NBA MVP watch: Nikola Jokic did the most with less in earning top spot

This is my final top five MVP watch for the 2020-21 season as awards ballots were due Monday.

Chris Haynes' final NBA MVP picks (as of May 17, 2021): 1. Nikola Jokic, 2. Joel Embiid, 3. Chris Paul, 4. Damian Lillard, 5. Stephen Curry.
(Graphic by Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

5. Stephen Curry

32 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.8 apg

BetMGM odds: +2800

For the first time this season, Stephen Curry has cracked the top five. The tear he has been on has been tremendous, including securing the season scoring title. He carried the Golden State Warriors to the top eight in the Western Conference and a play-in tournament berth against the Los Angeles Lakers. If you look where the Warriors came from, you have to credit Curry (and Draymond Green). Curry wasn't in the top five because the Warriors weren't in the top eight of the conference, but in the final installment, he makes it.

4. Damian Lillard

28.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.5 apg

BetMGM odds: +10000

Lillard was at No. 1 in the MVP watch a few weeks ago as he was having a really good season for the Portland Trail Blazers and carrying that squad. With CJ McCollum (foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (wrist) out for extended periods of time, Lillard was the reason the Blazers were still in playoff contention. Despite the Blazers, and Lillard, hitting a late-season funk, he has been one of the top MVP candidates for most of the season.

3. Chris Paul

16.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8.9 apg

BetMGM odds: +10000

What Paul has done for this young Phoenix Suns team has given them confidence and the belief that they can go out there and beat some of the top teams in the league. And they did that, earning the No. 2 seed in the West. Paul made my MVP watch late in the season because it took me awhile to see the impact that he was making. But you can't deny his impact and his presence.

2. Joel Embiid

28.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.8 apg

BetMGM odds: +2500

This was tough because Embiid had the MVP in his hands for most of the season. Embiid suffered a knee injury in the latter part of the season where he missed extended time, and the Philadelphia 76ers kept winning, for the most part. Before that, though, Embiid had a career year and put the 76ers in championship contention, but he didn't play in enough games as another MVP contender made his mark down the stretch.

1. Nikola Jokic

26.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 8.3 apg

BetMGM odds: -5000

The Joker gets my vote for MVP as he's kept this Denver Nuggets team afloat. When you look at everything he had to deal with, including losing Jamal Murray (torn ACL) and Will Barton (hamstring) for the season in April. Also, multiple Nuggets players sat out for extended stretches due to the COVID-19 protocols. Still, Jokic managed to keep Denver in playoff contention and earned home-court advantage in the first round. When you look at his numbers, you'd think it was a guard putting up those stats. Of all the players in my top five, he had to work with less to get his team to this point.

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