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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch – March 29

With big-time injuries to LeBron James and Joel Embiid in recent weeks, Tristan Tucker takes a look at how the landscape of the MVP race is changing.

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Since Basketball Insiders’ last MVP update, significant injuries struck two of the frontrunners of the race. Despite it being late March, with teams gearing up for playoff pushes, the MVP ladder looks drastically different. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the many shakeups that have occurred in the past two weeks.

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Previous: 2)

The last man standing from this season’s earlier three-man MVP race, Jokic has a stronger case than anyone else. Jokic’s play is consistent and he’s leading the Nuggets further and further into the playoff race, as the Nuggets are 4-2 since the last ladder. Across that span, Jokic is averaging 25.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game.

Those numbers are very close to Jokic’s season averages, but he shot 62.3 percent from the floor and 52.4 percent from three-point range in that time.

With Aaron Gordon now on board following the NBA trade deadline, the Nuggets have a real shot at moving up the standings. Denver is just 3.5 games out of the second seed in the west with tests against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on the horizon.

Jokic has a legitimate chance at being the first true center to be named MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-00. So much for the center position being obsolete.

2. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets (Previous: 5)

By his own bold proclamation, James Harden is the MVP. While he isn’t quite there, he has a stronger case than anyone sans Jokic. The Nets are 31-15, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving missing a combined 42 games. Harden is leading the league in assists, while scoring 25.8 points per game.

The Nets are 17-2 in games Harden has played in since Feb. 10. And in the last two weeks, Harden is averaging 30.8 points, 11.4 assists, 8 rebounds and 2 steals per game. In that span, Harden put up two 40-point performances, one of which was a triple-double against the Indiana Pacers.

With Harden on the floor, the Nets are simply dominant. Both Irving and Harden deserve immense credit for keeping Brooklyn competitive without Durant. Adding Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge will help take the load off the duo’s shoulders.

3. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Previous: Not Ranked)

Lillard deserves more buzz for the way the Blazers are playing this season. Portland is 28-18, winners of three straight and six of the last eight. That record leaves the Blazers tied with the Nuggets, just 3.5 games out of second place.

In the last two weeks, Lillard is averaging 25.3 points, just below his season average of 30 points per game, to go with 6.5 assists. With Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum back from injury, Portland has a chance to go on a run, especially after the acquisition of Norman Powell from the Toronto Raptors.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Previous: 4)

Antetokounmpo hasn’t played many games since the last update, leaving him in the same position for the last two weeks. However, the Bucks are one of the hottest teams in the league, 13-3 since Feb. 19. Currently, Antetokounmpo is averaging a career high in assists per game with 6.4, continuing to evolve in a year where Milwaukee will desperately try to get over the hump.

5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 1)

Embiid hasn’t played since March 12, but his team is 6-2 in games without him, two factors that severely hinder his MVP case. However, Embiid still lands in the fifth slot this week, his 29.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game are too good to ignore. Embiid is resuming on-court basketball activities this week, making his return seem somewhat imminent.

6. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (Previous: 3)

James is in a similar spot as Embiid, but his team is just 2-3 in games he has missed. James is expected to miss four to six weeks with his injury, an unfortunate circumstance for a player as dominant in his 18th season as he was in his first. “The King” is averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists this season.

Honorable Mention: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (Previous: NR)

Leonard’s Clippers are 6-1 in their last seven games, with Leonard averaging 23 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 36.8 percent from deep during that time. Many of Los Angeles’s recent wins are flat-out dominant, with a 27-point win over the Charlotte Hornets and a 33-point win over the San Antonio Spurs. Be on the lookout for a late-season surge from the Clippers while the Lakers deal with injuries.

With so many shakeups in the rankings this week, it just goes to show how unpredictable this league can be. Follow along with Basketball Insiders to see how teams prepare for playoff runs with under 30 games to go until the end of the season!

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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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder

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First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not have any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams.

After all, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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Russell Westbrook joins L.A. Lakers in One of the biggest trades in NBA History

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(Image courtesy of AP)

In one of the biggest NBA Draft trades ever, Los Angeles Lakers acquired the services of Washington Wizards’ former MVP, Russell Westbrook, last night!

As a result of the trade, the Lakers can now boast a holy trinity of attacking talent in Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and, of course, Lebron James, unlike anything seen in recent memory. Assuming this new contingent clicks into gear, it might just be the most frighteningly talented trio to play together in NBA history, rivaling the Bulls triple horn of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, or that great Lakers team of the late 80s with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In exchange for their star man, the Wizards received three players and what was the No 22 overall pick in last night’s NBA Draft. The former Lakers tasked with replacing Westbrook in Washington will be Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell.

Washington then spent the Lakers No.22 pick on Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson, but immediately traded him on to the Indiana Pacers in a deal that saw the Wizards acquire pick No.31 and point guard Aaron Holiday. Wizards then used pick No.31 to draft Isaiah Todd to bolster their ranks at power forward.

(Image courtesy of AP)

The effervescent Westbrook had another great year in 2020-21, averaging 22.2 points, 11.7 assists, and 11.5 rebounds per game in his first season with the Wizards.

In joining the Lakers star cast, which already boasts the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook, a 9x NBA All-Star & 2016-17 MVP, will now be hoping to end his NBA championship drought.

Westbrook has since taken to social media to thank the WashingtonWizards franchise for a great year spent in the capital, tweeting:

“Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one,” he wrote. “Everyone from the front office, to the training staff, the coaches, my teammates, and the fans. I’m grateful y’all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way.”

“I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

With a legendary point guard now fixed among the ranks, 2020 NBA Championship winners the Lakers have all the talent required to wrestle back the title from the freshly-crowned Milwaukee Bucks.

So, get yourselves ready for an influx of NBA betting lines on Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Middleton vs. LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook for next year’s championship games!

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