MVP Race: Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo holding steady in Top 2

2020-21 nba mvp rankings nikola jokic clapping rumors harden giannis lebron lillard luka kawhi

MVP Race: Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo holding steady in Top 2

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MVP Race: Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo holding steady in Top 2

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For the most part, this year’s MVP race has been an up-and-down affair, with major changes coming weekly to people’s individual rankings for the all-important accolade.

However, this week, for the first time in a long while, things have held somewhat steady, as there weren’t any huge shifts to the rankings to speak of, and the Top 3 remained the same as in last week’s edition of this series.

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)

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic is this season’s MVP frontrunner as we enter the final stages of the campaign, especially now that his team’s play has started to match his spectacular individual level of form.

The Nuggets, winners of five games in a row, now rank Top 5 league-wide in net rating this year (+5.3), and Jokic’s elite level is the primary reason for that. During Denver’s win streak, Jokic has averaged 21.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from three.

The advanced analytics for Jokic are bordering historic territory, too, particularly in Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WS/48):

 

As you can see, Jokic’s .300 WS/48 puts him in absolutely elite company in NBA history, as every player on that list won multiple league MVP awards in their illustrious careers.

What’s more, out of those previous 10 instances of a player reaching .300 WS/48 for a campaign, only two didn’t win MVP that year: Wilt Chamberlain in 1963-64 (Chamberlain finished second in MVP voting that year to Oscar Robertson) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972-73 (Abdul-Jabbar finished No. 2 in voting to Dave Cowens that season after having won MVP the two previous seasons, so voter fatigue definitely played a factor here).

So if we look at the advanced stats, the raw numbers and the team success, Jokic’s MVP case starts looking pretty impenetrable for 2020-21.

But things can always change on a dime in the NBA, so don’t count out another shift in the race over the coming weeks.

For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.

2
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

Prior to missing the Milwaukee Bucks’ last game due to knee soreness, Giannis Antetokounmpo had run off a fantastic three-game stretch that saw him average 34.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 blocks per game.

In that span, Antetokounmpo had a history-making outing, scoring 47 points and securing 12 rebounds while going a perfect 18-for-18 from two-point range, tying him with Chamberlain for most two-point makes in a single game without a miss:

What’s more, although their results have been a bit inconsistent on the campaign, at least compared to prior years, Antetokounmpo’s Bucks still sit third in the NBA this season in net rating (+6.5) and third in the East with a 32-17 record.

A mix of Jokic’s otherworldly play and voter fatigue hurt Antetokounmpo’s MVP case, but there’s no question he remains one of the very best basketball players in the world in 2020-21.

For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.

3
James Harden (Brooklyn)

Rounding out the Top 3 of our MVP rankings for the second week in a row is James Harden, who has essentially missed three straight games due to a tight hamstring, an injury Harden tried to return from last night before having to sit out the final 43-plus minutes of the contest.

Harden deserves credit for having the toughness to try and return that soon since the injury first popped up, as a lot of other players would have sat out until they felt 110 percent ready to play.

Brooklyn Nets teammate Joe Harris said after last night’s game that not being able to suit up with teammates and play hurts the “ultimate competitor” in Harden:

Nevertheless, if Harden misses much more time, it’s entirely possible we see him slide down these rankings next week.

For the latest James Harden rumors, click here.

4
Damian Lillard (Portland)

Portland Trail Blazers guard has kept up his elite form recently, averaging 25.8 points, 8.0 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 48.4 percent from beyond the arc over the past week, a four-game stretch that saw Portland go 3-1.

For what it’s worth, former 12-year NBA veteran Nick Young has Lillard as his MVP for this season…

…as does Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr:

He may not be the favorite right now, but there’s no doubt Lillard makes a strong case for MVP, especially with how he was able to keep the Blazers afloat after the team suffered so many injuries early on this season.

For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.

5
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Following a 10-game absence due to a knee injury that luckily wasn’t much worse, Joel Embiid made his return for the Philadelphia 76ers this weekend, though he did look a bit rusty in his comeback contest.

Embiid did score 24 points, secure eight rebounds and block three shots against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, but he shot 6-for-14 on the evening and 0-of-4 from beyond the arc while turning the ball over four times. The big man then proceeded to miss Philadelphia’s next game the following Sunday due to load management, a wise decision by the Sixers as the big man regains his strength.

Regardless, unless Embiid returns to his previous 2020-21 form quickly, it’s hard to see him returning to the top of the MVP conversation for the campaign.

For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.

6
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

The Los Angeles Clippers’ up-and-down season aside, Kawhi Leonard has remained steady with his MVP-like production recently, averaging 24.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.0 steals over his last five games, a stretch that saw L.A. go just 3-2, including an embarrassing defeat to the rebuilding Orlando Magic.

Additionally, the Clippers do still rank fourth on the season in net rating (+6.3), ahead of the Nuggets, Sixers and Nets, so maybe people are underrating Leonard’s MVP case just a bit when we factor in his numbers and team success on the campaign.

That possibility becomes even more likely when we further consider that the two-time Finals MVP ranks eighth in Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and seventh in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) this year while sitting fourth in WS/48, proving just how outstanding Leonard has been in 2020-21 and why he sits where he does in our MVP rankings, despite the Clippers’ nightly inconsistency.

For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.

7
Luka Doncic (Dallas)

Reigning Player of the Week for the Western Conference Luka Doncic continued his excellent play last night, going off for 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists against the Utah Jazz’s third-ranked defense in what was an eight-point win for the Dallas Mavericks, one of their most impressive results of the entire season.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently went deep on the advanced analytics to break down why Doncic has been so much more efficient this year than in his prior two seasons (via The Ringer):

Luka Doncic has tried 3.95 stepback 3s per game and makes them at an excellent 38.8 percent. This number is up significantly from 34.6 percent over his first two seasons. It has become his most unstoppable shot. Only James Harden attempts more stepback 3s than Luka this season. They are the only players to ever attempt more than three stepback 3s per game, and no one has taken them from deeper than Doncic. This season, Luka’s stepback 3s are from an average distance of 27.3 feet, which is the deepest in history, according to Second Spectrum.

As has been discussed borderline ad-nauseam, if Doncic proves he’s that accurate of a three-point shooter when the playoffs roll around, then the Slovenian superstar will truly have reached the next level as a player and will be borderline impossible to stop with the ball in his hands.

Scary notion for potential Mavericks opponents in the postseason.

For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.

8
LeBron James (LA Lakers)

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers superstar and four-time league MVP LeBron James has now missed over two weeks of action without a return in sight (yet), which has all but ended his chances of winning the prestigious award a fifth time in 2020-21.

Nevertheless, James is still making headlines recently, first for becoming a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox along with agent Maverick Carter and then for how well-received the first trailer for Space Jam 2 was, which, in truth, does look like it’s going to be pretty great:

He may not actually be playing basketball right now, but James has still been one of the most important and newsworthy basketball players in the world since going down, showing how diverse his brand really is.

For the latest LeBron James rumors, click here.

9
Stephen Curry (Golden State)

Despite playing through a tailbone injury that’s clearly still hampering him, Stephen Curry has been putting up huge numbers in his latest outings, averaging 35.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor over his last three games.

And yet, the Golden State Warriors have still lost seven of their last eight contests and are barely clinging on to a play-in game spot as we reach the latter stages of this campaign.

Curry did not hesitate to voice his frustrations after a recent Golden State loss, this one against the Atlanta Hawks in which the Warriors actually held a lead in the fourth quarter (via ESPN):

Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry couldn’t hide his frustration after his team’s latest setback, a 117-111 loss at the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night. It was the Warriors’ seventh defeat in their past eight games. “It’s tough,” Curry said, when asked about how his younger teammates are dealing with all the losing. “Keep it real; we all had higher expectations for where we were supposed to be this season. And guys want to outperform; when they go out there, they want to exceed the expectations for themselves, for the coaching staff, whatever it is. And when it doesn’t happen, it’s frustrating. “I hope it stings. I hope it’s uncomfortable. I hope it motivates you to keep grinding, challenging yourself to get better. I hope nobody is content just being in this middle-of-the-road situation. We’re going to find out how we respond down the stretch of the season. See what we’re made of.”

Curry is currently set to hit free agency in 2022. Just saying.

(And for what it’s worth, we have the Warriors’ star point guard as the eighth-best free agent in that class at the moment.)

For the latest Stephen Curry rumors, click here.

10
Rudy Gobert (Utah)

The Utah Jazz have maintained their powerhouse level of play over recent weeks, winning nine of their previous 10 games and sitting first in the NBA in net rating for 2020-21 (+9.5), and the most important recent for that has been Rudy Gobert’s outrageous two-way play.

Over that 10-game stretch, Gobert has averaged 15.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks and hit over 71 percent of his field-goal attempts. On the campaign, Gobert ranks fifth league-wide in WS/48, second in overall Win Shares and 15th in VORP, despite having a usage rate of 17.5 percent, a lower mark than players like Josh Richardson and Kelly Olynyk.

That just goes to show how efficient Gobert is when he does get to finish plays and how impactful his presence on the defensive end has been for a Utah team which has been the league’s most consistently dominant club in 2020-21.

For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.

11
Chris Paul (Phoenix)

Chris Paul, who has actually been the 35-14 Phoenix Suns’ most impactful player this year according to just about every advanced metric, has averaged 16.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 11.3 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting 65.0 percent from the floor over his past four games, all wins for the Suns. Funny how no one is talking about his enormous contract now that he’s putting up big numbers on an elite team.

For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.

12
Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

The only thing that has been able to slow down Zion Williamson recently has been a thumb sprain which has forced him to miss the New Orleans Pelicans’ last three games, though he’s expected to return soon. Over his previous six games before going down, however, Williamson averaged 31.3 points and 8.0 rebounds, hitting 64.4 percent of his field-goal attempts in the process, looking truly unstoppable in just his second campaign as a pro.

For the latest Zion Williamson rumors, click here.

13
Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)

Nets guard Kyrie Irving had arguably his best performance of the season Monday night in a 114-112 win for Brooklyn over the crosstown rival New York Knicks, going off for 40 points and seven assists while hitting 15 of his 28 field-goal attempts and 41.7 percent of his outside looks. Irving’s form on the evening was truly ridiculous, as he was hitting shot after shot that most players wouldn’t even attempt in practice, let alone in an actual game setting.

For the latest Kyrie Irving rumors, click here.

14
Jimmy Butler (Miami)

The Miami Heat, following the additions of Nemanja Bjelica and Victor Oladipo, have been playing much better basketball, winning four in a row ahead of a matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies tonight. In that stretch, Jimmy Butler put up 20.5 points, 7.3 assists and 2.0 steals and hit 54.0 percent of his shot attempts.

For the latest Jimmy Butler rumors, click here.

15
Trae Young (Atlanta)

Knee soreness has slowed Trae Young down a bit recently, as the diminutive sharpshooter is shooting just 38.0 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from three over his last three appearances, though he still managed to put up 20.0 points, 9.3 assists and 1.7 steals over that stretch. Young’s Atlanta Hawks have won three games in a row and sit fourth in the East at 26-24.

For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.

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