With the NBA Finals set to tip tonight, we have arrived at one of our final 2020-21 playoff MVP rankings pieces, with a familiar name at the top but a new one, formerly ridiculed for hyping up his own postseason exploits, exiting the playoffs at No. 3.
Below, check out the latest part of our playoff MVP series, as voted on by our team of writers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Playoff stats: 28.2 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 5.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 55.1 FG%
After suffering a frightening knee injury in Game 4 of the Milwaukee Bucks’ series against the Atlanta Hawks, both Bucks fans and fans of the sport, in general, were relieved to find out that Giannis Antetokounmpo had avoided a major injury.
Milwaukee was able to close out the Eastern Conference Finals in six games even without their MVP-caliber forward, but even so, to have a stronger chance to take home their first championship in 50 years, they’re undoubtedly going to need Antetokounmpo out there against the Phoenix Suns, even if he isn’t at 100 percent health-wise.
Luckily for the Bucks, it appears there is a legitimate shot Antetokounmpo does return at some point relatively soon, maybe even as soon as Game 1 tonight.
Milwaukee has Antetokounmpo listed as questionable for Game 1, leaving the door slightly ajar for a return tonight from the 26-year-old, but even if he doesn’t make his comeback tonight, Bucks owner Marc Lasry recently said he’s “pretty sure” Antetokounmpo will play in the series.
Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry says it's up to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the team's medical staff if he'll play in Game 1 of the Finals against the Suns.
"I'm pretty sure he'll play in the series," he said on CNBC today. "The question is when."
— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) July 6, 2021
It’s just a matter of when that will be of huge importance for Milwaukee.
For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.
Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)
Playoff stats: 34.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.6 bpg, 51.4 FG%
For the latest Kevin Durant rumors, click here.
Paul George (LA Clippers)
Playoff stats: 26.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 44.1 FG%
Perhaps no player did as much to repair their tarnished postseason reputation in these playoffs as Paul George, who was magnificent in leading the Los Angeles Clippers as far as they got without their best player, Kawhi Leonard.
Sans their two-time Finals MVP, the Clippers still pushed the Suns to six games in the Western Conference Finals, making it quite easy to wonder what could have been with a healthy Leonard in the fold.
In the eight games without his superstar swingman teammate, George was spectacular, averaging 29.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting nearly 44 percent from the field.
Second-year guard Terance Mann praised George after L.A.’s season ended for his much-improved leadership this year, something that was plain as day for anyone watching the Clippers compete in the playoffs with the 31-year-old leading the charge.
It may not have ended in George’s first trip to the Finals, but these playoffs served as the perfect reminder of just how talented George is and why the Clippers are considered among the NBA’s elite with both he and Leonard as the team’s two top pieces.
For the latest Paul George rumors, click here.
Trae Young (Atlanta)
Playoff stats: 28.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 9.5 apg, 1.3 spg, 41.8 FG%
Another player whose standing in the opinion of basketball observers everywhere improved a ton in these playoffs was Trae Young, who went from a player who’d fill up the stat sheet but did so in what some thought to be an empty manner while drawing ticky-tack fouls all over the place, to one of the most impactful point guards in basketball based on just this postseason.
Young didn’t just fill up the scoring column in the playoffs in a very impressive manner, to the tune of nearly 29 points per postseason outing, but was also fantastic in setting up teammates for great looks and helping the Hawks’ offense hum along to within two games of the Finals.
Young had a message to Atlanta fans after the Hawks’ Game 6 defeat to Milwaukee, and perhaps a warning to the rest of the NBA as well (via The Athletic):
There was a message Trae Young wanted to send before he exited State Farm Arena’s floor for one final time this season. He looked up to the crowd, clapped and pointed to the floor. “We’ll be back,” he repeated several times. “I meant that with my whole heart,” Young said after the game.
Having witnessed just how great Young was in the 2021 postseason, it’s hard to doubt his words. Atlanta is set to be in a great position for years to come with him as their floor general.
For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.
Devin Booker (Phoenix)
Playoff stats: 27.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2.1 3PTM, 44.4 FG%
Suns star Devin Booker has seen his numbers regress a bit later in his postseason run, at least with his shooting accuracy, with the future Team USA Olympian shooting 34.6 percent from the floor over his last five games.
Of course, a lot of that has to do with the broken nose he’s playing through and the mask that it often forces him to wear, but even so, Phoenix has to hope he can get back on track moving forward, as converting roughly a third of his shot attempts won’t be enough for Booker to help the Suns make a run at their first championship in franchise history.
Nevertheless, for Booker to have even led Phoenix this far is impressive as is, as no one could have expected before the season that a Suns team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009-10 would be in the Finals this very campaign, injury-depleted path to the championship series or not.
A lot of that has to do with Booker’s greatness this postseason. The two-time All-Star recently opened up about how his father, a former NBA player himself Melvin Booker, helped him get to this point (via Fox Sports):
When Devin was 14, Melvin says he turned down a two-year offer to play in Italy because he wanted to help his son reach the next level. Melvin and Devin’s mother, Victoria Gutierrez, were never married, and she and Devin lived in Michigan. Melvin convinced them that Devin should move to Mississippi as a sophomore to attend his father’s former high school, Moss Point, while Melvin helped turn Devin into a great player. For Devin, that changed everything. “I always had love for the game of basketball, I was always a student of the game, but I wasn’t aware of the work that goes into it,” Devin said. “So I was always good, but he made me take it the extra mile. He pushed me. I had never been pushed before. I never had the truth told to me at all times. Somebody that is telling the truth out of the goodness of their heart to see you succeed, you can feel that. So it just makes you want to be better every day.”
It’ll be fun to watch Booker match up with Antetokounmpo in both of the young stars’ first tastes of Finals action.
For the latest Devin Booker rumors, click here.
Chris Paul (Phoenix)
Playoff stats: 18.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 8.7 apg, 1.4 spg, 47.0 FG%
With Booker somewhat struggling with his scoring, Chris Paul stepped up in a huge way to help guide the Suns to the Finals this year, going off for 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting, eight assists and three steals in a 27-point road win for Phoenix to finish off the Clippers in Game 6, in Los Angeles.
That performance was arguably the best of Paul’s postseason career, something that becomes more difficult to argue against considering the stakes at hand: a trip to the Finals for the first time in his career.
Many used to consider Paul the best player in league history without a Finals appearance under his belt, but that honor will now have to go to someone else. All that’s left for one of the greatest point guards of all time is to win the whole thing and take home a much-deserved ring.
Even if he and the Suns fall short, however, Paul will go down as one of the best players the NBA has ever seen and a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer – a title would just be a cherry on the top of a magnificent career.
For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.
Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)
Playoff stats: 30.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.1 spg, 57.3 FG%
As it turns out, Leonard’s injury wound up being much more serious than anyone thought when it first happened, and the superstar was unable to return before the Clippers were eliminated by Phoenix in six games in the Western Conference Finals.
Now, all eyes turn to Leonard’s impending free agency, without a doubt the most important player to hit the open marker this offseason.
Rumors are already circulating regarding Leonard’s future, and although many expect him to re-sign with the Clippers without much drama, that doesn’t mean other teams aren’t going to make strong pushes for his signature.
Two such reported teams? The Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, according to The Ringer:
The Mavericks and Heat plan to make a hard push to acquire Leonard, league sources say. The Knicks will also pursue any superstar that becomes available, and a long list of other suitors would at least make an attempt if he hits the market. Who wouldn’t want a 30-year-old two-time Finals MVP still performing at an All-NBA level?
Still, after how well George just performed in the playoffs without him and with the emergence of a young player with big potential in Mann, as well as the fact that Leonard signed in Los Angeles because he considers it home to begin with, it’s a bit hard to see any team prying him away from the Clippers.
For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.
Khris Middleton (Milwaukee)
Playoff stats: 23.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 43.4 FG%
With the series between Atlanta and Milwaukee tied at two games apiece, Bucks swingman Khris Middleton took his game to another level, with stakes at hand higher than any he’s faced in his career.
Despite the added pressure, Middleton was outstanding in helping close out the Hawks, averaging 29.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists over Games 5 and 6, while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor, 37.5 percent from beyond the arc and 92.3 percent fro the foul stripe.
That’s great work by a player that many weren’t sure was a championship-caliber No. 2 option prior to this season.
Those questions are out the window now, however.
For the latest Khris Middleton rumors, click here.
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)
Playoff stats: 28.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 bpg, 51.3 FG%
For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.
Nikola Jokic (Denver)
Playoff stats: 29.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.0 apg, 2.0 3PTM, 50.9 FG%
For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.
Luka Doncic (Dallas)
Playoff stats: 35.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 10.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 49.0 FG%
For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.
Donovan Mitchell (Utah)
Playoff stats: 32.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 43.5 3PT%
For the latest Donovan Mitchell rumors, click here.
Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)
Playoff stats: 16.2 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 70.6 FG%
Suns big man Deandre Ayton continues to do his job at a high level in the postseason, i.e. doing the dirty work for Phoenix, rebounding the basketball, defending and finishing just about every easy opportunity served up to him by Paul and Booker. Over the final three games of the Western Conference Finals, Ayton averaged 15.0 points on 63.6 percent shooting, as well as 16.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. More of that will be needed from the blossoming big man in the Finals against a team as great as Milwaukee’s, but we think Ayton will be up to the task.
For the latest Deandre Ayton rumors, click here.
Damian Lillard (Portland)
Playoff stats: 28.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.5 apg, 4.1 3PTM, 45.1 FG%
For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.
Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee)
Playoff stats: 17.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 8.4 apg, 1.5 spg, 42.3 FG%
For the first time in his career, Jrue Holiday is headed to the NBA Finals, and likewise, for the first time in his 2021 playoff run, the former UCLA standout has made his way into our playoff MVP rankings, albeit at No. 15. Holiday, like Middleton, really stepped up to the plate with Antetokounmpo out for Games 5 and 6 of the Hawks series, averaging 26.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 11.0 assists and 2.5 steals, huge numbers from one of the most underrated players in the league. And even if Antetokounmpo does return by Game 1, the Bucks are going to need that level of aggression from Holiday in the Finals to help bolster their chances of winning their first championship in 50 years.
For the latest Jrue Holiday rumors, click here.