With the 2020-21 NBA regular season officially over, we have reached the final installment of our weekly MVP Race series for this campaign, and although the very top of the rankings has been quiet for a while now, there has been some fascinating movement down the rest of the list this week.
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.
Nikola Jokic (Denver)
Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic has had a historically great campaign, one that he’ll be rewarded for by, almost undoubtedly, taking home MVP for 2020-21.
Other players made it interesting, but there are just so many factors in Jokic’s favor this season.
For starters, he hasn’t missed a game all campaign, which would make him the first MVP to play every game in a season since the legendary Kobe Bryant in 2007-08.
Nikola Jokic is the only All-Star to play the full schedule this season.
He would be the first MVP not to miss a single game since Kobe Bryant in 2007-08.
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) May 17, 2021
Over that span Jokic has been absolutely dominant, putting up a 26.4/10.8/8.3 stat line on outstanding 56.6/38.8/86.8 shooting splits.
The advanced metrics are even more impressive, as Jokic leads the league this season in PER, Offensive Win Shares, Win Shares, Win Shares/48 Minutes, Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Box Plus/Minus and Value Over Replacement (info via Basketball-Reference).
That’s absolutely outrageous and speaks to just how excellent the Serbian big man has been in 2020-21.
And that’s without even mentioning the fact that after the Nuggets’ No. 2 player this year, Jamal Murray, went down in mid-April, Jokic has led Denver to a 13-5 record and a +5.0 net rating.
So while other superstars made the race somewhat interesting towards the end of this year, they were really fighting for second place.
This has been Jokic’s award for over a month now.
For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.
Stephen Curry (Golden State)
Our MVP Race series ends with Stephen Curry in the highest position he’s been in all season, at No. 2 overall, and if it weren’t for how consistently amazing Jokic has been all year, this year’s MVP could very well have been Curry.
Curry finishes 2020-21 as the league’s leading scorer at 32 points per game and on absurd run of form, putting up 36.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 43.7 percent from three since late March, a 24-game stretch.
Over that span of time, Curry’s Golden State Warriors’ squad went 17-9 and boasted a +5.0 net rating, the seventh-best mark in the league, very impressive clips considering the team’s lack of scoring and playmaking options outside of Curry and Draymond Green.
Also bolstering Curry’s case is the fact that various other players around the league, including LeBron James and Ja Morant most recently, believe the 33-year-old is this season’s MVP.
LeBron James says he believes Stephen Curry is most deserving of MVP this season.
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 17, 2021
MVP. no debate ‼️ https://t.co/W4H5WvIVHB
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) May 16, 2021
Had Curry extended his form over the past six-plus weeks and played at that level since the start of the campaign, he would probably be this year’s MVP.
But Jokic has been unstoppable from the jump, the Nuggets have a far better record than Golden State and the Warriors might not even make the playoffs following the play-in tournament.
Hence, that’s why we believe Curry finishes second in this debate, despite what James and Morant have to say.
Nevertheless, there’s no doubt Curry just completed one of the most exciting closes to a season ever, and it’ll be thrilling to watch him try and extend that form into the postseason.
For the latest Stephen Curry rumors, click here.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)
Joel Embiid’s huge 2020-21 season ended on a bit of a whimper, with the superstar center sitting out two of the Philadelphia 76ers’ final four games and putting up just 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds over the two games he did participate in.
That, coupled with Curry’s continued flamethrowing close to the year, was enough to knock Embiid out of the No. 2 spot of these rankings in the final installment of the series.
Regardless, the Sixers had little to play for late in the season once they locked up the No. 1 seed in the East, something that could come up big later in the playoffs as far as having homecourt in a potential series against the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks or whoever else, so it’s understandable why Philadelphia gave Embiid less playing time recently.
At this point, both Embiid and the Sixers likely care far more about a deep playoff run than the big man trying to sneak his way back into the top of the MVP picture anyway.
For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Another player with a relatively quiet close to 2020-21 is Giannis Anetokounmpo, but, like Embiid, Antetokounmpo is likely more concerned with the playoffs than a regular-season award at this point.
Most exciting for Antetokounmpo will be a shot at playoff redemption right off the bat this year, as the Milwaukee Bucks will match up with the Miami Heat in the first round of the postseason.
That series will be huge for Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee’s confidence going forward, as a convincing victory over the team that embarrassed them to close out 2019-20 could have them thinking championship this season, while another defeat to Miami would mean… the Bucks regroup and try again next season considering Antetokounmpo already signed a max extension with the club.
Mike Budenholzer could be in trouble if the latter happens, however.
For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.
Damian Lillard (Portland)
With the pressure firmly on the Portland Trail Blazers to win their last few games of the campaign to avoid the play-in tournament, Damian Lillard stepped up to the plate and delivered, averaging 32.4 points and 7.3 assists while shooting 57.8 percent from the floor(!), 49.2 percent from three and 94.1 percent from the foul stripe over Portland’s last seven games of 2020-21, six of which were victories for the Blazers.
As such, Portland will avoid the play-in tournament this season and instead face off with Denver in Round 1, which should be a thrilling series pitting two Top 5 MVP candidates against each other.
Lillard recently discussed what these playoffs mean for both him and for the Blazers, and how another postseason failure could lead to speculation about the club’s future (via The Athletic):
He hears that talk but said he doesn’t think there is more pressure than usual for this team to succeed. Still, he acknowledged this Blazers team will probably be viewed through a different lens than years prior. “I mean, I see every year when we get to this point as pivotal,” Lillard told The Athletic. “Because at every point, it’s an evaluation: Where do we go from here? Like, can we get the job done as we are? And if not, where do we go from here? What is the change that needs to be made? That’s just what it is. And I don’t know where that change comes from, you know, maybe we … I don’t know if it’s moving players, I don’t know if it’s a coaching change … whatever it is that happens in the NBA, the changes that are made when you look at the postseason and what you consider success and failure, and things like that, and what changes you have to make to improve or give yourself a better chance. I think we’ve done a lot, and I think every year we get to this point and it’s like ‘What is it that will get us to where we want to be?’
Lillard appears cool, calm and collected ahead of the playoffs, as you’d want your team’s superstar to be, but it’s clear he understands major changes could be ahead if the Blazers don’t show some fight in the playoffs.
The next few weeks are going to be fascinating for Portland.
For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.
Luka Doncic (Dallas)
Another fascinating first-round playoff matchup features Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in a rematch against the Los Angeles Clippers in Round 1, a series that took place last postseason and that had incredible shot-making, loads of trash talk and accusations of dirty play.
Making the series even more interesting is the fact that the Clippers tanked their final two games of the season in order to get Dalla in the first round and avoid the possibility of playing the Los Angeles Lakers early on in the playoffs.
Doncic finishes our series ranked sixth overall in the MVP Race after completing a campaign in which he averaged 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists.
It may not have been the MVP-caliber league year many predicted for Doncic this season, but he’s clearly still headed down the path to be considered an all-time great, and this postseason is going to be huge for his development.
For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)
Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers prioritized the playoffs over regular-season awards late in the league year, and as such, the former two-time Finals MVP had a meager close to the season, sitting back-to-back games to close 2020-21 and averaging just 18.2 points and 5.7 assists over his final six games.
There’s no doubt Leonard will be nice and refreshed when the playoffs tip-off, however, which will be important considering he’ll be tasked with helping slow down an elite offensive player like Doncic in Round 1.
For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.
Rudy Gobert (Utah)
The favorite for Defensive Player of the Year this season, Rudy Gobert was the most impactful player by far for a Utah Jazz team that finished 2020-21 with the most wins (52) and the best net rating (+9.0) in the league.
Gobert led the league in nightly blocks this season with 2.7, the second time he’s accomplished that in his career, while also contributing 14.3 points and 13.5 rebounds.
Additionally, with him on the floor, the Jazz were 19.1 points per 100 possessions better than when he was on the bench, an almost hard to fathom mark and one that speaks to the weight of his impact whenever he’s in the game for Utah.
The French 7-footer also finished the season ranked second in Win Shares, trailing just Jokic in the rankings for the advanced metric.
He may not get the credit he deserves from the average fan for one reason or another, but Gobert has developed into not just one of the best big men in the league, but one of the most game-changing players in basketball, period.
For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.
Chris Paul (Phoenix)
The league-leader in free throw percentage for 2020-21 at 93.4 percent, Chris Paul has without a doubt been the catalyst for a Phoenix Suns team that went from missing the playoffs 10 years in a row before qualifying again this season.
Sure, there were signs of the Suns starting to turn things around late in 2019-20, particularly in the bubble, but for Phoenix to go from being out of the postseason last year with a +0.5 net rating to finishing this year with the second-most wins in the league and the third-best net rating in the NBA (+5.9) just proves the importance of Paul’s addition.
Paul finished 2020-21 averaging 16.4 points, 8.9 assists (the fourth-highest average in the league) and 1.4 steals per contest while ranking 11th in the NBA in VORP, 14th in BPM and sixth in Win Shares.
Not bad for a 36-year-old with a supposed albatross of a contract.
For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.
Julius Randle (New York)
After most expected them to be mostly irrelevant this season in the East, the New York Knicks locked up home court in the first round of the playoffs this weekend and are set to face a similar upstart club in the Atlanta Hawks.
Along with Tom Thibodeau, that’s mostly thanks to Julius Randle and his magnificent 2020-21 campaign.
For the year, Randle averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game while shooting a career-best 41.1 percent from beyond the arc and 81.1 percent from the foul stripe.
And in what’s surely music to the ears of Knicks fans, the versatile big man is already discussing wanting to retire as a New York Knick (via SNY):
With the best season of his career winding down — until the playoffs begin again next week — Julius Randle has declared his commitment to wanting to remain with the Knicks franchise for the rest of his career. “I love playing in New York. I want to retire as a New York Knick,” Randle said on The Victory podcast when talking about his hopes of signing a new long-term deal with the team either this summer or after he becomes a free agent in 2022.
We’re pretty sure the Knicks won’t have a problem helping Randle make that happen.
For the latest Julius Randle rumors, click here.
Jimmy Butler (Miami)
Jimmy Butler sat out the last two games of the Heat’s season due to back problems, so he should be fresh for the postseason. Those absences proved costly for Miami, however, as it meant instead of possibly finishing fourth or fifth in the East with an easier first-round matchup, the team now gets a contender in Milwaukee right away in Round 1. In fairness, Butler probably wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
For the latest Jimmy Butler rumors, click here.
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)
Despite how many speedbumps the Nets have had to endure this season, Kyrie Irving just posted one of the best shooting seasons in league history, finishing the year shooting 50.6 percent from the floor, 40.2 percent from three and 92.2 percent from the free-throw line, which places him in the elite 50/40/90 club. He’s just the ninth player in the exclusive group, joining a list that features his current head coach, Steve Nash.
For the latest Kyrie Irving rumors, click here.
Zion Williamson (New Orleans)
Like Irving, Zion Williamson also made history this season, becoming the player with the highest field-goal percentage in a campaign they put up over 25 points per game, according to Justin Kubatko. Williamson finished the year shooting 61.1 percent from the floor, edging out all-time greats Kevin McHale (60.4 percent), Charles Barkely (60.0 percent), Shaquille O’Neal (59.9 percent) and Amare Stoudemire (59.0 percent) on the list.
For the latest Zion Williamson rumors, click here.
Trae Young (Atlanta)
His individual numbers may have dropped this season, but the fact that Trae Young has the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs in just his third campaign is extremely impressive and proves both Atlanta and Dallas benefited greatly from the Young-Doncic swap from draft night three years ago. Young finished 2020-21 averaging 25.3 points and 9.4 assists per game, the latter mark being the third-highest in the league this year.
For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.
LeBron James (LA Lakers)
The quest for championship No. 5 begins in the play-in tournament for LeBron and Co., against Curry and Golden State, something that NBA execs have to be thrilled about, as the ratings for that matchup Wednesday night should be massive. For what it’s worth, and it could very well be to serve up an easily digestible narrative right off the bat, James said this weekend that Curry is his choice for MVP this season.
For the latest LeBron James rumors, click here.