MVP Race: Giannis Antetokounmpo closing in on No. 1

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Frank Urbina
·11 min read
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Just because it’s NBA trade deadline week, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other basketball-related topics to discuss, like the ongoing MVP race, which is one of the most interesting we’ve had in years.

And even with all that interest and uncertainty, this race could very well end with a player winning the award for the third year in a row.

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.

Nikola Jokic (Denver)

For a while, the Top 3 spots in these rankings were almost interchangeable between Nikola Jokic, LeBron James and Joel Embiid, with all three making impressive cases for consideration to be called the league's best player this season, but injuries to the latter two have put Jokic back in the driver's seat for the award again, as has his strong play recently. Over the last week, the big Serbian is averaging 26.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.8 steals, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 3-1 stretch. What's more, he continues to lead the league in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Win Shares (WS), Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WS/48), Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). If the Nuggets were doing just slightly better on the campaign as a team (they're 25-17 and fifth in the West), Jokic's case for MVP would almost be unquestionable, as his numbers are legitimately borderline unbelievable, but who knows? With Embiid and James set to miss a good amount of time, the drama in this race could be about to dissipate. For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.

Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

There's still no timetable for the return of Joel Embiid, according to the latest from Yahoo! Sports'Chris Haynes:

MVP candidate Joel Embiid is expected to be reevaluated at the end of the week for the bone bruise on his left knee. Embiid has been out since March 12. There is no established return date for the Philadelphia 76ers All-Star. The organization will be extremely cautious and wait patiently until he’s back to MVP form physically and mentally, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The objective is to make sure he’s 100 percent ready to go for the playoffs, sources said.

Embiid was averaging 29.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks before going down, and with the Philadelphia 76ers leading the East in record at that time, the big man's case for MVP was a strong one. Now, depending on how much time he misses, Embiid's best chance at taking home the prestigious award could be slipping out of his fingers. For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

How ironic would it be that after all the drama about whether it was Jokic, LeBron or Embiid who was the MVP favorite a couple of weeks ago, it ends up being Giannis Antetokounmpo who is left standing at season's end to take home the award for the third consecutive year? But that's where things are currently trending, as Antetokounmpo has been spectacular recently, averaging 31.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists over his last 11 games, with the Milwaukee Bucks going 10-1 over that stretch before the Greek Freak missed last night's game due to a minor knee injury that isn't expected to make him miss much time. For what it's worth, although it almost seems like Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have flown under the radar this season, the two-time league MVP does not mind that whatsoever (via ESPN):

“We don’t play for people to talk about us,” the Bucks star said following a 26-point, 15-assist, 8-rebound performance against the Spurs. “I kind of like it. I just want to be left alone. I never liked bright lights. I never liked people talking about us. It just adds pressure to me and my teammates to come in and do what we do. I kind of like to be under the radar and we just come in, enjoy one another, enjoy playing basketball and we’re just getting the job done. But, yeah, there’s gonna be times they’re gonna talk about us, there’s gonna be times they’re not gonna talk about us, but personally, as I said, I just like being under the radar.”

Watch for Antetokounmpo to continue surging up these rankings if he maintains this outrageous level of form. For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.

Damian Lillard (Portland)

Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard has been putting up unbelievable numbers lately, averaging 34.1 points and 6.1 assists on pristine 50.6/40.0/97.1 shooting splits over his last eight games, a stretch in which Portland has gone 5-3. Lillard's almost Herculean effort in keeping Portland afloat this season despite a ton of injuries affecting their lineup should absolutely be a factor in his MVP case, as the Blazers, without CJ McCollum or Jusuf Nurkic for a lot of 2020-21, boast the same record as Denver, led by their own MVP candidate, at 25-17. Even more impressively, Lillard is playing through a sore knee that would have sidelined a lot of other NBA stars, and still putting up numbers that preposterous. Lillard's play warrants a lot more consideration for league MVP than he's been getting. For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.

LeBron James (LA Lakers)

It's not entirely clear how long James will be out for with the ugly ankle injury he suffered on Sunday, but the latest reports indicate that the shortest amount of time he'll probably be out for is three weeks but perhaps even as long as a month. Nevertheless, depending on how other players on this list perform over the coming long stretch of games that James will miss, primarily Jokic and Antetokounmpo, that could put the four-time league MVP at a serious disadvantage as far as this year's race goes. James was averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists before going down. For the latest LeBron James rumors, click here.

James Harden (Brooklyn)

Who would have thought before this season that the team leading the Brooklyn Nets to an elite record in 2020-21 wouldn't be Kevin Durant but James Harden? That's how things have gone down, though, as Durant has missed weeks now with a hamstring injury while Brooklyn's early-season acquisition, Harden, has the team playing like Eastern Conference favorites. The Nets have lost just two of their past 15 games, a stretch that has seen Harden average 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 10.9 assists and 1.8 steals, MVP-like numbers were it not for Harden's case being impossible to make due to the way he handled his departure from the Houston Rockets. Regardless, just based on the numbers and how his team is performing, few players have as strong a case as Harden does right now. For the latest James Harden rumors, click here.

Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Be it a mid-season lull or something else, the Los Angeles Clippers have not been impressive lately, going just 4-3 over their last seven games, including a loss to the Washington Wizards and a blowout defeat to the young New Orleans Pelicans. That rough patch has all but ended Kawhi Leonard's MVP case this season, though we know he usually saves his best efforts for the postseason, and 2020-21 should be no different. Since returning from injury early this month, Leonard is averaging 22.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game while shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor and over 41 percent from three. For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.

Luka Doncic (Dallas)

A player who's being a bit underrated in 2020-21 MVP debates, including by us, is Luka Doncic, who has been excellent recently, averaging 32.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 10.0 assists over his last five games. Even more impressively, Doncic – who has been known to struggle with his efficiency as an outside shooter in his career – is shooting 44.6 percent from beyond the arc over his last 17 games, bringing his three-point percentage for the season up to 37.1, by far his best mark since joining the Dallas Mavericks. If Doncic, who is so dynamic and crafty getting to the basket, finishing out of the short midrange with soft teardrop floaters and at setting up teammates, is also going to shoot it that well from three, then he is truly going to become impossible to stop. For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.

Stephen Curry (Golden State)

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry has now missed two consecutive games due to a tailbone injury he suffered against Houston and is set to miss tonight's matchup against Philadelphia, too, but head coach Steve Kerr still doesn't believe it will be a long-term issue. The Warriors better hope not, because if Curry misses an extended period, they could see themselves fall out of playoff positioning very quickly in the loaded West. Curry was averaging 29.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists nightly before the injury. For the latest Stephen Curry rumors, click here.

Rudy Gobert (Utah)

Rudy Gobert has been an absolute monster defensively recently, even moreso than usual, if you can believe it, posting one game with nine blocks, one with six, one with five and two with four rejections over his last eight appearances. Over that stretch, the French center is averaging 16.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and 4.1 blocks while shooting 64.5 percent from the floor, and for all the talk of Ben Simmons being this year's Defensive Player of the Year favorite, Gobert is making the race extremely tough to pick right now. For what it's worth, Gobert's teammate Donovan Mitchell can't comprehend why opponents still insist on bothering to attack the paint when Gobert is down there (via Desert):

Fellow All-Star Donovan Mitchell said that he isn’t sure why so many players insist on attacking when Gobert is in the way at this point. Don’t they know their chances of scoring are low? “They kept trying to attack him, I don’t know why,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t. I would just shoot a pull-up or something. I don’t know why guys continuously do that.”

Leading the league in record (31-11) and net rating (+8.0), Utah's excellent play on the year will also help bolster Gobert's MVP case, though it'll be tough for any defensive-minded player to win the award, no matter how spectacular they are on that end. For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.

Jimmy Butler (Miami)

The Miami Heat's rollercoaster season took another downturn recently, with the team losing their last three games to teams with worse records than them, the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers, the latter two defeats of which came at home. It's impossible to blame Jimmy Butler for that, though, as the team's struggles are directly tied to their underperforming guards, who could very well be traded over the coming days. Nonetheless, Butler is putting up 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.5 steals over his last eight games. For the latest Jimmy Butler rumors, click here.

Chris Paul (Phoenix)

His numbers on the season – 15.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists – don't compare to the other players on this ranking, but Chris Paul has the Phoenix Suns looking like legitimate contenders in 2020-21, and that's enough for us to consider him a Top 15 candidate for MVP this year. For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.

Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

Zion Williamson has been an absolute tear this season, averaging 25.7 points on 61.9 percent shooting along with 7.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists, and if the New Orleans Pelicans weren't six games under .500, the former No. 1 pick would without a doubt be in the Top 10 of these rankings, at the very least. For the latest Zion Williamson rumors, click here.

Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)

Kyrie Irving's case for MVP is similar to Harden's in that he's helped lead the Nets to an insane record over the past few months in Durant's absence, the only difference being that Harden's numbers are a tad more impressive and he hasn't missed as much time as Irving. At the same time, Irving's 28.1 points and 5.7 assists per game this year are nothing to scoff at. For the latest Kyrie Irving rumors, click here.

Trae Young (Atlanta)

The Atlanta Hawks had won eight games in a row prior to their defeat to the Clippers last night, an impressive stretch for the club headlined by Trae Young's strong play. The three-point expert of a point guard is averaging 23.0 points and 9.0 assists over his last nine outings. For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.

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