Now at our sixth edition of the 2020-21 season MVP rankings, we’re starting to see a clear trend at the top, and that’s that Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and LeBron James are the obvious early frontrunners for the prestigious accolade.
That’s not to say it’s a done deal that everyone else is out of the race and that this year’s MVP will for sure be one of those three superstars, but early on, it’s clear they’ve made the best case for consideration as this campaign’s best player.
Below, check out the Top 15 players in our MVP rankings, as voted on by our entire team.
Nikola Jokic (Denver)
Nikola Jokic’s torrid start to the season continued over the past week, with the Serbian big man averaging 36.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists over his last four games while shooting 56.0 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from three.
Often times, when players are in the type of form Jokic currently is, they tend to get a bit selfish in seeking out their own shots, but Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer does not believe that to be the case right now with Jokic:
Mike Budenholzer on defending Nikola Jokic: "All he cares about is winning. He's gonna do whatever it takes for his team to win or give his team the best chance. We've got to try and take as much of that away and make him, you know, make life miserable for him tonight."
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) February 9, 2021
The only thing hurting Jokic’s early-season MVP case is the fact that the Denver Nuggets have now lost three games in a row and boast a mediocre 12-11 record, good for the No. 8 seed in the West.
Regardless, Jokic, this season’s current leader in Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), has been spectacular enough to sit first in our MVP rankings five weeks running now.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)
Since sitting out a single game with knee soreness, Joel Embiid has picked up right where he left off, averaging 34.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals over his last three outings, a stretch that included a 16-point win for the Philadelphia 76ers over the Brooklyn Nets.
Nets head coach Steve Nash recently had high praise for the three-time All-Star, calling Embiid a versatile monster:
— Tom Moore (@TomMoorePhilly) February 6, 2021
Nash is absolutely right in his assessment.
Through 24 games, Philadelphia sits 17-7 and first in the East, and a lot that has to do with Embiid’s individual brilliance, so don’t be surprised to see him overtake Jokic at the top spot at some point, especially if their respective teams continue to go in different directions in the win column.
LeBron James (LA Lakers)
LeBron James, the league-leader in games played this season, has been running third in MVP rankings for weeks now, but that’s not to diminish his accomplishments this year.
James has averaged 27.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 10.5 assists over his last four games while shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor. His Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, have the second-best win percentage in basketball at 76.0 percent.
James recently discussed another well-known GOAT, Tom Brady, specifically in regards to his insane longevity. For what it’s worth, James doesn’t know if he’ll be able to go quite as long as Brady – who just won a Super Bowl at 43 – has (via USA Today Sports):
No wonder James called Brady “one of the GOATS.” With James, 36, trying to fulfill that description in the NBA in the middle of his 18th season, has he given any thought on if he wants to match Brady’s career longevity? “It’s very inspiring for a guy like myself. But two different sports, two different positions,” James said after the Lakers’ 119-112 overtime win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. “I don’t know how long I’m going to play the game. I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to give to the game. But the way I feel right now, we’ll see what happens. I have no timetable on it. I have no year of ‘Do I want to play until 30 this or 40 that?’ The game will let me know when it’s time. We’ll figure it out then.”
Whether or not James goes until his mid-40s remains to be seen, but judging by his still-elite level of play, it doesn’t look like the 36-year-old will be slowing down anytime soon.
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)
It was a busy week for Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers, one that saw them lose Paul George for the time being with a foot injury and play four games, the latter two of which were defeats.
Leonard put up 26.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals in that stretch, though he’s gone cold from the outside recently, hitting just 22.2 percent of his last 18 attempts from deep.
Leonard recently took a bit of a shot at the NBA for their financially driven decision to host an All-Star Game this season (via Yahoo! Sports):
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard isn’t “stressing” over the NBA’s plan to hold an All-Star game amid the continuing pandemic on March 7 in Atlanta, but he also noted that the motivation to hold it came as no surprise, either. “It is what it is at this point, we all know why we’re playing it, it’s money on the line, it’s an opportunity to make more money,” Leonard said after the Clippers’ 119-115 loss to Boston at Staples Center. “Just putting money over health right now, pretty much. “But we’re playing games now and it’s still a pandemic, we’re doing all these protocols and rules so it doesn’t really surprise me.”
Can’t say Leonard is wrong there.
Stephen Curry (Golden State)
Stephen Curry’s outstanding play this season hit new heights this week, as the two-time MVP has averaged 38.8 points and 6.3 assists over his last four games, all while shooting 58.1 percent from the floor and 51.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Curry’s been shooting the ball at an outrageous clip for weeks now, with his three-point percentage sitting at 46.7 percent in his last 16 games.
Curry has been doing his damage in a reasonable amount of playing time, too, as the Golden State Warriors have been committed to keeping him at around 35 minutes per contest this season (via ESPN):
“For me, for our organization, we’re not throwing Steph out there for 40 minutes to chase wins. We got another game [Tuesday]. We want Steph to be playing at a high level for many years, so we’re going to stay very disciplined and try to keep him at that 34-, 35-minute mark.”
Of course, that has hurt Golden State in the win column, as the team currently sits 12-12, ninth in the West and with a -0.1 net rating, all perfectly mediocre marks unbecoming of a team with an MVP flamethrower leading the way.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
The Bucks have somewhat quietly started to resemble their juggernaut version from the past season, winning their past five games by a combined 104 points, including a recent 13-point win over Denver and their MVP candidate Jokic.
Milwaukee is doing this without needing their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, to go supernova, too, which is noteworthy. In that win streak, Antetokounmpo has averaged 25.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 blocks while shooting over 57.0 percent from the floor.
Antetokounmpo was recently another one of the league’s stars to speak out against having an All-Star Game this year, saying he’s not excited about the prospects of having to participate in it (via ESPN):
“I think every player was looking forward to those five days, seven days, whatever the days are. We’ve got to all follow the big dog,” Antetokounmpo said, referring to James. “The big dog says he has zero excitement and zero energy for the All-Star Game, and I’m the same way. I really right now don’t care about the All-Star Game. We cannot see our families.” “Like, I can’t worry about the All-Star Game. I want to see my family. I want to go see my little brother in Spain, I want my brother to come see me,” he added. “So, I’m the same way. I’ve got zero energy, zero excitement. At the end of the day, if they tell us we’re gonna show up, we’ve got to do our job. I’m always gonna do my job, I’m always showing up, showing the right example. But at the end of the day inside, deep down, I don’t want to do it. I want to get some break.”
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)
Kevin Durant hasn’t played since Feb. 5, a game against the Toronto Raptors that saw the former league MVP be first declared out, then told he could play, before finally being taken out before even playing 20 minutes due to COVID-19 protocols.
The messy situation, which stemmed from Durant spending time with a team staffer who tested positive for coronavirus without masks, will keep Durant out at least until Friday, even despite the fact he’s tested negative since then and is still positive for having antibodies.
The incident even led to Durant tweeting critically of the NBA’s protocols the night of the Raptors game:
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) February 6, 2021
Luckily, no other Nets player has tested positive for COVID-19 since that whole ordeal.
Durant is averaging 29.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists this season.
Damian Lillard (Portland)
Damian Lillard is doing his best to keep the Portland Trail Blazers in the thick of the playoff race out West, and his efforts are paying off, as the team is 12-10 and sixth in their conference despite a plethora of injuries.
In the eight games since CJ McCollum went down, Lillard has averaged 31.5 points and 8.3 assists while shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 39.8 percent from three.
Luka Doncic (Dallas)
Luka Doncic, putting up a 27.8/8.7/9.3 stat line this season, has been the recipient of some criticism recently, from pundits and coaches alike.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr criticized the NBA for letting stars like Doncic get away with drawing fouls on non-basketball plays (via The Athletic):
“I don’t fault the officials,” Kerr said. “I fault the league for basically gifting those calls to all of our players. Our guys get them, too. To me, it’s not a basketball play. If you jump three feet forward, I don’t think you deserve a foul when all you’re doing is looking for a foul. I think the league has done a great job helping find a really good place for the offense players to shine, the athleticism to be on display for fans. But we’ve gotten out of control gifting offensive players the ability to deceive the refs or to grab, whatever, jump three or four feet into a guy and draw a foul. We have to give the defensive player some benefit of a doubt. But the officials have to call it because that’s the way the league dictates they call it. I have no problem with the officials.”
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Zach Lowe took it a step further, signaling out Doncic as one of the league’s ‘biggest whiners’ when it comes to foul calls (via Yahoo! Sports):
Mark Cuban isn’t here for any Luka Doncic slander. The Dallas Mavericks owner, speaking with Jemele Hill and Cari Champion on their Vice TV show on Thursday night, made that more than clear. ESPN’s Zach Lowe called Doncic “one of the biggest whiners in the NBA” earlier this week on his podcast. “It’s constant,” Lowe said on the podcast. “Every time he drives he’s whining.” Cuban, when asked directly what he thought of that criticism, didn’t hold back. “F*** you Zach Lowe. You don’t know s***,” Cuban said. “I know Luka, right? He’s not a big whiner. He’s passionate. He cares. He wants to win. He’s got some s*** to him where, yeah he’s one of those European players where you see him doing this all the time and talking in one of five different languages. But no, he’s not a whiner. He’s a baller.”
Paul George (LA Clippers)
Clippers forward Paul George will be out for the time being without a timetable for his return, per his head coach Ty Lue, due to swelling in the bones of one of his toes.
That’s very unfortunate for L.A., as George has been playing fantastically this season, putting up 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists while shooting 50.8 percent from the floor and 47.8 percent from three.
George’s teammate Reggie Jackson said George is remaining upbeat around the team despite the difficult circumstances:
Reggie Jackson says his good friend Paul George remains "very positive" despite missing last two games with toe injury. He says George might've taken it a little tough first day when he learned of injury but he is doing all he can to get back, as well as Pat Beverley.
— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) February 7, 2021
Anthony Davis (LA Lakers)
George’s crosstown rival and fellow star Anthony Davis has been dealing with his own injury issues, as the big man missed the Lakers’ last game with Achilles tendinosis.
Los Angeles doesn’t expect it to be a big issue, though, as head coach Frank Vogel expects Davis to return by Wednesday night.
Davis is averaging 22.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks this year for Los Angeles.
Trae Young (Atlanta)
Trae Young has been in excellent form recently, averaging 32.8 points and 9.6 assists while hitting over 49 percent of his threes over his last eight games.
Hit Atlanta Hawks are 11-12 on the year, No. 7 in the East, and appear likely to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17, a lot of which is thanks to Young’s star-level play.
Jaylen Brown (Boston)
Jaylen Brown has missed the Boston Celtics’ last two games due to knee soreness but appears likely to return at some point this week.
Boston undoubtedly misses their two-way forward, who is averaging 26.4 points and 5.5 rebounds this season.
Donovan Mitchell (Utah)
The Utah Jazz have won an impressive 15 of their last 16 games, have the league’s best record at 19-5 and are No. 2 in net rating at +8.4.
Donovan Mitchell has been the driving force in Utah’s elite form, as the ball-handler is averaging 24.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists over that stretch while shooting nearly 48 percent from three.
Mitchell recently came within one rebound of the Jazz’s first triple-double since Carlos Boozer in 2008, one of the wonkiest facts in the NBA, and one that teammate Mike Conley poked fun at Mitchell about after the game:
— Mike Conley (@MCONLEY10) February 7, 2021
James Harden (Brooklyn)
James Harden is averaging 23.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 11.8 assists as a member of the Nets, a stretch in which the team is a somewhat disappointing 7-5.
Harden recently spoke out against the NBA’s protocols after the whole fiasco with Durant on Friday (via the New York Post):
“I was frustrated, especially [since] we follow the protocols, we get tested every single day, so I don’t understand the whole thing where he couldn’t play and then he came on a court, and then they took him back. There’s just a lot going on. There’s too much going on. It’s kind of overwhelming,” said James Harden, who broached the question of whether the game should’ve been called altogether.
It’s a minor miracle no one else from the Nets or Raptors tested positive after that evening, or the NBA would have had an even bigger storm on their hands.