NBA Most Valuable Player Watch – May 4
With under 10 games to go in the regular season, Tristan Tucker breaks down the latest iteration of Basketball Insiders’ MVP ladder.
With just a couple of weeks until the end of the 2020-21 regular season, the NBA’s award races are getting closer to being complete. Though several contenders emerged across the year, one is beginning to set himself apart from the rest. Let’s take a look at how the race is shaking out toward the end of the year.
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Previous: 1)
With under 10 games left in the regular season, it appears the MVP award is Jokic’s to lose. Much can happen in the last few weeks of the season, but Jokic has been phenomenal all year long. On the year, Jokic is averaging 26.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game and has the Nuggets on a five-game win streak and third in the west.
Jokic’s shooting splits are also the best of his career by far. “The Joker” is connecting at a 41.2 percent clip from deep and is shooting 86 percent from the charity stripe.
Since Basketball Insiders’ last MVP ladder, the Nuggets have lost just one game with Jokic leading the charge.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Previous: Honorable Mention)
Though Antetokounmpo missed more time soon after missing six straight, “The Greek Freak” would be a solid runner-up as MVP. Even though he played under a minute in one of the contests, Antetokounmpo is still averaging 26.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 1 block per game in his last nine outings.
However, no game is more impressive than his 49-point showing against the daunting Brooklyn Nets. With the massive playoff implications on the line, Antetokounmpo added 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and a steal in a win over Brooklyn.
3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 3)
Though Embiid might not win the award, he deserves immense credit for being this close in the race despite missing significant time due to injury. On the year, Embiid is averaging a career-high 29.3 points per game. Even more impressive is his career-best shooting numbers: 51.2 percent from the floor, 37.6 percent from three and 85.4 percent from the line.
At full health, the 76ers are a scary unit and are on the brink of clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference. With its entire starting unit healthy, the team is 21-4.
4. Chris Paul/Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Previous: 4)
As mentioned in the last ladder, Chris Paul and Devin Booker are equally responsible for the phenomenal success of the Suns. Phoenix has a legitimate chance to finish as the No. 1 seed in the west, a remarkable feat and quick turnaround for the franchise.
In the last few weeks, Paul is averaging 17.1 points and 9 assists per game while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 44.9 percent from deep. Success follows Paul wherever he goes. The worst a Paul-led team has performed is 37-45 in 2009-10, when he played just 45 games. Just last season, Paul took an Oklahoma City Thunder team with no stars to a 44-28 record.
However, this stint with the Suns might be his most impressive work yet. Phoenix, who finished outside of the playoffs last season, is 24-9 against teams with a .500 record or better.
Then there’s Booker, who’s averaging 25.6 points per game as the team’s leading scorer. Others are certainly contributing, but the tandem of Booker and Paul is one of the most exciting in the league.
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (Previous: 5)
The Mavericks are just 6-4 in their last 10 games with Doncic, but the team is close to clinching the Southwest Division. Winning the division would give the Mavericks a tiebreaker over the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, who are both tied with Dallas for the fifth seed.
Who says division titles don’t matter in the NBA?
Blazers, Mavericks and Lakers are all 36-28 … but if the season ended that way Dallas would claim the No. 5 seed as the Southwest Division champs. That’s the first tiebreaker in a three-way tie.
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 3, 2021
Even though the Mavericks haven’t jumped off the page in recent weeks, Doncic is continuing to be impressive. Since the last MVP ladder, Doncic is averaging 29 points, 10.4 assists, 8 rebounds and 1.2 steals while connecting at a 48.8 percent clip from the floor.
6. Julius Randle, New York Knicks (Previous: Not Ranked)
In what would’ve been an unthinkable turn of events mere months ago, the Knicks are 36-28, fourth in the Eastern Conference. Randle has been great all season but has played like a true superstar in the last few weeks.
Since April 13, Randle is averaging 31 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Even more mindblowing is the fact that Randle is shooting 51.4 percent from deep on 7.8 attempts per night across that span of time.
The Knicks are winners of 11 of their last 12 games and have clinched a postseason appearance for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
Honorable Mention: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Previous: NR)
He won’t win the award due to team success but it would be amiss to not mention Stephen Curry in the race for MVP. There’s an argument to be made that no team would be worse off without its best player than the Warriors. Look no further than last season’s team that boasted the worst record in the league.
Over the last few weeks, Curry’s play has kept the Warriors in the playoff picture despite several injuries in the team’s frontcourt. Now, Curry is the leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 31.3 points per game while shooting 42.6 percent from three on 12.2 attempts per contest.
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