Happy Holidays to all, especially those fighting their way through the Most Valuable Player gauntlet.
With Christmas Day games in the rearview mirror, every team and their respective stars can set their sights on the second half of the season to assert their dominance. Since we last checked in on the MVP race, not too much has changed. Those at the top haven’t given much reason to think they’ve been supplanted. However, a pair of teammates has swapped out spots on the ladder from our last update (I’m sure you could probably guess who).
Without ruining too much of your post-Christmas present list, let’s get into the action.
- Joel Embiid
Despite playing just four of the seven games on the Philadelphia 76ers schedule since the last ladder, Joel Embiid has done enough to stake his claim still.
After a hot start to the season, thanks in large part to Embiid’s availability, the Sixers have struggled mightily in December. Over their last 10 games, the Sixers are 2-8. Since starting 13-9, they’ve dropped overall to 15-18. During their last 10 game stint, Embiid has played in just half of those contests, fueling most of their losing ways.
Granted, it’s hard to win an award if you can’t stay on the court, especially MVP. We saw that last season with Embiid and Rookie of the Year. But this year, the Sixers have playoff hopes that fall squarely on the big man’s shoulders. And when he’s out there, he delivers.
The Sixers are 14-11 with Embiid on the court. His averages are well known and beyond impressive. His plus/minus advantage on both ends of the court has been stressed enough. Embiid is important, plain and simple.
On Christmas Day against the New York Knicks, Embiid propelled the Sixers to a tight 105-98 victory. However, according to ESPN Stats and Info, when Embiid was on the court the Sixers outscored the Knicks 90-65. Not much more needs to be said after that.
- Kyrie Irving
Since last checking in with Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics, the team being carried by young players has cooled off a bit from their league-leading hot start in the wins column. As a result, Irving hasn’t made up much ground on his contemporaries in the MVP race.
Over their last eight games, the Celtics are even at 4-4. Despite Irving notching 30-point games in five of those contests, Boston just hasn’t been able to get it done with the level of efficiency they were used to at the start of the season.
Regardless, the dynamic point guard is still putting himself and his teammates in the best possession to be a possible threat come playoff time. Over the same stretch of games, Irving has upped his production, scoring 28.3 points per game to go along with 5.5 assists.
After losing a close one to the Washington Wizards on Christmas day, the Celtics will look to regroup going into the new year, and hopefully get back to their winning ways.
For Irving, however, barring a supernova second half of the season, the narrative of him winning MVP during his first season with his new club has all but faded away at this point. There are simply too many better options at this time.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
For Giannis Antetokounmpo, dropping in this week’s ladder isn’t an indicator of him playing poorly, but simply being outshined by one particular individual (we’ll get to that in a moment).
Since our last stop with the Milwaukee Bucks and Antetokounmpo, the squad has split their six contests but stamped a huge win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Greek Freak poured in 27 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, and two steals. Battling LeBron James and the Cavs head-to-head and coming away with the victory was a statement by Milwaukee that they’re here to play, and they will be here in May when the intensity is kicked up a notch.
The raw numbers for Antetokounmpo are still as impressive as they’ve always been, and any player averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds a game while serving as the main initiator of his team’s offense will always be within arm’s length of grabbing the MVP trophy. With the stiff competition he’s going up against this season, it’s a good thing Antetokounmpo has that ridiculous wingspan.
- Kevin Durant
During our last ladder, Kevin Durant’s superstar teammate, Steph Curry, was holding on to the last spot. Being sidelined with an ankle injury has cost Curry his chance of making a lasting impact on the MVP race, but the unfortunate injury has given Durant cause to make his.
Since Curry went down, Durant has kept Golden State afloat, going 8-1 in those nine games and posting absolutely gaudy averages on both ends of the floor: 29.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 3.1 blocks.
When Durant and Curry are on the floor together, it almost makes each of their cases for the award nullified, considering the help they provide each other. But as one of the superstar duo sits for an extending period of time and the team as a whole doesn’t skip a beat, it makes the case for their counterpart to receive a bit of extra credit.
In the wake of Curry’s loss, Durant has reverted back to his Finals MVP form and put the Warriors on his back. During the all-important Christmas Day Finals rematch with LeBron and the Cavs, Durant had 27 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks en route to a victory. He also provided some key stops down the stretch (foul or not) that allowed the Warriors to hold onto their lead, proving his importance goes well beyond his ability to shoot a basketball.
Durant has some serious ground to make up on the top two spots in this race, but if Curry begins to miss more time than expected, he may have the opportunity to do just that.
- LeBron James
There are no more words for what LeBron James is doing in the 15th season of his career.
At this point, nothing will do his ridiculousness justice. James was 18 years old when he entered the NBA, a physical marvel the likes of which we hadn’t seen. Nearly 15 years later, as James lives his second life in the league he entered as a teenager, he is still every bit of that same physical marvel.
While this version of James may not rattle the rim as frequently with his violent dunks (though he’s still very much capable of doing so), he has begun to adapt and evolve with the times. His shooting percentages, maybe once thought this season to be the result of some hot streak, appear to be staying put. James is shooting 56 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 77 percent from the line, all multiple points above his career averages. He’s four days away from this 33rd birthday.
At one point this season, the Cavs were 5-7 and many declared the sky falling post-Kyrie Irving. Since then, all James has done is lead his team to a 19-3 record, with his other All-Star point guard, Isaiah Thomas, still sidelined by injury.
The numbers are there. The wins are there. The MVP mentality is there.
James could lock up the award in the second half of this season with ease during any other campaign. Unfortunately for him, there’s this guy with a beard bigger than his who is matching his performances night for night.
- James Harden
Over the last week, the Houston Rockets have seemed to fall under some hard times. After their Christmas Day debacle against Oklahoma City, Houston claimed their first three-game losing streak of the season.
Before that holiday mishap, the Rockets dropped back-to-back games to subpar teams in the Clippers and the Lakers. Even worse, James Harden scored 51 points in each of those games. It wasn’t enough, though.
This slight rough patch has brought Harden’s MVP case back down a notch and within reach of LeBron’s clutches. Obviously not an ideal scenario for Harden to be in. But the NBA season still has it’s second half to get into and it wouldn’t be wise to suspect that James and the Rockets will all of a sudden begin to lose games.
Despite not having Chris Paul alongside him on Christmas, Harden is accustomed to winning without him should his fellow all-star point guard miss extended time with a left adductor strain, though that’s not expected to be the case.
With upcoming road games against Eastern Conference heavyweights in Boston and Washington, Harden has the perfect opportunity to reaffirm himself as the league’s MVP with a couple of wins and big-time performances. Should his team continue to flounder, though, Harden will leave the door open at this point in time to the likes of LeBron and Durant.
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