One month into the NBA season, we’ve seen one of the league’s top players return from a serious injury better than ever, a center averaging a triple-double, and other stars elevate their games to a new level.
With that in mind, HoopsHype anonymously polled 15 media members who voted on last year’s awards for their current top five MVP rankings before games played on January 22.
As with the official vote, the top player received 10 points, the second received seven points, the third received five points, the fourth received three points, and the fifth player received one point for each ballot.
1. Kevin Durant (Brooklyn)
Durant ranks second in the league in scoring (31.2) and fourth in free throws made (91) and player efficiency rating (28.3), and fifth in win shares (2.2).
After missing the past 18 months with an Achilles injury, Durant has remarkably outperformed his statistics from his 2013-14 MVP season.
Durant is shooting better from the field overall (.534 to .503) and beyond the arc (.466 to .391). He’s also averaging more rebounds (7.5 to 7.4), assists (6.0 to 5.5), and blocks (1.3 to .7) per game.
Looking ahead, Durant will be surrounded by James Harden and Kyrie Irving, who’s back with the team following a two-week personal leave. Will there be enough opportunities for Durant to maintain his torrid pace with two other star players around him? It remains to be seen, but Durant is optimistic about the trio’s fit.
“It felt right,” Durant said. “It felt perfect. It felt like we belong together. It felt like this journey together is going to be fun.”
2. LeBron James (LA Lakers)
James has continued to win his battle against Father Time. After leading the league in assists last season, the 36-year-old star ranks first in field goals made (141), third in points (390), fourth in assists (121), and fifth in minutes played (521).
He also ranks sixth in usage percentage (31.8) while leading the Lakers to the league’s best record (12-4), which includes an 8-0 road record. It marks the franchise’s longest road winning streak to start a season.
Despite a shortened turnaround after a deep playoff run that culminated with winning the championship, James continues to make history.
LeBron James has recorded at least 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists in each of his 16 games this season, tying the third-longest such streak to open a season in NBA history:
22 – James, 2011-12
17 – Oscar Robertson, 1961-62
16 – Robertson, 1962-63
16 – James, 2020-21 pic.twitter.com/wVy3zCW3kZ
— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) January 22, 2021
3. Nikola Jokic (Denver)
Joker isn’t kidding around this season. Despite Denver’s underwhelming start to the season, the Serbian center is averaging a triple-double with 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.0 assists per game.
Jokic leads the league in player efficiency rating (31.8) and win shares (3.2). He also ranks second in assists per game (10), third in two-point field goals (116), and fifth in steals per game (1.9).
Monte Morris on Nikola Jokic: “Like I told him two, three games ago after the game. I just said, ‘Everybody talking about the Durants and LeBrons, Giannises. We’re playing with a Hall of Famer right here.’ I just wanted him to know that.”
— Mike Singer (@msinger) January 20, 2021
Jokic has played like a Hall of Famer, as Nuggets guard Monte Morris noted above. Jokic has now recorded at least five triple-doubles in each of the last five seasons. The only players in NBA history with a longer such streak are Oscar Robertson (10), Magic Johnson (6), and Russell Westbrook (6), as noted by Justin Kubatko.
4. Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)
Embiid is off to the best shooting start of his career across the board from the field overall (.545), three-point range (.368), and the foul line (.839). He’s led Philadelphia to the best record in the East (10-5).
Embiid also ranks second in player efficiency rating (29.7), third in free throw attempts (118), free throws made (99), defensive rating (100.5), and tied for fifth in win shares (2.2).
Earlier this month, 76ers coach Doc Rivers compared Embiid to Kevin Garnett and Patrick Ewing. “I would combine those two together and make a Joel in some cases because he has a little bit of both of those,” Rivers said.
5. Paul George (LA Clippers)
After vowing to come back with a “vengeance,” George is off to a blistering start shooting the ball from the field (.514), beyond the arc (.505), and the foul line (.910) this season. George also ranks seventh overall in true shooting percentage (.685).
The six-time All-Star has become a better facilitator and is averaging a career-high 5.6 assists.
6. Stephen Curry (Golden State)
7. Luka Doncic (Dallas)
8. Damian Lillard (Portland)
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
10. Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)
11. Jayson Tatum (Boston)
11. CJ McCollum (Portland)
11. Domantas Sabonis (Indiana)
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto