MVP Race: Joel Embiid takes top spot

2020-21 mvp rankings embiid lebron jokic

MVP Race: Joel Embiid takes top spot


MVP Race: Joel Embiid takes top spot

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We have reached part eight of our weekly 2020-21 NBA MVP rankings and for the first time since Week 1, we have a new player in the No. 1 overall spot in our rankings, although the race is still extremely close at the top.

Below, you can check out the Top 20 players in our MVP rankings for 2020-21, as voted on by our entire team at HoopsHype.

Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Embiid has been frighteningly good all season long, ranking second in the league in scoring at 29.8 points per game to go with 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks behind an absurdly tidy 65.2 true shooting percentage, by far the best mark of his career.

Embiid is just the 10th player in NBA history to average a 29/11/3 stat line, joining a list that includes solely future and current Hall-of-Famers, including Kareem Abdul-JabbarElgin BaylorWilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson.

Embiid is the only big man in the Top 12 in the NBA in scoring average this season, he’s No. 2 in the league in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) at 30.7 and, most importantly, he has been the top player for a 21-11 Sixers team that sits first in the Eastern Conference and looks well-equipped to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in 20 years.

Even despite how great Embiid has been, the race for the top spot in our rankings is still razor-thin at the top, and Embiid’s struggles last night against the Toronto Raptors almost cost him the No. 1 position. Especially when we factored in what the No. 2 player on this list did.

Nikola Jokic (Denver)

It was a fantastic six-week stretch for Nikola Jokic at the top of these rankings, but the Nuggets sitting at 17-14 (seventh in the West), along with how hot Embiid had been prior to his dud against the Raptors led to us making a change at No. 1.

After back-to-back ordinary games that saw Jokic go for 16 and then 15 points last week, the big superstar almost made us go back on our decision to move him to No. 2 last night when he went off for 41 points on 17-of-32 shooting in a Denver Nuggets win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

What’s more, Jokic still leads the NBA in PER, Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 Minutes, Box Plus/Minus and Value Over Replacement Player, pretty much every major catch-all advanced metric, an incredibly impressive accomplishment 30 games into the season.

Plus, although Denver has been somewhat struggling, it’s still way too early to panic about them, as they’ve been hit with a lot of injuries and COVID-related issues, and still boast the league’s sixth-best net rating at +3.9, better than the Brooklyn Nets, 76ers and Toronto Raptors.

Don’t be shocked to see Jokic take his place at the top of these rankings right back next week.

LeBron James (LA Lakers)

The Los Angeles Lakers have hit a bit of a rough patch recently, losing three in a row and four of their last five, despite LeBron James averaging 26.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor.

Those losses have coincided with Anthony Davis’ going down with the calf injury, which could actually strengthen his place in these rankings and hurt James’.

The big LeBron-related talking points recently have been about the number of minutes he’s playing, as the four-time league MVP has been playing 38.0 minutes nightly over the Lakers’ last 15 games, but James said last night the idea of rest for a game or two doesn’t appeal to him:

James would expound on that (via The Athletic):

Entering Monday’s game, however, James was averaging 37.7 minutes per game in February, and on the season he ranks third in the league in total minutes. All of this is against the backdrop of having a six-week offseason and playing a truncated schedule that, for James, will include an All-Star Game on March 7. “We all need more rest. S—,” James said. “This is a fast turnaround from last season and we all wish we could have more rest. But I’m here to work, I’m here to punch my clock in and be available to my teammates and if I’m hurt or if I’m not feeling well then we can look at it then. But I have nothing but honest people around me. I’m also honest with myself, as well. And me having a love for the game and me being able to be available to my teammates is more important than anything.”

So it looks like James won’t be sitting out a game for rest any time soon. And considering his production has remained steadily elite recently, maybe he’s right not to want it.

Damian Lillard (Portland)

Before dropping their last three games, the Portland Trail Blazers had quite impressively won six in a row despite the insane amount of injuries they currently have affecting their rotation, and that excellent run was largely thanks to Damian Lillard’s MVP-level output.

Over his last 20 games, Lillard is averaging 31.4 points, 8.9 assists and 4.4 three-pointers while shooting 94.3 percent from the foul stripe, a span of contests in which Portland is 11-9.

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams called Lillard ‘arguably’ the MVP right now…

…while his own head coach, Terry Stotts, believes he’s the best point guard in the NBA at the moment:

Now, Stephen Curry might have something to say about that, but there’s no doubt Lillard is near the top of the list when discussing both MVP candidates and the league’s top floor generals.

Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Kawhi Leonard has bounced back impressively since missing time with a leg injury, averaging 30.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the three games since his return, a trio of contests that saw the Los Angeles Clippers go 2-1.

The first victory was extremely noteworthy, too, as Leonard led Los Angeles to a four-point win over the hottest team in the league, the Utah Jazz, on Friday night, while the defeat wasn’t embarrassing by any means, as Leonard nearly forced overtime against the equally in-form Brooklyn Nets before an egregious flop by fellow MVP candidate James Harden ended the game.

Leonard discussed the call after the game (via ESPN):

At the start of the drive, Leonard appeared to try to shake Harden from grabbing his left arm. Then as Leonard gathered and went up for the layup, his left forearm made contact with Harden’s torso, and the referees called the foul. “My take from it is if we gonna pretty much play bully ball at the end of the game, let both sides play it,” Leonard said. “But they didn’t call it, so good defense. I got grabbed early, but like I said, no call, so great defense.”

Although the NBA deemed the call correct the next day, there’s something to be said in that fans don’t want to see a game featuring four of the best players in the league end on a pretty soft whistle, considering how physical the game had been to that point.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The Clippers are very legit this season, as their +6.8 net rating ranks third league-wide, and their two-way monster Leonard has been the biggest reason why. That’s why he’s entered the Top 5 of these rankings this week.

Stephen Curry (Golden State)

After an outrageously hot stretch from the outside, Curry has cooled off a bit recently, shooting just 38.6 percent from three over his last five games, though one of those makes was a dagger against the Miami Heat that helped the Golden State Warriors complete a comeback win over the defending Eastern Conference champions:

Curry followed that game up with an 11-for-29 shooting performance against the Orlando Magic, a loss for Golden State, before missing Saturday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets due to illness.

Curry was feeling all better last night, though, unfortunately for the New York Knicks, as evidenced by his 37-point, six-rebound, six-assist performance in Golden State’s eight-point road win in Madison Square Garden.

The former two-time league MVP ranks second in the league in scoring this season at 30.2 per game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

After a rough five-game losing streak, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have turned things around recently, winning their last three games by 53 total points, including a 139-112 demolition of the Minnesota Timberwolves last night.

Antetokounmpo has been on an absolute tear lately, too, pouring in 31.6 points, 12.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.7 blocks over his last 11 games, putting up marks that are arguably even better than the ones he did in his two MVP seasons.

What’s more, Antetokounmpo has been smart not to let that brief losing streak, which has coincided with Jrue Holiday missing time due to COVID-19 protocols, affect him too much (via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel):

The Bucks (16-13) are scheduled to host Oklahoma City on Friday night. “I’m not frustrated. It’s part of it. We’re learning. We try to get better,” Antetokounmpo said. “You can see there was effort behind our action. Obviously we didn’t have the answers. We gotta come back tomorrow, gather our thoughts, put ourselves in a good place, have good energy, just go out there and play. Play hard and enjoy one another. Play for one another. Play together. But obviously it’s part of it.”

Great mindset from the two-time league MVP, one that has helped the team not panic and turn things around in their last three games.

Voter fatigue will greatly hamper any chance he has of winning MVP for a third year in a row, but Antetokounmpo is quietly posting numbers very similar to his two award-winning campaigns.

Luka Doncic (Dallas)

The Dallas Mavericks are playing great basketball recently, winning six of their last seven games and moving up to 15-15, the ninth spot in the West.

Luka Doncic has been the primary reason for that, as the Slovenian superstar is averaging 34.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 48.3 percent from beyond the arc in that stretch.

Doncic hit two ridiculous threes last night to steal a victory for Dallas over the struggling Boston Celtics, including a game-winner with 0.1 seconds left on the clock that resembled the shot he hit in the bubble to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs:

After a disappointing start to the campaign for Doncic and the team, we’re finally starting to see the MVP-level performer many expected to see before the campaign tipped off.

James Harden (Brooklyn)

He won’t come close to actually winning it, but Harden greatly strengthened his MVP case over the Nets’ last five games without Kevin Durant, putting up 31.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 11.4 assists on 52.0/48.9/77.1 shooting splits.

Even more impressively, Harden has just led Brooklyn to a 7-0 stretch, including wins over the Suns, Clippers and Lakers, three of the best teams in the West this season, all of which came on the road.

Harden’s recent run just goes to show how loaded the Nets are, and how difficult it will be to beat them four times in seven games come playoff time.

Donovan Mitchell (Utah)

Last week, it was Rudy Gobert as Utah’s representative in the Top 10 of the MVP rankings.

This week, Donovan Mitchell has taken the spot from his teammate after a week that saw him average 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.3 steals.

Both players are well-deserving of the acclaim they’ve received this season, as their Jazz team has a +9.4 net rating, the best mark in the league by far, and their national TV loss to the Clippers shouldn’t detract from either player’s MVP case.

Paul George (LA Clippers)

Paul George made his return from a foot injury last week and in the three games since his comeback, he’s averaged 26.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists behind a tidy 58.0 field-goal percentage.

Also noteworthy is George doing that under a minutes restriction, one that might have cost the Clippers the big Brooklyn game on Sunday since George wasn’t allowed to check back in to close the contest despite having 34 points.

George was obviously frustrated with not being able to check back in the game (via ESPN):

Afterward, George acknowledged it was frustrating to not be able to close out the game after logging more than 32 minutes and posting 34 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his second outing since returning from a seven-game absence due to a swollen toe. “Man, I think you know the answer to that,” George said when asked how tough it was to sit out the end.” […] “I was ready to go,” George said. “I wanted to keep going.” George said his toe, which was diagnosed as having a bone edema, is not at risk of becoming inflamed by playing again. “I’m clear, I’m good to go, as of now,” George said. “It’s an afterthought. I’m healthy, and I feel good.”

Regardless, the Clippers are wise to be taking the big-picture approach here, as George’s long-term health is far more important than a regular-season matchup in February.

Rudy Gobert (Utah)

Gobert had a relatively ordinary week statistically by his standards, averaging 13.7 points, 15.7 rebounds and 3.3 blocks over his last three games, but his impact, as Jazz fans know, goes way beyond the stat sheet.

In two of those games, Gobert boasted a +25 and a +24 plus/minus, in line with what he’s been doing all season long for the team with the best record in the league.

With Gobert on the floor, Utah is 14.5 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits, as his defensive presence and finishing around the paint have helped make the Jazz a legitimate contender this season.

Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)

The amount of time missed has finally caught up to Kevin Durant as far as these rankings go, as the former league MVP has already missed 13 games this season while suiting up in just 19.

Of course, when he has played, Durant has been spectacular averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists on a 65.2 true shooting percentage, but it’s hard to remain in the MVP picture when missing that much time.

As long as he’s healthy come playoff time, however, the Nets probably won’t care too much about that.

Zach LaVine (Chicago)

After years of his raw averages not matching his actual impact, Zach LaVine has been elite in both respects this season, posting his best campaign in both raw and advanced metrics.

LaVine is averaging 28.6 points per game this year, the seventh-best mark in the league, along with 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists behind an elite 64.8 true shooting percentage, an extremely impressive mark considering how difficult his average shot attempt is. LaVine has also helped lead the Chicago Bulls to a 14-16 record, which has them No. 8 in the East and firmly in the playoff picture.

The advanced metrics also rate LaVine highly, as his VORP, BPM and Win Shares also sit among the Top 21 marks in the NBA, indicating that his numbers have been far from empty in 2020-21.

Bradley Beal (Washington)

Another supremely explosive 2-guard closes out the Top 15 portion of this ranking.

Bradley Beal, the league’s leading scorer this season at 32.7 points per game, is finally starting to enjoy some team success recently, with the Washington Wizards winning five of their last six games, including noteworthy wins over the Boston Celtics, Lakers, Nuggets and Blazers.

In that stretch, Beal is averaging 32.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game while shooting over 52.6 percent from the floor.

Nikola Vucevic (Orlando)

Nikola Vucevic has continued his quiet dominance recently, averaging 26.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists over his last six games, four of which were wins for the Orlando Magic.

If Vucevic were playing in a bigger market or for a better team, he’d undoubtedly be getting more recognition for his elite play this season.

Either way, he’s been one of the best centers in basketball in 2020-21, and for seasons before this one, too.

Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)

The Nets’ statement-making win streak hasn’t solely been thanks to Harden, as his backcourt mate Kyrie Irving has been equally spectacular in his last six games, averaging 27.2 points and 5.8 assists.

Brooklyn is forming something scary.

Trae Young (Atlanta)

The Atlanta Hawks have been a disappointment this season, but that hasn’t solely been Trae Young’s fault, as the point guard is averaging 27.0 points and 9.6 assists on 43.4/37.0/87.7 shooting splits on the campaign.

Of course, his defense will need to improve a great deal if the Hawks want to become a more consistent team, but offensively, he continues to be an elite presence.

Julius Randle (New York)

Julius Randle continues to be great for the New York Knicks this season, averaging 23.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game for an upstart New York team that sits 15-17 and seventh in the East.

Randle recently discussed the pressure that comes with playing in New York (via the New York Post):

Randle said he had always improved each season — until 2019-20. “I felt like I wasn’t playing my best basketball,’’ Randle said Friday on JJ Redick’s podcast. “I don’t care what anyone says — there’s no tougher place to play than New York with the media and the fans who know and love the game. It’s a tough place to play. Anyone who loves the game is going to be sensitive about their craft. I was sensitive to it and really wanted to get better. My progression in my career was every year I got better. I took it personal and a challenge and think I’ve done that.’’

Market-related pressure aside, Randle has done a great job of stepping up to the challenge this season and establishing himself as a top player.

Jayson Tatum (Boston)

The Celtics are in a rut, losing five of their last seven games including blowing a huge second-half lead to the New Orleans Pelicans on national TV on Sunday, as well as another national TV contest against Dallas last night, and Jayson Tatum’s cold shooting in that run hasn’t helped matters.

Tatum is shooting 40.3 percent from the floor and 310  percent from three in that stretch, though he’s still averaging 24.4 points and 7.1 rebounds over his last six games.

In all, Tatum and the Celtics need to get better and soon if they want to avoid a totally disappointing 2020-21 campaign.

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