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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch – April 13

Outside of the top of the ladder, the rest of the MVP race is anybody’s guess. Tristan Tucker takes a look at some of the surprise names that could emerge in the final weeks of the NBA season.

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Injuries to LeBron James and Joel Embiid, two of the top three MVP frontrunners for a majority of the season, are continuing to affect the MVP race. Now, several other players caught the injury bug and are likely to lose ground on the ladder. Let’s take a look at some of the major shake-ups in the rankings over the past two weeks.

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Previous: 1)

Jokic’s recent scoring numbers haven’t jumped off the page as much as his early-season stats did, but he’s impacting winning in new ways. Before a loss to the Boston Celtics, the Nuggets were the owners of an eight-game win streak, with Jokic averaging 22.9 points a game during that span. Also during those eight games, Jokic averaged 10 assists, 9 rebounds and shot 56.7 percent from the floor.

“The Joker” has just a few weeks left in the regular season to cement himself as the lone choice for MVP, but his season averages have always been great and now his team’s record is there too. On the year, Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists on a 57/42.9/86.2 shooting split.

If Jokic finishes the season in the elusive 50/40/90 club, he’ll join Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant as the only big men to do so.

Denver’s entire offense runs through Jokic — and his teammates benefit greatly. Look no further than the recent addition of Aaron Gordon. Jokic has already assisted on more Gordon buckets (16) than any individual player of the Orlando Magic gave him all year.

That’s the epitome of an MVP.

2. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets (Previous: 2)

Harden remains in the same spot on the ladder, with a slight chance to drop due to an injury that will keep him sidelined for 10 days. Before Harden’s injury on April 5, the Nets had only lost once since March 19. However, Brooklyn has dropped two of its last four games, including a 25-point blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Brooklyn’s big three of Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have barely played together, yet the Nets are 36-17, tied for first in the East. Harden is responsible for much of that success and is now up to 25.2 points, 8 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game.

3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 5)

With a triumphant return from injury, Embiid surges back into the top five. Embiid looked primed to run away with the MVP award after dominating the league for the first few months of the season until his injury. Now, Embiid is back and has time to make his case as the league’s Most Valuable Player.

In the four games since his return, Embiid is averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. His best of such games was a 35-point outing in a win over the Boston Celtics.

4. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Previous: Not Ranked)

In April, Booker is averaging 30.8 points and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from three. As detailed by Basketball Insiders’ Drew Maresca, the Phoenix Suns are one of the most overlooked contenders in the league. Booker isn’t solely responsible for Phoenix’s success, but he is integral to what the team is doing. The Suns are currently 37-15, the second-best record in the entire league.

Ultimately, Chris Paul deserves as much credit as Booker and he’s close on the heels of Booker in this race. However, it’s a mutualistic relationship, as Booker’s improvements go beyond the numbers.

Booker has always been able to shoot the leather off the ball, but he’s become an underrated leader and one of the league’s most dominant stars. 

5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (Previous: NR)

All season long, Doncic kept the Dallas Mavericks afloat in spite of several difficulties facing the team. Now, the Mavericks are in rhythm, with Doncic still to thank. Since Basketball Insiders’ last MVP ladder, Doncic is averaging 28.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 49.7 percent overall and 36.5 percent from deep on 9 attempts a night.

Dallas has lost all three of its most recent games without Doncic and is 12-4 since the beginning of March in games that Doncic has played. The Mavericks are still sitting at just seventh in the west but they now look like a playoff lock, something that came into question earlier in the year.

6. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Previous: 3)

Lillard would be a lot higher if not for the fact that he’s struggled in recent games, as the Trail Blazers have lost four of their last six games. However, Lillard is one of the most consistent players on this ladder and will continue to hover around contention, with a chance to jump into a top slot once he gets back into rhythm.

On the year, Lillard is averaging 28.7 points and 7.6 assists per game while shooting 37.8 percent from downtown. Portland is 31-22 and sixth in the Western Conference.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: 4)

Like every week, there are a lot of fun potential honorable mentions to add to the ladder. Jimmy Butler and the Miami HEAT have looked dominant as of late. Kawhi Leonard deserves credit for the recent play of the Los Angeles Clippers, while Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson are sneakily playing their way into the conversation.

Williamson is playing up to his No. 1 pick status, averaging 31.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5 assists per game in April in a point forward role. Tatum, on the other hand, is averaging 29 points and 8.5 rebounds in April while the Celtics have won five of their last six.

The only thing holding those two from actually appearing on the ladder is stagnation by way of their teams.

This week, Antetokounmpo holds the honorable mention, slipping in the rankings after missing Milwaukee’s last five games. While the injury shouldn’t last as long as others suffered by MVP candidates, it’s still a shame to see “The Greek Freak’s” season come to a pause just as he and the Bucks were getting into a serious rhythm.

Most impressively, Antetokounmpo put up a 47-point, 12-rebound performance in an 18-point win over the Blazers, his last game before injury. Once Antetokounmpo returns, look for him to make a serious run in the MVP race across the final weeks of the season.

Now that rosters are relatively set for the playoffs, teams have around 20 games left to change their seeding fates. Be sure to stay tuned to Basketball Insiders to see how the MVP landscape continues to evolve in the coming weeks.

My name is Tristan Tucker and I am a basketball writer currently enrolled at North Carolina State University. I am the school paper's assistant sports editor and have written for SB Nation and Fansided. I joined Basketball Insiders in December of 2020.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Bradley Beal never requested a trade, remains committed to Wizards

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This NBA offseason has been a frustrating one for some die-hard fans, especially Washington Wizards‘ fans. On June 18, 2021, news broke concerning shooting guard Bradley Beal announcing his commitment to play for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. A few weeks ago, it was reported by USA Basketball that Beal would not play in the Tokyo Olympics. And, this was because the 28-year-old three-time NBA All-Star had to enter the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Missouri native.

In an interview published by CBS Sports on July 15, 2021, regarding the chance to play for USA Basketball, Beal told CBS’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain, “It’s an honor. It’s something that you take for granted. Not a lot of guys in the league get this opportunity. We all know that. We didn’t live up to what we wanted to a few years ago (in the 2019 FIBA World Cup), and so now we have an opportunity to get back what’s rightfully ours.”

In 2010, Beal won the FIBA-Under 17 World Cup MVP. Though, everyone can see his passion for basketball. Needless to say, it is an awful experience for any athlete to have to bow out of the Olympics. In addition to this unfortunate news, there is all kinds of speculation across the Internet concerning Beal’s future with the Wizards. From Boston.com, it was reported two days ago that Beal would welcome a trade if he was moved to the Boston Celtics. The report also included three other teams: Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers. This latest news information was originally reported by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. Last Saturday, Fischer stated, “Boston’s path to securing Beal would appear far more costly, as the Celtics’ offer almost certainly has to include Jaylen Brown and all of their future draft picks they are able to part with.”

Although the report could still be accurate, many fans are asking for more evidence to help support this claim. This is Beal’s team; he was drafted by Washington third overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Would the Wizards be wiling to trade their star player for Jaylen Brown and potential future draft picks? This remains to be seen. Plus, everyone should keep in mind that although Beal was open to a trade, at least he never demanded an immediate trade. The latest news is likely just trade rumors and meaningless gossip.

Moreover, the 2020-21 Wizards finished 34-38 (.472), ranking third in the Southeast Division and eighth overall in the Eastern Conference. The team lost four games to one in the first round of the postseason against the 76ers. The Wizards have not appeared in the NBA Finals since the 1978-79 season, and they have not won the championship since the 1977-78 season, when they defeated the Seattle Supersonics in Game 7 105-99. Not to mention, the Wizards were called the Bullets back then.

After the season ended, the organization agreed to part ways with head coach Scott Brooks. Perhaps Coach Brooks leaving the team is leading Beal to ask more questions about his own future. Last season, in 60 games played, the six-foot-three guard averaged 31.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. The 9-year NBA veteran also shot 48.5 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. In the 2021 All-Star Game, in 31 minutes played, Beal scored 26 points.

On October 17, 2019, Beal signed a two-year, $72 million extension with Washington. He earned $28.7 million this past season, and he will earn $34.5 million in the upcoming 2021-22 season. Beal’s player option for the 2022-23 season is also $37.2 million. So, folks should keep in mind that Beal is still showing his loyalty to the Wizards. He is only considering a trade request before the draft. The key word here is “considering.” Having said this, not even LeBron James is safe from a trade in this league. Ok, maybe only James is safe.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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