MVP Race: Luka Doncic enters Top 5

·13 min read

We have reached the second-to-last installment of our weekly MVP Race series, in which our writers vote for and rank every MVP candidate in the league this season, which we then average out for our final rankings.

The top of these rankings has been a bit stagnant for weeks now, with the Top 4 having a stronghold on their positions on this list, but there has been some interesting movement just behind those four players this week.

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)

A brutal recent schedule has the Denver Nuggets in a bit of a rut, with the Western Conference club losing three of their last four games, all to top contenders in the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets. Even so, Nikola Jokic has been dominant in those four outings, averaging 29.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists over that stretch. For what it's worth, and this wasn't remotely a hot take by the former two-time league MVP himself, current Nets head coach Steve Nash proclaimed who his MVP is for this season, and it wasn't a player on his own team: Hard to disagree with Nash on that one. Jokic, barring something completely unforeseen, will be the 2020-21 MVP when the award is announced. For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.

Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Even despite what seems to be the inevitable, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers is still sticking up for his guy in the MVP race, recently telling the media: Had it not been for all that missed playing time, Joel Embiid would have made the race for the top spot in these rankings far more interesting, as the big man's numbers on the campaign are downright preposterous. Just over the last week, Embiid is putting up 33.3 points and 10.3 rebounds on 57.1 percent shooting from three and, in addition to that, the Sixers are playing much better basketball than the Nuggets recently, winning eight games in a row. Still, that missed time will almost certainly cost Embiid a real shot at taking home MVP this season. Luckily for the superstar center, there's always next year. For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.

Stephen Curry (Golden State)

Stephen Curry has continued his torrid scoring streak this week, averaging 39.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists over his last five games, a stretch in which the sharpshooter is shooting 17.0 threes per contest(!) and making 42.4 percent of them. One of those threes came late in last night's game against the Jazz, a game-winning bomb with just over 13 seconds left on the clock: Golden State Warriors teammate Kent Bazemore recently propped up Curry in the MVP race, poking fun at Bradley Beal for pulling a hamstring "trying to keep up" with the Warriors superstar. Needless to say, Beal was none too happy with Bazemore's slight, which you can read all about here. Regardless, with the possibility of a Lakers-Warriors play-in showdown looming and Curry performing at this level, the NBA's TV ratings issue could be put to rest for at least one night, as the basketball-loving masses will undoubtedly be glued to their TVs to watch that matchup. For the latest Stephen Curry rumors, click here.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

It's been a somewhat quiet stretch for Giannis Antetokounmpo recently, with the reigning two-time MVP putting up just 22.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists over his last three games, numbers that most players would love to average but that are ordinary for a player of Antetokounmpo's caliber. Antetokounmpo has been ailed with a stomach issue recently, so perhaps that could have something to do with his slight dip in play. Regardless, Antetokounmpo should be back to his normal, MVP-caliber self soon, ahead of what will be a crucial playoff run for both the superstar wing and his Milwaukee Bucks. For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.

Luka Doncic (Dallas)

The Dallas Mavericks, winners of four games in a row, are starting to look more dangerous as we approach the playoffs, particularly with Luka Doncic, putting up 21.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists over that stretch, leading the way. Doncic's play, along with the fall-off of some of the players ahead of him on this list, has led to the Slovenian star entering the Top 5 of our MVP rankings for the first time in 2020-21 this week. However, things haven't been all rosy for Doncic recently, with, first, the swingman getting ejected from Friday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers for what the referees deemed to be an illegal strike below the waist on Collin Sexton: Afterwards, Doncic's star teammate Kristaps Porzingis had to answer questions about his relationship with Doncic, which, according to Mark Cuban, isn't always perfect (via EuroHoops):

The Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently talked about the relationship between his two young star players in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, insinuating that they may not be as close as it appears on the court. However, Porzingis denied that’s the case and noted that he’s never had any issues with his teammates so far in his career. “I’ve never had any problems with my teammates off the court, I’ve always gotten along very well with them. I don’t know what Cuban was talking about. I try to be as professional as possible, do what I have to do and be a soldier for the team,” Porzingis told MARCA.

Doncic and Co. will have to move past these tumultuous moments, as the playoffs are right around the corner and the club will undoubtedly want to make it out of the first round of this postseason campaign. For the latest Luka Doncic rumors, click here.

Damian Lillard (Portland)

In what should come as a surprise to no one, as Damian Lillard's play has picked up recently, so has the play of the Portland Trail Blazers, who have won four games in a row, including a victory against the Lakers in that stretch. In that span, Lillard is putting up 33.5 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 53.8 percent from three on nearly 10 such attempts per game. Blazers teammate Norman Powell recently mentioned that Lillard has talked about badly wanting to win a championship (via NBC Sports):

“I really want to help make a deep playoff run and get to the finals and get to the championship,” Powell said. “I talked to Dame a couple of times about how badly he wants to win a ring, so hopefully this year I can help in different ways when we get into the playoffs. Kind of give them the little stories and things that I went through that playoff run to help probably motivate us to keep our foot on the gas and compete.”

It probably won't happen this season, but as long as Lillard remains this borderline MVP version of himself, Portland will have a chance against anyone. For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.

Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

It probably took us too long to make the switch, but Kawhi Leonard's poor run of play finally forced us to remove him from the Top 6 of these rankings. Of course, injuries have played a huge part in Leonard's recent downturn, but the numbers were just getting too ugly to ignore. Over his last four games, the two-time Finals MVP is putting up just 18.3 points and 5.0 assists while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor. The Los Angeles Clippers have to hope Leonard gets back on track soon because another embarrassing playoff failure could make this offseason and his impending free agency more interesting than Los Angeles might want it to be. For the latest Kawhi Leonard rumors, click here.

Julius Randle (New York)

Julius Randle's rise up these rankings continues, with the New York Knicks star now sitting at eighth for the first time all season. The honor is well-deserved, as Randle has the Knicks back in the playoff picture on a year not many expected it - and he's done it clearly as his team's No. 1 option on offense. Randle's play will undoubtedly pay off financially for the big man in an enormous way, as there are already reports of the Kentucky product and New York discussing a huge extension this offseason (via ESPN):

The Knicks can add up to four years to Randle’s contract, and both sides intend to talk over the summer to see if they can come to an agreement, sources said. But salary-cap rules limit the raise in Randle’s salary to a max of 20%. It would begin with New York fully guaranteeing Randle’s contract for next season. Currently, just $4 million of Randle’s $19.8 million deal for next year is guaranteed, a reminder of the Knicks’ hedge when signing him back in 2019. After that, the Knicks could add up to $106 million in guaranteed money. Including incentives, that could leave Randle with five years and nearly $140 million

Randle isn't set to hit free agency until 2022, but New York would be wise to extend him this summer, as another year of stability for the normally tumultuous organization could be key for the Knicks' future in recruiting other star-level free agents. Plus, Randle is the type of no-nonsense player who could attract other stars to join him. For the latest Julius Randle rumors, click here.

Chris Paul (Phoenix)

Phoenix Suns floor general Chris Paul has maintained his elite play recently, averaging 15.5 points, 10.8 assists and 2.3 steals over his last four games on pristine 45.1/60.0/90.9 shooting splits. Even so, Phoenix is just 2-2 in that stretch, including losses to the Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks, the latter by a shocking 32-point margin. That just goes to show, although the Suns have been one of the two best teams in the league this season by win percentage, they're going to have their work cut out for them come postseason, as the playoffs are a completely different animal from the regular season. Nevertheless, Paul and his backcourt partner Devin Booker will likely be up for the task. For the latest Chris Paul rumors, click here.

Rudy Gobert (Utah)

Despite the importance of Donovan Mitchell, there's no doubt the Jazz's most important – and impactful – player is French big man Rudy Gobert, whose value is on full display in this short clip where he swats a fellow MVP candidate in Jokic in a clutch situation and sets up a huge bucket for Utah: The Jazz would go on to win that game by seven points, with that above clip probably being the most vital play of the contest. The Athletic'sJohn Hollingerrecently did a great job breaking down the importance of Gobert for Utah:

Meanwhile, the whole team is built around Gobert at both ends of the floor, to the point that the Jazz are massively worse when he’s off the court even though they have one of the league’s best backup centers and two legit Sixth Man of the Year candidates. (Utah outscores opponents by 15.4 points per 100 with Gobert on the floor … and are outscored by 1.5 with him off the court.) His value is more apparent at the defensive end, where Gobert is likely to win Defensive Player of the Year, but observers undersell the extent of Gobert’s offensive impact. His only weakness is that he lacks the post game to dominate against switches, but he’s an elite screener with a huge catch radius around the rim and one with an unmatched motor for screening, re-screening and trucking down the lane every time.

The slights on Gobert simply because he doesn't shoot threes or because he's not perfect when guarding on the perimeter need to stop. He's an elite center and player overall, and Utah's massive 2020-21 season is evidence of just that. For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.

Jimmy Butler (Miami)

The Miami Heat have won five of their last six games, getting themselves some breathing room out of the play-in tournament race, and their lone defeat in that stretch came in a contest against Dallas that Jimmy Butler had to sit out. In what was arguably Miami's biggest game of the year, a road contest against the Boston Celtics, the team right behind them in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Butler was magnificent, scoring 26 on 14 shot attempts while chipping in eight rebounds, 11 assists and two steals. For the latest Jimmy Butler rumors, click here.

Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)

The Nets may be in poor form at the moment, losing four of their last five games, but it's impossible to blame Kyrie Irving for that, as the fiery point guard is averaging 38.0 points and 4.3 assists over his last three games, including a huge 31-point performance in Brooklyn's lone win in that stretch, a massive comeback against the Nuggets on the road. For the latest Kyrie Irving rumors, click here.

Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

We may have seen the last of Zion Williamson in the 2020-21 campaign, as the supremely talented big man suffered a fractured ring finger that is set to keep him out for the foreseeable future. New Orleans Pelicans general manager David Griffin was furious after the injury, accusing referees of not doing a good enough job protecting Williamson due to his huge size advantage. The outburst cost Griffin $50,000 courtesy of a fine, but he almost surely won't mind that. If this is it for Williamson this season, he'll go out after giving us one of the best age-20 campaigns in league history, averaging 27.0 points (on 61.1 percent from the field) and 7.2 rebounds per game. It'll be thrilling to see what year-3 Zion brings us. For the latest Zion Williamson rumors, click here.

James Harden (Brooklyn)

Nets 2-guard James Harden could be back as soon as Wednesday, which will be huge for a Brooklyn team who has lost four of their last five and need to find a rhythm with their three superstars ahead of the playoffs. For the latest James Harden rumors, click here.

Trae Young (Atlanta)

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young has started to heat up recently, averaging 33.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 9.5 assists while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor and 100.0 percent from the foul stripe over his last two games. Overall, the Hawks look like they're going to be a formidable foe for anyone come playoff time. Young's first foray into the postseason is going to be fun to watch unfold. For the latest Trae Young rumors, click here.