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NBA

2020-21 NBA MVP Ladder: LeBron James, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic setting the tone early

We're still less than a month into the 2020-21 NBA season, but it's never too soon to check in on the MVP race.

Besides, part of the fun of putting an MVP ladder together this early into the season is that there are so many worthy candidates. Not only do you have LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, each of whom are no strangers to being in the MVP discussion, the likes of Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis are making a strong case to start this season.

There's also CJ McCollum and Jaylen Brown, neither of whom have made an All-Star team before, mind alone been considered for MVP, but they've each played a big role in their respective team's hot starts.

With that in mind, four members of our NBA.com Staff sent in their top-five for MVP right now. We then used a point system - one point for being at No. 1, two points for being at No. 2, three points for being at No. 3 and so on and so forth - to come up with the following list.

But first...

On the outside looking in

Otherwise known as players who received votes but not enough to make the top five:

5. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Highest finish: 3

Lowest finish: Not ranked

So much for rust.

After sitting out a year and a half with an Achilles tear, it hasn't taken Durant long to remind everyone what he's capable of. As of this writing, he ranks behind only Bradley Beal in scoring with an average 29.4 points per game, doing so on a career-best 53.7 percent shooting from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range. He's also averaging 7.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, the latter being a hair behind the highest mark of his career (5.9).

Durant has taken his game to another level lately, scoring a season-high 36 points in Brooklyn's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder and dishing out a season-high 13 assists in a win over the Denver Nuggets.

Durant came up big in the clutch against the Nuggets, making two late baskets to put them away.

He's back!

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Highest finish: 4

Lowest finish: Not ranked

It's going to be difficult for Antetokounmpo to win a third straight MVP award - only three players in NBA history have ever gone back-to-back-to-back - but he's still playing at an MVP level.

Through 11 games, Antetokounmpo is leading the Bucks with 26.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per contest. According to Stathead, only three players have ever posted those numbers in a single season. Their names? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and ... Antetokounmpo, who did it in 2018-19.

More importantly, the Bucks are now 8-4 following their win over the Detroit Pistons, a game in which Antetokounmpo recorded his second triple-double of the season.

As long as Antetokounmpo keeps posting those numbers and the Bucks keep winning, you can expect to see him in the mix for yet another MVP award.

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Highest finish: 3

Lowest finish: 4

Jokic has played well enough to be the front-runner for MVP.

The two-time All-Star is currently averaging a triple-double with 24.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, ranking him 21st in the league in scoring, ninth in rebounding and first in assists. He's tied with Domantas Sabonis for the most double-doubles (12) while having the most triple-doubles (5).

Name your advanced statistic - PER, Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus, VORP, RAPTOR - and Jokic is leading the way.

The problem? It's been a bit of a struggle for the Nuggets, who are 6-6 following their win over the Golden State Warriors. Even if their record was only slightly better, it's hard to imagine Jokic not headlining this list.

2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Highest finish: 1

Lowest finish: 2

If you watched what Embiid did to the Miami Heat this week, this won't come as a surprise.

It's not just that he led the 76ers to victory with 45 points and 16 rebounds, it's how he did it. It started in the third quarter, when Embiid scored 20 points on a perfect 8-for-8 shooting from the field to get Philadelphia back in the game. He then took over down the stretch, nailing a jumper over Precious Achiuwa in the closing seconds to force overtime, followed by 11 points in the extra period to seal the deal.

Embiid is now averaging 25.0 points and 11.5 rebounds to go along with 2.9 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.4 steals on the season. The 76ers are 9-4, sporting the league's 16th-ranked offence and fourth-ranked defence.

If Embiid and the 76ers keep this up, it's going to make this season's MVP race very interesting.

1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Highest finish: 1

Lowest finish: 2

This came down to a two-man race between Embiid and James. Embiid received one first-place vote and three second-place votes while James received three first-place votes and one second-place vote.

His numbers are down basically across the board compared to last season, but James is still averaging 24.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game on 48.3 percent shooting from the field and 38.6 percent from 3-point range. The Lakers, who have the best record in the NBA at 10-3, have been a completely different team with him in the lineup, going from outscoring opponents by 13.6 points per 100 possessions to 1.3 when he takes a seat on the bench.

It's why the Lakers are getting away with James averaging a career-low 31.9 minutes per game - they've been obliterating teams with him on the court.

For James to still be doing this at the age of 36 is incredible. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up, because it would give him a real shot at being the oldest player to ever win MVP if he does.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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