With the first month of the 2021-22 NBA season passing us by, it's time to assess which players have stated the strongest case for this year's MVP award.
While it's still early enough in the season where one good or bad week can drastically alter a player's standing on the MVP ballot, these superstars have produced jaw-dropping numbers to elevate their teams in the standings.
Before we get to the top-five, let's take a look at a few players who just missed the cut.
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Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Even though the Bucks have been slow out of the gate, Antetokounmpo has still been his MVP-caliber self.
Averaging 26.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.1 steals per game, Antetokounmpo has placed himself in a category of his own. The Greek Freak is the only player in the league averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, one block and one steal, which is as impressive of a stat line as you could possibly produce.
Injuries and health and safety protocols have taken a toll on Milwaukee to start the year, with Antetokounmpo even missing his first game of the season due to an ankle injury this past week. But without his production, things could be much worse for the defending champions.
Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Butler has been a huge reason why the Heat look like one of the best teams in the NBA. He's averaging 23.6 points per game - the second-best mark of his career - while shooting a career-high 52.7 percent from the field. He's also matching a career-best with 2.1 steals per game, getting it done on both ends of the floor for Miami.
It's no coincidence that once he went down with an ankle injury, the Heat spiralled a bit with a 1-3 week, two losses coming in Butler's absence. Once he returns to the floor, Butler may be able to work himself into the top-five on the next MVP Ladder.
DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
It's hard to decide between DeRozan and Zach LaVine for Chicago's early-season MVP, but I'm leaning DeRozan here.
The 32-year-old has revitalized himself with the Bulls, averaging 26.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. He hasn't averaged over 25 points per game since 2016-17 with the Raptors.
According to NBA Stats, when DeRozan is on the court, the Bulls are outscoring their opponents by 11.9 points per 100 possessions, the best mark on the team. When DeRozan is off the court, the Bulls are getting outscored by 12.2 points per 100 possessions, meaning the four-time All-Star is making a whopping 24.1 points per 100 possessions difference for his team.
Those numbers paint the picture of how vital DeRozan has been to Chicago's early-season success.
2021-22 NBA MVP Rankings
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Quietly, Doncic has the Mavericks humming along early on in the season, owning one of the best records in the Western Conference.
Averaging 24.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game, the 22-year-old's averages may not be as high as years past, but Dallas is winning games, which is equally as important in MVP conversations.
Along with big numbers, it's crucial you have some signature moments along the way. Doncic has that box checked, too.
LUKA FOR THE WIN!!!!!!!! 🪄🪄🪄@luka7doncic | #MFFL pic.twitter.com/ykrX8S7JGS- Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 7, 2021
As long as the Mavericks can remain toward the top of the West, Doncic's name will be in the running for MVP.
4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Here comes the reigning MVP.
Jokic was still putting up monster stats when the Nuggets got out to a mediocre 4-4 start, but it wasn't getting much attention. After Denver rattled off five straight wins behind four huge games from Jokic, the All-Star center is starting to re-enter MVP conversations again.
He went for 28 points and 14 rebounds in a close win over the Rockets. He followed that performance with 25 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the Heat, recording a triple-double before being ejected for a hit on Marcus Morris that made headlines. After serving a one-game suspension, Jokic came back with a vengeance, going for another triple-double of 22 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the Hawks.
How'd he follow that up? By going for 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in 27 minutes in a blowout win over the Trail Blazers.
Maybe his scuffle against Miami has woken up the beast in Jokic, who is back on MVP trajectory for the second season in a row.
3. Paul George, LA Clippers
You simply cannot have an MVP conversation to this point in the season without mentioning George.
The seven-time All-Star has been unstoppable for a shorthanded Clippers team, posting 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His scoring is the second-highest of his career, while his rebounds, assists and steals averages are the highest of his career.
Behind his production, LA rattled off seven-straight wins before Sunday's loss to the Bulls, surging up the Western Conference standings as a result.
The Clippers needed George to step up in a big way with Kawhi Leonard still sidelined with an ACL injury and he's done everything they've asked for and more, looking like an All-NBA, MVP-caliber player early on.
2. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
There have been plenty of times this season where you have to ask yourself, "is Durant even human?"
He's leading the league with 29.6 points per game, shooting an unfathomable 58.9 percent from the field, the highest mark of his career. As NBA.com's Scott Rafferty detailed, Durant has been automatic from midrange, knocking down 61.2 percent of his attempts. Also shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point range, Durant is the definition of unguardable.
I mean, just look at his shot chart from this season.
With the green areas meaning above league average, it goes to show just how insane Durant has been this season.
He might be the runner-up right now, but Durant is on pace to have a shot at his second regular season MVP award.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
With the Warriors owning a near-perfect 11-2 record, how could anyone take Curry's spot atop of the MVP Ladder?
Averaging 28.1 points, Curry is very much in the running for another scoring title this season. He already has three games with 40-plus points, two of which came in the past week. After dropping a 50-point double-double on the Hawks, two games later, Curry hung 40 on the Bulls.
He's been in one of those rhythms where he doesn't even have to wait to see the ball go through the hoop before he knows it's good.
Stephen- Golden State Warriors (@warriors) November 13, 2021
MORE: Are Curry and Draymond Green the NBA's most punishing duo?
Curry's assists (6.7), rebounds (6.2) and steals (1.7) averages are all up from last season. It's also worth noting he just became the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made (regular season and playoffs combined).
Golden State is looking like a championship contender behind its superstar guard once again, and Klay Thompson hasn't even taken the floor yet.
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