NBA

2020-21 NBA MVP Ladder: Joel Embiid takes over No. 1 spot from LeBron James

It's time to check-in on the MVP race again.

As always, this was a collaborative effort between four members of our NBA.com Staff: Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay), Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_), Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21) and myself (@crabdribbles). We each sent in our top-five for MVP right now and used a point system - one point for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote, three points for a third-place vote and so on - to come up with the following list.

As you may have gathered from the title, we have a new No. 1 this week, but let's start with some honourable mentions.

On the outside looking in

They didn't receive enough votes to crack the top-five, but James Harden and Chris Paul did make some of our ballots.

In 20 games with the Brooklyn Nets, Harden is averaging 24.9 points, 11.4 assists, 8.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals. He's taken his game to another level with Kevin Durant on the sideline, helping the Nets stretch their league-best winning streak to eight straight games on Thursday.

Paul's scoring is down slightly from last season, but he's still averaging 16.7 points to go along with 8.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds. He's helped the Phoenix Suns build off of their showing in the bubble, to the point where they now have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference.

Other notable MVP candidates: Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry.

5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Highest rank: 3

Lowest rank: Not ranked

The Blazers have been without Jusuf Nurkic since Jan. 16 and CJ McCollum since Jan. 18, and yet they still have the fifth-best record in the Western Conference.

They have Lillard to thank for that.

Not only is he posting almost identical numbers to last season with averages of 29.6 points, 8.0 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, Lillard has been the most clutch player in the league this season, ranking second in the league in points scored in those situations on 60.0 percent shooting from the field and 55.6 percent from 3-point range.

What Lillard did to the Chicago Bulls recently was straight up mean.

The Blazers have cooled off lately, losing three straight games, but the fact that they're even in this position to begin with is a testament to how good Lillard has been this season.

4. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

Highest rank: 4

Lowest rank: Not ranked

Leonard is quietly having one of the best seasons of his career. His 26.7 points per game are just under his career high and his efficiency is off the charts, knocking on the door of the 50-40-90 club with .510/.384/.868 shooting splits. He's led the Clippers to a 23-11 record, putting them half a game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers (22-11) for second place in the Western Conference.

The Clippers recently dropped a game to the Durant-less Nets, but it came on the heels of a win over the Utah Jazz, handing them only their sixth loss of the season.

Leonard did a bit of everything, coming up with 29 points, five rebounds, four assists and one block.

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Highest rank: 1

Lowest rank: 4

Not much has changed with Jokic. He continues to put up numbers we've never seen before from a centre and almost every advanced statistic points to him being the most valuable player in the league this season. He even still leads the way in Basketball Reference's MVP tracker, which "ranks candidates based on a model built using previous voting results." Their model gives him a 38.3 percent chance of winning the award, followed by Embiid at 18.6 percent.

The only knock on Jokic's MVP case continues to be Denver's record. Currently two games above .500, the Nuggets sit at eighth in the Western Conference. The Nuggets would be at a complete loss without him - they've been a whopping 10.6 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the court this season - but history says it's almost impossible to win MVP without a top two seed.

That's probably our NBA.com Staff is all over the place on where Jokic should rank. Two of us had him at No. 3 on our ballots, one of us had him at No. 1 and one of us had him at No. 4.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Highest rank: 2

Lowest rank: 2

It's been a tough couple of weeks for the Lakers. They've lost five of their six games since our last MVP ladder, three of which were decided by double figures.

It's hard to blame James too much for their recent slump - he's still putting up MVP-like numbers and the Lakers have been without Anthony Davis due to a calf injury, as well as Dennis Schroder due to Health and Safety Protocols - but Los Angeles falling to third in the Western Conference has paved the way for a new front-runner in the MVP race.

One thing to watch: James has gone from shooting 41.0 percent from 3-point range over the first 24 games of the season to 19.7 percent in the last nine. The Lakers can only hope he regains his shooting touch sooner rather than later.

1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Highest rank: 1

Lowest rank: 3

A new No. 1.

The 76ers haven't exactly been setting the league on fire lately, going 6-4 in their last 10 games, but they continue to lead the way in the Eastern Conference on the strength of the best season of Embiid's career.

Even following a tough back-to-back with the Toronto Raptors, Embiid is averaging 29.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks on 51.6 percent shooting from the field and 40.5 percent from the 3-point line on the season. The 76ers have been a completely different team without him, going from outscoring opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the court to being outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. That represents one of the biggest swings in the league.

There's still a lot of basketball to be played this season, but Embiid's case is going to be tough to beat as long as he's posting 30-10 on a nightly basis and the 76ers are at the top of the East.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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