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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch – Feb. 15

With three players vying for the lead, Basketball Insiders releases its fourth MVP rankings of the 2020-21 season.

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In a typical NBA season, fans normally see one true favorite around this point in the season, and that player typically goes on to win. However, as we have all seen, this is no normal NBA season. On a nightly basis, fans are being treated to several players that have legitimate cases for the award. Without further ado, let’s see how some of the top dogs in the NBA have fared over the last two weeks.

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 2)

Embiid has had a career-defining February, evidenced by his 33.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1 block per game while shooting 54.1 percent overall, 38.9 percent from downtown and 88.2 percent from the free-throw line. That kind of performance, coupled with the fact that the 76ers sit atop the Eastern Conference, has Embiid at the front of the MVP pack.

That said, the margin between Embiid and the two players below him on this ladder is razor-thin. He has the opportunity to push himself even further ahead of the others on this list, however, with a pivotal matchup with Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz soon to come.

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

The most common theme one will hear when James’ name comes up this season is, ‘‘How is he doing this at age 36?’’ That’s a very valid question, as James has averaged 25.5 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game along with some of the best shooting splits of his career.

Since the last update to Basketball Insiders’ ladder, James has put up several noteworthy performances, including a 28-point triple-double in an overtime win against the Oklahoma City Thunder and a 33-point showing in an overtime win over the Detroit Pistons. James should have an opportunity to build on his MVP case even further now that co-star Anthony Davis is set to miss time with an Achilles aggravation, as well.

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

Jokic falling to three is not an indictment of his recent play, as he’s been absolutely stellar. Instead, it’s a testament to just how tightly knit this MVP race is, as he, Embiid and James are all capable of taking the top slot any given week.

Since the last ladder, Jokic’s Denver Nuggets have gone 3-3, but of no fault to Jokic. Jokic put up a 50-point bomb in a loss to the Sacramento Kings. However, the Nuggets are seemingly on the way up and just defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, with Jokic turning in a 23-point, 16-rebound and 10-assist performance.

4. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (Previous: 4)

Normally, Durant would drop a spot or two in the ladder for missing three games, but the Brooklyn Nets went 1-2 and were outscored by a total margin of 17 points in his absence. Upon his return, the Nets proceeded to drub the Golden State Warriors by 17.

It isn’t often that a player has one of their best statistical seasons just one year removed from an Achilles injury, but that’s exactly what Durant is doing, as he is now up to 29 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.4 blocks per game on 52.4 percent shooting from the field, 43.4 percent from three and 86.9 percent from the charity stripe.

Durant is probably a step behind the top three on this ladder, but don’t discount him from the race; Durant’s numbers are otherworldly.

5. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (Previous: 5)

In the wake of Paul George’s absence, Leonard pushed the Los Angeles Clippers to back-to-back wins with a 36-point outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves and a 33-point showing against the Chicago Bulls. Now, Leonard is averaging 29 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 52.4 percent shooting in the month of February.

With George expected to return soon, it will be interesting to see if either member of the duo can remain in the MVP race. The Clippers have a ridiculously difficult upcoming schedule, with matchups against the Miami HEAT, the Nets and two straight games against the Jazz.

6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Previous: Not Ranked)

There are plenty of players worth mentioning that are in the MVP race. Giannis Antetokounmpo is fresh off a triple-double, Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are heating up and the Jazz is torching the league under the leadership of Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, along with Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jordan Clarkson.

However, Stephen Curry earns the sixth slot on our ladder this week, as his performances along with the fact that the Warriors are firmly in the playoff picture are not being discussed enough.

In February, Curry is averaging a stunning 36.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game on well over a 50/40/90 shooting split. During that same stretch, Curry is shooting 47.8 percent from three on 13.1 attempts per game.

Furthermore, Curry is propelled by his 57-point performance against the Mavericks, a 40-point performance against the Orlando Magic and his team’s 31-point thrashing of Dallas in a separate game. If Curry can keep this up, he’ll easily jump higher on this ladder.

With the trade deadline approaching, fans are getting to see teams’ true colors, separating pretenders from contenders, which is sure to lead to some heated debates. Be sure to check out Basketball Insiders’ next MVP ladder in two 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 Managing Editor and have written for SB Nation and Fansided. I joined Basketball Insiders in December of 2020.

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