MVP Race: Rudy Gobert enters the Top 10

nba 2020-21 mvp rankings gobert jokic lebron embiid

MVP Race: Rudy Gobert enters the Top 10

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MVP Race: Rudy Gobert enters the Top 10

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It’s time for the seventh part of our weekly 2020-21 NBA MVP rankings, and though there hasn’t been a change to the Top 3, the vote is getting much closer than it has been in previous weeks.

We also have new players both entering the Top 10 of the rankings, as well as making the list for the first time in general.

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)

A somewhat disappointing 2020-21 campaign for the Denver Nuggets – one that has them 15-11 and seventh in the West right now – is the only thing preventing a clean sweep for Nikola Jokic as being the top player in each of our writers’ individual rankings. As it stands, three of our writers ranked him first while two had him second and one had him third.

Regardless, Denver is starting to turn things around, winning three-straight games which, interestingly enough, have come in some of Jokic’s quieter games statistically. Over that stretch, the star big man is averaging just 19.0 points but also chipping in 11.7 rebounds and 10.3 assists while shooting 55.0 percent from the floor.

Besides the obvious ridiculous output, Jokic has done a great job as a leader this year for Denver, as evidenced by these recent comments by Michael Porter following a viral moment where Jokic looked visibly upset with the young swingman after he took a bad shot in a game (via The Athletic):

“I think Nikola, he knows,” Porter Jr. began. “He sees me working every day. He knows how hard I work, and I think he expects a lot of me. So me and Nikola’s relationship, a lot of it is just him getting on me (and) knowing I can be better. And I don’t take any of that personally, because I know I’m my biggest critic. I know I can be better, especially when I have bad games. So we’ve got a good relationship on the court. He just expects a lot from me. He wants me to help him out there, so that’s what I’ve got to try to do. Everybody knows I can score. I think my teammates just want me to be locked in in the other areas of the game. So for me, it’s not letting scoring determine my energy on the defensive end. I think that’s what I did (against Cleveland) that I kind of liked. I just felt like I was locked in the whole game, didn’t have too many lapses. That’s progress. Just not basing a good game off of scoring. …As long as my team’s doing good, I can affect the game in other ways.”

Jokic’s growth as a player has come in more ways than one, and it’s a big reason why he’s been such a prominent part of MVP discussions early on this season.

At the moment, he remains the league-leader in Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WS/48), Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), per Basketball-Reference.

2
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Philadelphia 76ers star big man Joel Embiid has made a push to the top of these rankings, as two of our writers actually had him at No. 1.

It’s easy to see why, too, as Embiid has averaged 34.3 points and 10.1 rebounds over his last 11 games before sitting out Monday night’s contest against the Utah Jazz. 

The analytics are fawning over Embiid’s campaign this year, as he leads the league in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) at 31.1. That mark puts him in historically great company, too:

Embiid currently ranks third in the NBA in scoring (29.6) and 13th in rebounds (10.8), and has a ridiculous 66.5 true shooting percentage, by far the best mark of his career. Prior to this season, Embiid had never posted a true shooting percentage higher than 59.3.

It’s a shame the star center missed Monday’s much-anticipated matchup against the on-fire Jazz and fellow stud big man Rudy Gobert, as a big performance there could have vaulted Embiid into the top spot of the rankings this week.

3
LeBron James (LA Lakers)

LeBron James has continued his great season over the past week, averaging 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists over his last four games, three of which were victories for the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, James will have his hands full for the foreseeable future as star teammate Anthony Davis is set to miss the next few weeks as he heals from an Achilles/calf injury that L.A. will be sure to be careful with. How James responds to the added workload could very easily move him up or down these rankings, though, odds are, he’ll continue to put up ridiculous numbers.

Recently, Davis said that James should be this year’s MVP, and that only league politics could get in the way of that.

Now, how that makes any sense considering James is by far the most popular player in the league and extremely well-respected by the media, fans and fellow players alike is hard to decipher, but Davis must know something the rest of us don’t.

Regardless, James has continued to post monstrous numbers even in this, his age-36 season, and he has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

4
Stephen Curry (Golden State)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know former two-time league MVP Stephen Curry is arguably playing the best basketball of his career right now.

No, that’s not hyperbole.

Curry, the league’s second-leading scorer at 30.1 points per game, has been on fire for weeks now, averaging 31.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists over his last 17 games, shooting 54.4 percent from the floor, 47.7 percent from three and 93.4 percent from the foul stripe over that stretch.

Curry has hit at least 50 percent of his field-goal attempts in his last 10 games while scoring 34.5 points per contest in that span. That makes him the first guard since Michael Jordan to shoot over 50 percent and average at least 25 points per game over a 10-game stretch.

When you consider how difficult Curry’s average shot attempt is, too, you start to realize just how outrageous the tear he’s been on is.

That’s why Curry has been able to catapult himself up these rankings, going from sitting 12th merely three weeks ago to being fourth now, and even then, we might still be underrating his candidacy a bit.

5
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard has missed his last two games due to a minor injury, but he’s been so good on the campaign as a whole that he still ranks this high in our rankings this week.

In his prior eight games before sitting out, Leonard had averaged 28.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and 85.0 percent from the foul stripe.

Leonard recently opened up about his respect for NBA legend Allen Iverson, discussing how the explosive point guard influenced him when Leonard was younger:

6
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on an absolute tear recently, averaging 31.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.0 blocks over his last six games while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor.

Unfortunately for the Milwaukee Bucks, the team as a whole is trending in the opposite direction, losing their last three games, including an embarrassing defeat to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.

In fairness, the team has been without Jrue Holiday for that entire stretch of losses, which goes to show just how important their newly acquired point guard is – and will be – for their playoff chances this season. 

Antetokounmpo is an outstanding talent, but he needs some help, as has been proven over Milwaukee’s last two playoff runs. ESPN recently talked to league executives about just that, and they weren’t convinced the Greek Freak can be the guy to be an elite closer, something that has proven problematic for the Bucks in the postseason recently:

Meanwhile, a troubling trend has emerged in Antetokounmpo’s struggles at the free throw line. He’s shooting 63.3%, fifth worst in the NBA among qualified players. He missed a potential tying free throw in the final second of Milwaukee’s season-opening loss to the Boston Celtics, raising questions about whether he can be a closer. “Are you going to win with him shooting [63%] from the line?” asked an Eastern Conference scout. “That is a huge deal.” “I just don’t know if Khris Middleton will be good enough to be the go-to guy down the stretch,” a West scout said. “Giannis clearly isn’t going to be it.” 

Antetokounmpo will have every chance to prove critics wrong about that, but he’ll have to do it in the playoffs, so it’ll be a bit before we have a definitive answer on whether he can lead a team all the way or not.

7
Damian Lillard (Portland)

It doesn’t get discussed nearly enough, but the Portland Trail Blazers, despite a plethora of injuries to their starting lineup, have won four games in a row, two of which came against tough opponents: Philadelphia and the Dallas Mavericks.

That in its own right strengthens Damian Lillard’s case for MVP consideration, and that’s without even mentioning how well he’s playing individually. Over that win streak for Portland, Lillard has averaged 30.0 points and 7.3 assists while hitting nearly 93 percent of his 10-plus nightly free-throw attempts.

Lillard recently talked about his MVP candidacy (via The Athletic):

There is a lot of season to go, but as the Blazers continue to win –  and Lillard continues to not only produce but also lead –  that MVP conversation might extend to include him. His Sunday performance, complete with the game-deciding shot, is just another line on his resume. “That’s what you see in MVPs,” Lillard said. “And obviously, I see myself at the top of the league. I’m one of the best players in this league, and I feel like I’m on that level. And the way our team is playing given our circumstances makes it even more obvious to me.”

Have to respect that level of well-earned confidence by the five-time All-Star guard.

8
Luka Doncic (Dallas)

After a slow start to the season, Luka Doncic and the Mavericks have started to turn things around recently, winning four of their last five games behind otherworldly performances by their Slovenian superstar.

In that stretch, Doncic is averaging 37.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 9.4 assists while shooting 54.0 percent from the floor, 47.6 percent from three and 81.5 percent from the stripe. 

If Doncic, who historically has struggled a bit with his jump shot, is able to maintain anything resembling that level of efficiency from three, he’s going to take a leap that puts him in truly special company league-wide.

As is, he’s performing like a Top 7 player.

Fellow MVP candidate Lillard recently showed a lot of respect to Doncic:

Still, Dallas’ slow start to the season has them at 13-15 and 10th in the West, so a lot of pressure will be on Doncic and Co. to maintain their current fantastic form.

9
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)

Kevin Durant has missed a good amount of the season due to COVID-19 protocols and other minor injuries, but all things considered, when you factor in that he’s returning from one of the most brutal injuries an athlete can suffer, the numbers he’s putting up this year still warrant a place in our MVP rankings.

On the year, Durant is averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.4 blocks, and shooting 43.4 percent from beyond the arc.

The process Durant goes through to keep his body ready this campaign has been meticulous (via the Wall Street Journal):

Dave Hancock’s days with Durant included 90 minutes of tedious morning treatment, a gym workout, 90 minutes of exhausting afternoon treatment and evening poolwork. They ordered an antigravity treadmill. They strapped him with biosensors as they replicated the mechanics of his favorite moves. They focused on his entire body, “from his neck to his toe,” Hancock said, as O’Malley watched by FaceTime. Everything they did was meant to prevent the Achilles from stretching. A long tendon is a weak tendon. They had to keep it tight. But for all the resources they poured into a few inches of tissue worth a few hundred million dollars, his British housemate said the key to Durant’s rehab was an unpredictable element that varies by patient. “A lot of this, in my experience, is hard bloody work,” Hancock said.

And it has clearly been paying off.

10
Rudy Gobert (Utah)

The hottest, and arguably best, team in the league this season has been the Jazz, which is how a player like Gobert, averaging merely 13.9 points and 13.2 rebounds for the campaign, finds himself in the Top 10 of our MVP rankings.

Utah has won 19 of their last 20 games now, and the vast majority of those contests haven’t even been close. Only two of those 19 wins have come by fewer than double-digit points, and none have been within one possession, showing what an absurdly dominant stretch this has been for the Jazz.

Utah also leads the league in net rating at +9.2, a mark that approaches the +9.4 net rating Milwaukee had last season, when they were the most dominant regular-season team in the league.

Although it comes down to Gobert or Donovan Mitchell, who you’ll see on these rankings coming up soon, as the Jazz’s best player, it’s actually Gobert who has the (much) better swing rating on the campaign. With Gobert on the floor, Utah is 12.6 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits. Mitchell’s mark is actually a -0.4, making it the second season in a row that the Jazz have been worse by that metric with Mitchell on the floor.

Interesting anomaly aside, the advanced metrics agree Gobert is Utah’s most impactful player, not Mitchell, and his dominance defensively and efficiency on offense have helped the Jazz terrorize opponents this season.

11
James Harden (Brooklyn)

Since embracing his role as the Nets’ lead playmaker, James Harden has been in outstanding form, averaging 23.7 points and 12.1 assists over his last nine games while shooting over 50 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Backcourt mate Kyrie Irving recently talked about a discussion between him and Harden where they finally decided who was going to play which role on the team (via Michael Scotto):

Nets stars Kyrie Irving and James Harden had a brief chat at practice recently to determine who would be the point guard for the team. “I feel like he’s been doing a great job of just managing the point guard role,” Irving said following Brooklyn’s 134-117 win over the Warriors Saturday night. “We established that maybe four days ago. I just looked at him and I said, ‘You’re the point guard, and I’m going to play shooting guard.’ That was as simple as that. He’s been taking control of the responsibilities and doing an incredible job. It just makes my job easier to just go out and play free and just make plays. It’s a luxury. I just want to continue it.”

Roles aside, the Nets, despite a questionable 17-12 record, are dominant against teams with plus-.500 records, a sign that they could be a very scary foe for anyone come playoff time:

12
Paul George (LA Clippers)

Paul George has missed the Clippers’ last six games with a foot injury and though head coach Tyronn Lue says he’s doing better, there’s still no timetable for his return.

The two-way swingman was posting a great season before going down, averaging 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.2 steals.

13
Donovan Mitchell (Utah)

Advanced stats aside, Mitchell has been the Jazz’s top scorer on the season and has done so relatively efficiently, behind a respectable 56.2 true shooting percentage.

Over Utah’s last 20 games, Mitchell has averaged 25.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists on 45.2/42.5/86.0 shooting splits, impressive marks all across the board.

Mitchell is doing that while missing an inordinate amount of dunk attempts, which is surprising considering his explosiveness (via KSL Sports):

Even Mitchell’s first breakout moment in the regular season for Jazz fans came on a spectacular putback dunk against the Los Angeles Lakers, proving that his elite athleticism and knack for highlight-reel plays would translate to the NBA. And yet, something has changed for the All-Star guard this season. Mitchell has just six dunks in 27 games so far and is missing dunks at the highest rate of his career. “I make the joke that I’m getting old,” Mitchell said. “So I stopped dunking.” 

14
Julius Randle (New York)

It shouldn’t even be a debate whether Julius Randle should be an All-Star this season or not, as the big man not only is putting up ridiculous numbers –  23.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 47.6/40.6/80.2 shooting splits –  but he’s doing so while leading a young New York Knicks team to a 14-15 record and a positive net rating, something that not many expected to be the case for them this far into the season.

Teammate RJ Barrett strongly agrees that Randle should be an All-Star for his contributions this campaign, too (via The Athletic):

He has had a remarkable year and this was the latest punctuation. When the 2019-20 season ended he went into the offseason with the All-Star Game as the goal. He is certainly deserving, even if he does not make it. All-Star nods are not selections, they are elections and those can be fickle. But Randle has made his case. “It’s hard not to put him in the game,” RJ Barrett said. “What else does he have to do? The man is an All-Star.” 

We’re probably a bit late adding him to our MVP rankings, but Randle definitely deserves a Top 15 place in this series this week – he’s been outstanding all year long.

15
Anthony Davis (LA Lakers)

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

The latest news for Anthony Davis isn’t as positive as the rest of the players on our rankings, as although he did avoid major injury over the weekend, he’s still dealing Achilles/calf troubles that many expect to keep him sidelined through at least the All-Star break in March.

The Lakers are smartly going to be very careful in bringing him back since they obviously want to avoid making a scary injury worse.

Davis is averaging 22.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks this season.

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