NBA

NBA MVP Ladder: Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo headline the first ranking of the season

MVP-Ladder-FTR
NBA MVP Ladder (Sporting News Illustrations)

Every year, the NBA MVP is awarded to the player who has the most impressive first two weeks of the season. Everyone knows that.

...or maybe not.

But in this instance, we will award a two-week MVP based on the player who has been the most unstoppable to start the 2021-22 NBA regular season. Before we hand out the award, we have to show love to the players who have taken a massive leap so far this year, just shy of cracking the top-five for MVP conversations.

Honourable mentions

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine.

LaVine has maintained his All-Star level of play from a season ago, producing similar numbers despite being surrounded by more talent than any stage in his eight-year career. Averaging 25.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from 3, he has propelled the Bulls to a 4-1 record to start the season. A toughness and willingness to play through a ligament tear in his left thumb only adds to his resume in pursuit of his first-ever playoff appearance.

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young

Young averaged 25.3 points and 9.4 assists per game during the regular season last year and didn't make the All-Star team. Putting blatant disrespect behind him, he went on to lead the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals, proving his numbers were much more than just empty calorie stats.

With expectations higher than ever entering the new season, Young continues to produce. His 24.2 points per game ranks just outside the top-10 in the league, while his 10.0 assists per game rank second-best. Atlanta has jumped out to a strong 3-2 start behind its offensive catalyst, who has two double-doubles and is coming off of back-to-back 30-point games.

If Young keeps this up all season and the Hawks remain toward the top of the Eastern Conference, he could potentially see some real MVP chatter.

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler.

Butler is thriving with the new-look Heat, averaging a balanced stat line of 23.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and a league-leading 3.3 steals per game to get out to a 3-1 record. From a totals perspective, since per game stats get muddled early on in the year, Butler is one of two players (along with LaMelo Ball) to have at least 90 points, 20 rebounds, 20 assists and 10 steals through the first week-plus. He routed the Magic with a 36-point, five-steal outing then followed that up with a stuffed stat sheet of 17 points, 14 boards, seven assists and four steals in a win over the Nets. The offseason hype surrounding the Heat was real and Butler is helping them back it up.

Now, on to the finalists.

All odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.

2021-22 NBA MVP Rankings

5. Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

Current MVP odds: +21000

Yes, you read that right. Bridges has been insane to start the year, averaging 26.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from 3. He has exceeded all expectations, recording a league-lead-tying three 30-point games to help the Hornets to a 4-1 start. As a result, he has the fifth-most points in the NBA, only trailing Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum.

Bridges took home his first-ever Player of the Week honours for Week 1 and he hasn't cooled off yet. Of course, there have still been the rim-rattling highlight dunks, but it's much more than that. The Michigan State product is stroking it from 3-point range, flashing shot creation skills and a stepback jumper that most never would have expected to be a weapon in his bag.

Proving to be much more than just a cutter and dunker, Bridges is looking wise early on for electing not to sign a contract extension prior to the start of the season.

4. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Current MVP odds: +3000

Opening the season with 37 points, six rebounds and six assists in a win is one way to generate a buzz, but when you drop a 40-point, 10-assist double-double on the Lakers, albeit in a loss, you're bound to set the NBA world ablaze. Going for another 30 points with seven boards, five assists and four steals in a win over the Warriors, Morant has maintained his spot atop of the scoring leaderboard, averaging 30.4 points per game, tied with Stephen Curry for the league's highest average.

The biggest difference is that Morant is showing much more confidence in his jumper, forcing defenders to guard him closer and extend further away from the basket. That's a dangerous game to play with Morant's quick acceleration and burst of speed, but it's warranted.

In 2020-21, he shot 30.2 percent on his pull-up 3s and 29.0 percent on his catch-and-shoot 3s. This season, he's knocking down 41.7 percent of his pull-up 3s and 50.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s, converting at a much-improved 40.6 percent clip from beyond the arc.

That doesn't mean he's settling, either. He ranks second in the league in drives per game (22.8) and is finishing 70.0 percent of his shots in the restricted area, still relying on his explosive athleticism to do damage inside.

Morant has taken another leap, continuing his momentum from his first-ever playoff appearance last season. While an MVP isn't completely farfetched, how about his first-career All-Star appearance?

3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Current MVP odds: +24000

Gobert has been a dominant force in the paint on both sides of the ball, as we're becoming so accustomed to seeing. The French big man has recorded a double-double in all three games this season and he's also the only player to have multiple 20-rebound games, recording two of such.

According to Basketball-Reference's Justin Kubatko, Gobert became the first player since Moses Malone in 1983-84 to record 55 points and 55 rebounds through the first three games of the season.

Averaging a jaw-dropping 19.0 rebounds per game and 18.7 points to go along with it, Gobert has helped the Jazz out to another phenomenal start as the last-standing undefeated team at 3-0.

While he only has two blocked shots in three games, we've learned by now that his defensive presence goes well beyond counting stats.

We're more used to seeing Gobert in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, but can he stick around the MVP race?

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Current MVP odds: +600

Antetokounmpo seems to become more unstoppable by the day.

The reigning Finals MVP picked up right where he left off, averaging 27.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals through the first five games this season. He already has two 30-point double-doubles and a game with 40 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks, posting unfathomable stat lines on a nightly basis.

Shooting 52.2 percent from the field, an encouraging 35.3 percent from beyond the arc and 73.5 percent from the free throw line, Antetokounmpo is slowly working his way toward immortality on the offensive end. The NBA world went into a panic when he started knocking down pull-up jumpers in the preseason, but it was met with a resounding, "let's see him do it when it matters." Then he hit us with this on Opening Night...

...and all you can do is take cover and hide.

Anthony Edwards recently said it best, "... we put four people on him and he still scored the ball."

There isn't much anyone can do to stop him, so just sit back and watch the show as he pursues his third MVP trophy.

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Current MVP odds: +600

Without further ado, your two-week MVP is Curry.

The Warriors have been one of the most surprising teams to start the season, getting out to a 4-1 record. And who other than the sharpshooting superstar guard would be leading the charge? Averages of 30.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game are impressive, but it doesn't even begin to tell the story so far.

He tipped off the new season with just the eighth triple-double of his career, going for 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to beat the Lakers on the road. He then dropped a league-best 45 points with multiple clutch daggers to defeat the Clippers.

He recorded the 5,000th assist of his career as part of a modest 27-point, 10-assist double-double against the Kings and had 36 points through three quarters against the Grizzlies but couldn't get a shot to fall after that.

Nonetheless, Curry was scorching toward the end of his 2020-21 campaign and that flame continues to burn into 2021-22. Could a third MVP award be on the horizon for one of the greatest players of all time?

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