MVP Race: Nikola Jokic takes over top spot

nba 2020-21 mvp rankings nikola jokic kevin durant lebron james

MVP Race: Nikola Jokic takes over top spot


MVP Race: Nikola Jokic takes over top spot

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As most teams hit the 10-game benchmark, the NBA’s top stars are beginning to statistically separate themselves from the pack, and although it’s still way too early to have any serious takes on who will be the 2020-21 league MVP, it’s not difficult to determine who’d be leading the race if we were asked to vote today.

As such, our entire team voted on who we believe the Top-15 players of the 2020-21 season have been to this point, and we averaged out the votes to make a new edition of our MVP rankings.

Let’s get right into it.

Nikola Jokic (Denver)

It’s almost crazy to say a player who has already been a two-time All-Star and a 1st Team All-NBAer is only continuing to get better, but that’s exactly what’s going on with Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic in 2020-21.

Jokic is currently averaging 24.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game with an outrageous 66.3 true shooting percentage. What’s more, Jokic is leading the league in five of the most popular catch-all advanced metrics: Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Win Shares (WS), Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48), Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP).

That’s why even though Denver is off to a relatively disappointing 5-6 start to the campaign, we still had to go with Jokic as our pick for league MVP at this early point in the season.

New York Knicks big man Mitchell Robinson wasn’t too impressed with Jokic after their recent meeting, though, telling the media that he had “no problem” guarding Jokic:

Jokic finished that contest with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on 9-of-15 shooting. His stats would have been more impressive, too, but the Nuggets won that game by 25 points so he barely had to cross the 30-minute threshold.

LeBron James (LA Lakers)

Although LeBron James’ numbers are down across the board this season, both in raw averages and in the advanced stats, he’s still putting up a 24.2/8.3/7.5 stat line and is still by far the Los Angeles Lakers’ most important player.

For proof, look no further than this tidbit written by the The Athletic’s Jovan Buha recently:

This season, the Lakers have a minus-2.5 rating in the 170 minutes without James – the only negative mark of any Lakers player (i.e. the Lakers still have a positive net rating whenever any other player is off the floor).

For a 36-year-old to still be the most impactful player on the first seed in the Western Conference and the No. 2 team in net rating (+8.8) league-wide is absolutely nuts – and explains why we have James so high in this edition of our MVP rankings.

Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Joel Embiid has been a monster to start out the season, averaging 26.6 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 blocks per game while posting a career-best 64.2 true shooting percentage.

The big man also ranks fourth in VORP, third in BPM and second in PER this year, indicating that the advanced stats believe he’s been as dominant of a force as the eye test would tell us.

Additionally, the Philadelphia 76ers, 8-4 on the year, are 17.1 points per 100 possessions better with their starting center on the floor, a ridiculous mark, even for a proven star like Embiid.

Embiid just had his best performance of the year, too, dropping 45 points on 23 shot attempts to go with 16 rebounds, four assists, five steals and one block in a three-point win for the Sixers over the Miami Heat.

That’s the kind of game that gets players included more seriously in MVP discussions.

Paul George (LA Clippers)

After an embarrassing end to last season, Paul George looks like a new man this year, putting up 25.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game while being the league’s top high-volume three-point shooter, hitting 51.2 percent of his looks from deep, the best percentage of any player with at least 50 such attempts.

ESPN recently reported that both George and teammate Kawhi Leonard have been working hard to turn around the Los Angeles Clippers’ culture this year, spending extra time in the gym and playing on opposite teams in practice to liven up the competition:

Considering how talented the team is overall, a culture shift for the positive could be a huge game-changer for the Clippers, and make them a more serious threat to win the West later in the year.

Of course, if George can keep up this level of production in the postseason, that’d help, too.

Stephen Curry (Golden State)

After an outrageous run of form that saw Stephen Curry average 33.7 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 44.0 percent from three over a seven-game stretch, Curry had the worst shooting night of his career late last week, going 2-for-16 (1-of-10 from deep) against the Toronto Raptors.

The good news for Curry? The Golden State Warriors still won the game.

Here’s what the former two-time league MVP had to say after the rough individual performance (via ESPN):

Stephen Curry didn’t allow himself to wallow in self-pity or shake his head in frustration on the night of the worst shooting performance of his career. He smiled wide at the idea that he could go 2-for-16 and the Golden State Warriors could still find a way to squeak out a 106-105 win over the Toronto Raptors, as they did on Sunday night. Did Curry ever think he could shoot that poorly from the field and his team could still win this season? “Well, I never thought I’d go 2-of-16,” Curry said with a grin. “So I never even thought about that.”

Tough shooting night aside, Curry has been spectacular this season, ranking third in scoring league-wide and helping lead Golden State to a 6-5 start to the year, despite a tough schedule.

CJ McCollum (Portland)

CJ McCollum used to be the master of the midrange – and he still dominates from that area, as evidenced by his game-winner against the Raptors this week:

But now that he’s embraced shooting threes over long twos, McCollum is playing by far some of the best basketball of his career. McCollum is presently averaging 28.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game while knocking down an outrageous 44.1 percent of his 11.0 nightly three attempts.

62.2 percent of McCollum’s field-goal attempts came from two-point range last year, per Basketball Reference. This season, that number is down 47.1 percent, the lowest mark of his career, and it’s that transition to the deeper jump shot that has transformed the 2-guard’s game so explosively.

As long as McCollum keeps up this level of play, he’ll be in line not just for his first career All-Star nomination, but even potentially for an All-NBA spot – he’s been that nasty.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

Things have been quiet for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, which, after he signed a max extension with the club over the offseason, was to be expected.

Now surrounded by the best roster he’s ever had around him, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have been dominant, leading the league in net rating yet again this year (+11.1) while Antetokounmpo hasn’t been asked to carry as much of the load as he had to in years prior.

Still, Antetokounmpo’s numbers haven’t suffered too much, as the Greek Freak is averaging 26.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game in 2020-21.

Must be nice to put up numbers that monstrous and for people not to bat an eye at them anymore.

Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)

Kevin Durant has been downright spectacular this season, not even remotely resembling a player who missed over a year of action following a major injury. Durant’s numbers are up to 29.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists nightly with the highest true shooting mark of his career at 67.7 percent.

Most recently, Durant went off for 34 points (on 18 field-goal attempts, mind you), nine rebounds and 13 assists in an impressive 122-116 win for the Brooklyn Nets over the Jokic and the Nuggets. Durant’s performance included the dagger stepback jumper, an absolutely preposterous shot for a man of his size and length:

If it weren’t for Durant missing four games already this season and the Kyrie Irving-related drama surrounding Brooklyn, he’d rank much higher on the list, potentially even at the top.

He’s been that filthy thus far in 2020-21.

Anthony Davis (LA Lakers)

After a bit of a slow start to the season, Davis has looked more like his usual dominant self lately. Overall, his numbers are up to 22.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.9 blocks per game on the campaign – and his impact on both ends can’t be overstated.

His teammate Jared Dudley tweeted the following after a recent Lakers win over the Rockets:

This isn’t the first time Davis’ teammates have campaigned for his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy, but it’s interesting nonetheless to see how high fellow players are on Davis’ defensive impact.

Jayson Tatum (Boston)

The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jayson Tatum had a beastly seven-day stretch for the Boston Celtics, averaging 30.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists on 50.6/51.5/100.0 shooting splits over a four-game span.

However, Tatum and the Celtics have been shut down this week due to COVID-19 protocols, with reports stating that the Boston star himself tested positive twice for the infection.

Here’s hoping Tatum is back and healthy as soon as possible.

Luka Doncic (Dallas)

While Tatum was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Luka Doncic won the award for the West following a seven-day stretch that saw him 30.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 11.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks over a three-game span, one in which the Dallas Mavericks went 3-0.

Doncic also recently made history by becoming the fourth-fastest player to reach 1,000 career points, rebounds and assists:

Keep in mind that Doncic started his career as a 19-year-old, making his accomplishment all the more impressive, too.

After a slow start to the season, Doncic has looked firmly back on track recently.

Jaylen Brown (Boston)

Due to the Celtics’ shutdown, there isn’t much to say about Jaylen Brown’s season that we didn’t say in the first edition of these rankings.

He’s been fantastic this season, reaching heights that even his biggest admirers probably didn’t know he had, averaging 26.3 points and 1.7 steals per contest while shooting a career-best mark of 42.1 percent from three over 10 games.

Once he gets back on the court, we expect much of the same for the fifth-year Cal product.

Nikola Vucevic (Orlando)

Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic has been a beast on offense dating back to to 2014-15, and yet, he may be at the very best form of his career in 2020-21.

Vucevic is averaging 22.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists with a 57.0 percent effective field-goal percentage, helping carry an Orlando team that not many expected to be a playoff contender this year due to the major injuries that hit their starting lineup to a 6-5 record and the fifth seed in the East.

Domantas Sabonis (Indiana)

Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers

Big man Domantas Sabonis made a leap last season becoming an All-Star in his first year as a full-time starter for the Pacers. He was famously called the worst player selected to the All-Star Game in a long time, though, and not many people expected him to take another step forward this season. But here we are: Sabonis has continued to grow as a player and is improving his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers for the fourth year in a row, which is kind of impressive. He’s actually the lone NBA player averaging 20-plus points, 12-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists.

Bradley Beal (Washington)

Bradley Beal has been on an absolute tear this season, somehow improving on the elite form he had in 2019-20. Beal is leading the league in scoring at 34.9 points per game while also chipping in 5.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.4 steals nightly.

Even so, the Washington Wizards are 3-8 to start the season, leading to speculation about the star guard’s future with the team that drafted him; one report went so far as to list the Miami Heat as a rumored potential suitor.

With Washington continuously wasting his best scoring performances (the Wizards have won just 25 percent of the games where Beal has scored 40-plus points, the worst mark ever for any player with at least 10 such scoring performances), it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Beal say enough is enough at some point.

We haven’t reached that point yet, though.

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