Playoff MVP Race: Trae Young enters Top 5 after Game 1 performance

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Playoff MVP Race: Trae Young enters Top 5 after Game 1 performance

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Playoff MVP Race: Trae Young enters Top 5 after Game 1 performance

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Only eight teams remain in the 2020-21 NBA Playoffs, with the league’s other 22 franchises already on vacation even despite the valiant efforts of various now-eliminated superstars.

Our latest installment of the 2020-21 NBA Playoff MVP Race series will reflect the latter players, too, with one eliminated player still sitting in the Top 5 of the ranking and two others inside of the overall Top 15.

Below, check out the latest part of our playoff MVP series, as voted on by our team of writers.

1
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Playoff stats: 32.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.6 apg, 2.3 spg, 61.2 FG%

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard reminded everyone he’s one of the top basketball players in the world over the weekend, first on Friday with a masterful 45-point, six-rebound performance in a must-win road game against the Dallas Mavericks, and then again on Sunday in the decisive Game 7 with a 28-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist, four-steal explosion.

Over the course of the two must-win outings for the Clippers, Leonard shot 70.0 percent on 40 total field-goal attempts, an absurd level of accuracy considering the average level of difficulty on most of his shot attempts.

Leonard was so great, in fact, that according to a reporter from NBA.com, his performance in the series against Dallas was historic, efficiency-wise:

An even tougher challenge awaits Leonard and Co. in the next round against the Utah Jazz, so it’ll be fun to see what the two-time Finals MVP is able to do against one of the league’s top defenses and interior defenders.

What’s clear is: Leonard makes a case to be the best player remaining in the playoffs.

For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.

 

2
Luka Doncic (Dallas)

Playoff stats: 35.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 10.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 40.8 3PT%

The Dallas Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since their championship run in 2011, and that didn’t change this weekend.

It’s impossible to fault Luka Doncic for that, though, as the Slovenian superstar went off for 46 points in Game 7, on the road, no less, which is one point under the record for scoring in a Game 7 (Dominique Wilkins, who dropped 47 points in a game 7 in 1988 against the Boston Celtics, still owns that record).

Leonard had huge praise for Doncic after the tough contest, telling collected media (via ESPN):

“Oh man, he did everything,” said Leonard, who had 28 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists in Game 7. “Shooting it very efficiently, from 3 for sure, off-the-dribble shots, just doing it all for his team. He’s a great player. You’re going to see him for many years to come. He’s playing at his own pace, making it look easy out there.”

It’ll be an interesting offseason for Doncic and the Mavericks, however, as the team’s roster clearly isn’t on the level of Doncic, and changes will likely be necessary if the team wants to compete at a championship level.

There’s already scuttle surrounding Kristaps Porzingis being unhappy in Dallas as the second fiddle to Doncic (via ESPN):

But Porzingis has been frustrated, often feeling more like an afterthought than a co-star as Doncic dominates the ball and the spotlight, sources told ESPN. Porzingis frequently made thinly veiled references during his postgame media availabilities, such as saying the “ball actually moved tonight” after high-scoring performances or stating that the offense didn’t involve him on low-scoring nights.

Porzingis averaged 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc in the series against Los Angeles.

For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.

3
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)

Playoff stats: 32.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.2 bpg, 53.3 FG%

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant has been spectacular thus far in the 2020-21 postseason, putting up huge numbers nightly and battling Leonard for the honor of Best Player Remaining in the playoffs.

Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks and their abundance of top-tier defenders was no different, either, with Durant scoring 29 points on 48.0 percent shooting while chipping in 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks.

Durant has been a great leader for Brooklyn, too, refusing to let the team fold when things get tough thus far in the postseason (via Yahoo Sports):

A belief was the Nets would cower at the first sign of adversity, but this group is steeled in unique ways. “This is a life lesson. You focus on what you can control,” Durant said. “You know, that’s one of those things that you can’t control, like somebody gets injured or what can happen in the future. I mean, we looking around the league and seeing what’s happening.”

Game 2 tonight will undoubtedly be tougher for Durant and the Nets – the Bucks won’t shoot 20.0 percent from three again – but odds are, he’ll be up for the challenge.

The former league MVP didn’t even play that well in Game 1 and Brooklyn still comfortably won by eight.

For the latest Kevin Durant rumors, click here.

4
Trae Young (Atlanta)

Playoff stats: 30.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 9.8 apg, 3.0 3PTM, 44.8 FG%

You know the 2020-21 playoff field is absolutely loaded with talent when a player who’s been as productive and overall excellent as Trae Young sits merely fourth in our rankings, but here we are.

In his first taste of postseason action, facing two of the league’s toughest defenses already, Young has been spectacular, not just with his scoring and playmaking but with his ability to come up big in key moments and knowing when the Atlanta Hawks need him to attack and when they need him to set the table for others.

Young scored 35 points in Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers to go with 10 assists, two steals and four three-pointers and was so dominant that potential Defensive Player of the Year Ben Simmons said after the game that he wanted to take it upon himself to defend Young more:

Game 2 will present bigger challenges for Young if Simmons does defend him from start to finish, but judging from how he’s handled every challenge thus far this postseason, he should be able to handle it.

For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.

5
Nikola Jokic (Denver)

Playoff stats: 33.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.5 3PTM, 52.8 FG%

Presumptive regular-season MVP Nikola Jokic has carried his excellent form over into the playoffs, elevating his level even further in Games 5 and 6 with the stakes the highest when it appeared his first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers was headed for seven games.

Over those two contests, Jokic put up 37.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.0 blocks while shooting nearly 51 percent from the floor and 93.8 percent from the foul line, leading the Denver Nuggets to an 18-point total margin of victory in the two games, ending the series in six.

Now, a series against the Phoenix Suns awaits Jokic and Co., as well as a matchup against rising center Deandre Ayton, who Jokic cited as the big man who’s given him the most problems this season:

That should be a fun battle, but one that Jokic should fare well in considering his level of form in 2020-21, where he’s looked truly unstoppable.

For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.

6
Devin Booker (Phoenix)

Playoff stats: 29.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.5 3PTM, 42.9 3PT%

Devin Booker answered all questions about how he’d handle his first taste of the NBA playoffs with aplomb, performing extremely well against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in Round 1, never better than in the deciding road contest, Game 6.

That night, Booker exploded for 47 points on 22 shot attempts along with 11 rebounds and three assists, becoming one of just four players in league history, along with Michael JordanDirk Nowitzki and Bob Cousy, to have at least that many points with a minimum of that many shot attempts in a playoff game.

One of Booker’s primary defenders in the series, Dennis Schroeder, had high praise for the former Kentucky standout after the game, saying:

Schroeder might not be that far off with that assessment; the Suns are not just loaded but also well-balanced, and Booker has stepped up in a huge way in the postseason.

Phoenix-Denver should be a whole lot of fun.

For the latest Devin Booker rumors, click here.

7
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

Playoff stats: 25.6 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.4 spg, 50.0 FG%

Game 1 didn’t exactly go great for the Bucks, but Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t sweating it yet, comparing the contest to Game 1 against the Miami Heat from the first round, which Milwaukee found a way to win in overtime despite a poor overall team performance.

The Nets are not the Heat this season, though, so Antetokounmpo and Co. are going to have to figure things out quickly if they want to even the series tonight before heading back to Milwaukee.

In fairness to Antetokounmpo, however, he was one of the few Bucks who did not look fazed in Game 1 against Brooklyn, scoring 34 points on 66.7 percent shooting, securing 11 rebounds and dishing out four helpers, and it would have been more had his teammates not shot it so poorly.

For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.

8
Damian Lillard (Portland)

Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic

Playoff stats: 28.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.5 apg, 4.1 3PTM, 45.1 FG%

The season has ended early yet again for Damian Lillard, who has made it to the conference finals just once in his career with the Blazers to this point, and who will be one of the most bandied-about potential trade candidates this offseason.

Lillard went out swinging, however, going off for 55 points on just 24 field-goal attempts and sinking multiple game-tying step-back triples in Game 5 against the Nuggets in what was unquestionably one of the greatest early-round playoff performances the league has ever seen.

Lillard has wasted no time this offseason, already starting to take a more hands-on approach with the Blazers, telling the media he wanted Jason Kidd or Chauncey Billups to be the team’s next head coach.

Kidd has already publicly turned down the job, but that Lillard is already being this vocal about changes he wants made in Portland is noteworthy, to say the least.

For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.

9
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)

Playoff stats: 24.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.8 3PTM, 47.8 FG%

Outside of Game 4 against the Celtics, Kyrie Irving hasn’t had to have a truly outrageous performance for the Nets to eke out a win, instead providing the Nets with steady high-level shot-making and some playmaking.

Irving knows, however, that both he and his team have the ability to rise to any occasion, which is why they’re such serious threats to finish the campaign as champions this year (via USA Today Sports):

“We have the capability of rising to the occasion,” Irving said. “We’re a very mature basketball club because we play selflessly and trust each other. Any situation in the game, I feel like we have the talent, we have preparation, we have the coaching staff to be able go to go out and execute. After that, its just mainly up to us to continue to play the right way.”

With James Harden now set to potentially miss some time with another hamstring issue, Irving may need to do more scoring and playmaking for the Nets for the foreseeable future, but that shouldn’t be a problem for the explosive guard who knows what it takes to win a championship.

For the latest Kyrie Irving rumors, click here.

10
James Harden (Brooklyn)

Playoff stats: 23.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 8.8 apg, 1.7 spg, 55.6 FG%

Speaking of Harden, how nice must it be for the Nets to have three players in the Top 10 of our 2020-21 Playoff MVP rankings?

According to at least one metric, NBA Math’s Total Points Added clip, Harden hasn’t just been the Nets’ best player this postseason, prior to the injury, but the most impactful player of the playoffs as a whole.

Harden and Brooklyn may have dodged a bullet with his latest hamstring flare-up, as the team is referring to the injury as tightness rather than a flat-out strain, but what’s scary is even without the bearded superstar for 47 of Game 1’s 48 minutes, the Nets still completely outclassed an elite Bucks squad.

Tough to argue against anyone saying Brooklyn is the current title favorite.

For the latest James Harden rumors, click here.

11
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Playoff stats: 27.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.4 3PTM, 61.6 FG%

Joel Embiid returned from his meniscus injury faster than just about anyone expected, and performed well in his first outing back, dropping 39 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks in Game 1 against the Hawks, albeit in a four-point loss for the Sixers. For Embiid to have that type of performance with one bad knee and against a defender like Clint Capela is extremely impressive, to say the least.

For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.

12
Donovan Mitchell (Utah)

Playoff stats: 28.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 45.0 FG%

Donovan Mitchell has rounded back into pre-injury form quickly, dropping 30 points in Games 4 and 5 apiece to lead the Jazz to a 4-1 series victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Western Conference semis will be more challenging for Mitchell, however, who’ll be tasked with scoring on the likes of Leonard, Paul GeorgeMarcus Morris, etc. It’ll be fun to see Mitchell step up to that challenge.

For the latest Donovan Mitchell rumors, click here.

13
Rudy Gobert (Utah)

Playoff stats: 17.4 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 3.2 bpg, 77.8 FG%

Mitchell’s frontcourt mate Rudy Gobert was his usual dominant self in Round 1 against Memphis, leading all postseason players in blocks per contest and shooting nearly 78.0 percent from the floor. Scoring on Gobert will be a monstrous task for Leonard and George, but the Clippers will likely try and counter the big man by playing the floor-spacing Morris whenever Gobert is on the court.

For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.

14
Ja Morant (Memphis)

Playoff stats: 30.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 8.2 apg, 2.0 3PTM, 48.7 FG%

To say Ja Morant stepped up to the plate and hit a bomb in his first run of postseason action would be an understatement, as Morant was absolutely spectacular against Utah despite the defeat in five games. The future is extremely bright for Ja and the Grizzlies as a whole.

For the latest Ja Morant rumors, click here.

15
Tobias Harris (Philadelphia)

Playoff stats: 24.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.5 spg, 51.8 FG%

Tobias Harris’ playoff numbers have been impressive enough to force a double-take, with the forward putting up a 24/10/4 stat line through six games so far on solid efficiency. And if his three-point shooting picks back up to regular-season levels (he’s at 36.0 percent from deep in the playoffs after shooting 39.4 percent from that area during the season), look out for the Sixers.

For the latest Tobias Harris rumors, click here.

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