Angeles, so that will be something to monitor ahead of tonight’s pivotal Game 4.
For the latest Donovan Mitchell rumors, click here.
Trae Young (Atlanta)
Playoff stats: 28.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 9.8 apg, 2.8 3PTM, 44.9 FG%
After averaging 30.2 points over his first six playoff games, life on the court has gotten a bit more difficult over his past two postseason outings for Trae Young and the numbers reflect that, as Young is putting up just 24.5 points over his last two games.
The reason for that?
Ben Simmons, the No. 2 finisher in the Defensive Player of the Year race this season, has been tasked with guarding him one-on-one more often, an exhausting task, according to Doc Rivers, but one that Simmons has been very effective in (via ESPN):
According to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information, Simmons ended the game guarding Young 42 out of 85 plays. “It’s exhausting when you think about what we’re asking Ben to do: follow Trae Young around, follow him around screens and push the ball up the floor with pace,” Rivers said. “That’s all we talked about at halftime when one of my coaches reminded me that he was guarding Trae when I was yelling at him about pace.”
Young and the Hawks will have a chance to even the series at two games apiece tonight, even though the chances of that happening don’t feel great considering that Atlanta has dropped the last two games against Philadephia by a combined 32 points.
Either way, it’s tough to ever count out the supremely explosive Young, especially with how well he’s handled his first taste of postseason action.
For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Playoff stats: 26.6 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 5.5 apg, 0.9 bpg, 50.0 FG%
With his season on the line down 2-0 to the Nets, Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped up in a huge way, putting up 33.5 points and 13.0 rebounds over Games 3 and 4 to help Milwaukee even the series.
And now that Durant will be without Irving and Harden, one could easily argue Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are in the driver’s seat with the series headed back to Brooklyn for Game 5.
Nets big man Blake Griffin recently discussed how difficult it is to guard the Greek Freak, even despite his inability to shoot the basketball (via the New York Post):
“You don’t really guard him one-on-one, you guard him by committee,’’ Griffin said Saturday after practice. “For the most part, we’ve done a solid job. I know he’s got points here and there, he had points in the last game, but we’re just trying to make it tough on him. Being physical, giving him some space, but he’s a two-time MVP so he’s going to get shots. You can’t overreact to certain things. We’ve got to stay on it and tweak a few things and be better, but overall, I think we’ve done a solid job.’
Antetokounmpo will have the chance to silence a lot of naysayers regarding his lack of playoff success over the next week, as getting Milwaukee back to the conference finals and past Brooklyn, even with their injuries, would be very impressive.
On the other hand, if Antetokounmpo and the Bucks still drop the series to Durant and a group of minimum-salary players, if Harden and Irving don’t return, the negative talk surrounding the two-time MVP’s poor postseason play will only get louder.
For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.
Damian Lillard (Portland)
Playoff stats: 28.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.5 apg, 4.1 3PTM, 45.1 FG%
For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
Playoff stats: 15.3 ppg, 13.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 71.4 FG%
In the regular season, the Jazz were 19.1 points per 100 possessions better when Rudy Gobert in the floor, a preposterously impressive number speaking extremely highly of the French center’s impact. In the playoffs? That number is up to 22.4 points per 100 possessions. He may not score much, but Gobert’s impact defensively and on the glass is almost hard to quantify – it’s that important for an elite Utah club.
For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.
Paul George (LA Clippers)
Playoff stats: 24.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.6 3PTM, 44.4 FG%
Paul George picked a great time to have his best performance of the postseason, as Game 3 with the Clippers down 2-0 was a pivotal outing for the Clippers’ campaign. George stepped up in a massive way that night, scoring 31 points, dishing out five assists and knocking down six triples in a 26-point win for Los Angeles. Now, George has to perform at a similar level for the Clippers to even the series before going back to Utah. No pressure, Playoff P.
For the latest Paul George rumors, click here.
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)
Playoff stats: 22.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 47.2 FG%
How quickly things can change in the NBA. The Nets went from looking like championship favorites this time last week to dropping two in a row to Milwaukee and losing Irving potentially for an important amount of time due to an ugly rolled ankle. Luck was always going to factor into this year’s championship in a huge way and the Nets are learning that the hard way.
For the latest Kyrie Irving rumors, click here.
Ja Morant (Memphis)
Playoff stats: 30.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 8.2 apg, 2.0 3PTM, 48.7 FG%
For the latest Ja Morant rumors, click here.