It's been almost a month since our last MVP ladder, so a check-in on everyone's favourite end-of-season award is long overdue.
Like last time, 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.
Before we get to it, we hope to honour Sekou Smith with this MVP ladder and the ones to follow this season. I know I speak for many when I say that his MVP ladder was the gold standard and his coverage of the league will be sorely missed.
So in honour of Smith, our latest MVP ladder...
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Highest finish: 5
Lowest finish: Not ranked
It speaks to the standards Antetokounmpo has set for himself that he isn't higher on this list despite averaging the second-most points (28.1), third-most rebounds (11.1) and third-most assists (5.5) of his career on a Bucks team that currently has the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and the league's best net rating. Difficult as it's going to be for him to win a third straight MVP, there simply aren't many players who impact both ends of the court like Antetokounmpo does on a nightly basis.
Antetokounmpo finished in fifth place on two of our four ballots. Stephen Curry earned one fifth-place vote and Kevin Durant earned the other.
4. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
Highest finish: 3
Lowest finish: 4
Leonard is knocking on the door of the 50-40-90 club while averaging 26.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He was always going to be a longshot for MVP as long as he was missing games due to rest, but Leonard has appeared in all but four of LA's games this season, missing two with a facial injury and two more because of Health and Safety protocols. He even played in a back-to-back recently, his first since 2017.
The Clippers have lost three of their last four games, but they're still in the mix for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, sitting 2.5 games behind the Utah Jazz and 2.0 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers at the top of the standings.
As good as Paul George has been, Leonard has been the driving force in LA's success.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Highest finish: 3
Lowest finish: 4
Jokic has been arguably the best player in the league this season. He's averaging a near triple-double with 26.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game on .567/.400/.850 shooting splits. Joel Embiid has a slightly higher Player Efficiency Rating - more on him soon - but Jokic leads the league in almost every other advanced statistic, such as Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus and Value Over Replacement Player.
Based on Basketball-Reference's MVP Tracker, which "ranks candidates based on a model built using previous voting results," Jokic is in the driver's seat right now.
🃏 50 POINTS 🃏- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) February 7, 2021
THE best big man in the game.#NikolaJokic #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/cYCOTUNA75
The only real knock on Jokic is that the Nuggets are 13-11, ranking them seventh in the Western Conference. As dynamite as they've been offensively, they currently rank in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Highest finish: 2
Lowest finish: 2
Embiid has been a force on both ends of the court this season. After scoring 35 points in Philadelphia's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers - his 10th 30-point game of the season - he's averaging 29.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks on 54.5 percent shooting from the field and 38.1 percent from 3-point range, both of which are the highest marks of his career.
The 76ers have been a completely different team with Embiid in the lineup, going from outscoring their opponent by 11.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court to being outscored by 4.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench.
.@JoelEmbiid continues to impress & marked his sixth game this season with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. #NBAAllStar- Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 4, 2021
34 PTS / 11 REB / 2 STL
📹 presented by @IBX pic.twitter.com/oouKz0bbiS
It speaks to Embiid's dominance, as well as his consistency, that the 76ers are 17-4 in the games he has played and 1-4 in the ones he has been sidelined.
With an 18-7 record, Philadelphia currently has the best record in the Eastern Conference on the strength of the league's 12th-ranked offence and fourth-ranked defence.
1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Highest finish: 1
Lowest finish: 1
James remains at No. 1.
He might not pop in quite the same way as Embiid and Jokic at first glance, but James is in the midst of another terrific season with averages of 25.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. He's second to only Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox in clutch scoring and has the Lakers on the heels of the Jazz for the best record in the Western Conference despite Anthony Davis not quite being himself to start the season.
https://t.co/cEEQsXMFLd pic.twitter.com/5seJJY0ovq- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 11, 2021
A scary sign for the rest of the league: James is attempting a career-best 6.9 3-pointers per game and making them at a 39.4 percent clip. A decent amount of those have been catch-and-shoot, but James has become one of the best pull-up 3-point shooters in the league. According to NBA.com, Curry (74), Damian Lillard (66), Zach LaVine (48) and James Harden (44) are the only players who have made more pull-up 3s than James (42) to this point of the season.
Even more surprising is that Curry (43.3 percent) is the only one of those players who has converted his pull-up 3s at a higher rate than James (42.4 percent).
If that continues, everyone is in trouble.
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