With about 75 percent of the regular season in the books, now is as good of a time as ever to check in on the MVP race.
As always, our rankings are a collaborative effort. This time, eight members of our NBA Global staff joined forces to rank their top-five MVP candidates based on what they've seen to this point of the season.
The player in first place in each ballot received five points, the player in second place received four points, the player in third place received three points, the player in fourth place received two points and the player in fifth place received one point.
Those points were then added up to determine the following order...
5. James Harden, Houston Rockets (8 points)
Highest rank: 4
Lowest rank: Not ranked
We had Harden ranked third in our last MVP ladder.
Quite a lot has changed since then.
First and foremost, Harden's numbers aren't quite as historic as they once were. January was a particularly rough month for the eight-time All-Star, as he averaged 28.6 points per game on 35.5 percent shooting from the field and 27.0 percent - yes, you read that right - from 3-point range.
The Rockets struggled as a result, splitting their 14 games for the month.
Secondly, Russell Westbrook has come alive.
MORE: Rockets climbing in Power Rankings
Since going all-in on small ball, it's Westbrook, not Harden, who is leading the Rockets in scoring. The margin is tiny, but Westbrook has a number of signature performances since the Rockets decided to shake things up at the trade deadline, from scoring 41 points in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers to scoring 41 points in an overtime win of the Boston Celtics.
Harden has had some signature performances as well, but he's also had a couple of duds, whereas Westbrook is in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career.
Have yourself a game, @russwest44!- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 1, 2020
✔️ WIN pic.twitter.com/otoTALDhgi
Westbrook has been so dominant lately that a couple of members of our NBA.com Staff had him on their MVP ballot instead of Harden. Recency bias has a lot to do with that - it's easy to forget that Westbrook was playing some of the worst basketball of his career to start the season - but with the way Westbrook has been playing lately, it wouldn't be a surprise if he steals some MVP votes away from Harden at the season's end.
4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (12 points)
Highest rank: 3
Lowest rank: Not ranked
Doncic's MVP case was stronger in the first half of the season when it looked like the Mavericks might finish with a top-four record in the Western Conference.
Still, what he's been doing this season shouldn't be overlooked.
Not only is Doncic on track to become only the eighth player in NBA history to average at least 25.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in a season - a crazy reality when you consider he only recently turned 21 years old - he's leading a Mavericks team that currently has the best offensive rating in the league.
Comfortably, too. With an offensive rating of 116.0, the Mavericks are averaging 2.5 more points per 100 possessions than the Rockets, who have the second-best offensive rating in the league.
MORE: Is Doncic or Zion the better long-term prospect?
The Mavericks haven't been nearly as dominant defensively - they rank in the bottom half of the league on that end of the floor - but it doesn't look like it's going to prevent them from making the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
That's good news for the league because everyone should be excited to see what Doncic has in store for the playoffs.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (17 points)
Highest rank: 2
Lowest rank: Not ranked
It's incredible to think that Jokic is here based on how he started the season. He didn't look like an All-Star through the first six weeks, mind alone an MVP candidate. He's since gotten his game back on track, to the point that he's leapfrogged Harden and Doncic in our MVP ladder.
It helps that the Nuggets have a better record than both the Rockets and Mavericks, but Jokic's MVP case is far greater than "best player on one of the best teams in the league."
What he did against the Utah Jazz before All-Star Weekend was a perfect encapsulation of what makes Jokic special. In 39 minutes of play, he led an under-manned Nuggets team to victory with 30 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, doing the bulk of his damage against Rudy Gobert, who is widely regarded as the best defender at the centre position.
According to Basketball Reference, Jokic became only the ninth player in NBA history to have a 30-20-10 game in the process.
MORE: The underappreciated beauty of Jokic's game in one play
Not that you should expect Jokic to put up those numbers again in a game anytime soon - he may never have another 30-20-10 game in his career given how rare they are - but he is racking up triple-doubles in a way we've only ever seen from one centre before. He already ranks 10th on the NBA's all-time triple-double list, Wilt Chamberlain being the one and only centre ahead of him.
Jokic still has a long way to go to catch Chamberlain, but Jokic is much further along than the Hall of Famer was at the same age in that regard.
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (31 points)
Highest rank: 2
Lowest rank: 3
"I'm just amazed that they talk about anybody other than him for MVP."
That's what New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had to say about James recently. It's not a surprise that Gentry feels that way because he had a front row seat to two of James' best games of the season. After dropping a season-high 40 points against the Pelicans on Feb. 25, James recorded a 34-point, 13-assist, 12-rebound triple-double against the Pelicans a week later.
The Lakers won both of those games, the second of which came without Anthony Davis.
LeBron James ... from the French Quarter!- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 2, 2020
(📺: @SpectrumSN, ESPN) pic.twitter.com/nSd5TElcla
MORE: LeBron's biggest championship X-factor
So does Gentry have a point? Sort of. As good as Harden, Doncic and Jokic have been - not to mention Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Jayson Tatum and Westbrook, who we'll get to soon - the MVP has turned into a two-man race at this point of the season. Our NBA Global staff is just unanimous in thinking that James hasn't been quite at the same level as Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That shouldn't take anything away from what James has been doing, though, because him playing at his high of level this late into his career is nothing short of remarkable. The fact that the Lakers go from averaging 113.6 points per 100 possessions to 105.1 when he takes a seat on the bench is a testament to how valuable he is to a team that currently has the second-best odds to win the title.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (40 points)
Highest rank: 1
Lowest rank: 1
Here's what Antetokounmpo is averaging on the season: 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game.
Those are incredible numbers no matter how you look at them, but they're even more impressive considering Antetokounmpo is playing only 30.9 minutes per game, the result of the Bucks destroying teams whenever he is on the court. For perspective, his averages jump to 34.5 points, 16.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes.
According to Basketball Reference, he's on pace to become the first player in NBA history to post such numbers in a single season.
MORE: The Bucks are unstoppable ... or are they?
To boot, Antetokounmpo is almost certainly going to be a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year again. He might even win the award for the first time in his career. Oh, and the Bucks are still running away with the best record in the league and are still knocking on the door of 70 wins.
As amazing as James has been, it's hard to ignore that Antetokounmpo has been the most dominant player on the most dominant team in the league from start to finish.
Also receiving votes
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (6 points) - Davis is making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year and is putting up some of the best all-around numbers of his career. It feels wrong to not have him in the top-five, but it's a crowded field and all of the numbers point to James being the more valuable Laker.
Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers (3 points) - It feels wrong to not have Leonard in the top-five, too. He's averaging career-highs across the board and is leading the Clippers to the second-best record in the Western Conference. The argument against him isn't availability anymore - he's missed only four games in 2020. Of the four players in this section, he's the most likely to crack the top-five by the season's end.
Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets (2 points) - There's not much more to say about Westbrook that hasn't already been said. Had he played the way he's playing now at the start of the season, there's no doubt he would be featured more prominently in the MVP discussion.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (1 point) - Tatum has clearly taken the leap, to the point where there's no longer any doubt that the Celtics are his team. He's coming off of a month in which he averaged 30.7 points per game, making him the fifth player in Celtics history to average 30 or more points in a calendar month. If that was a sign of what's to come, it won't be long until Tatum is being talked about as a legitimate MVP candidate.
Voters: Scott Rafferty, Carlan Gay, Micah Adams and Kyle Irving from NBA Canada, Kane Pitman from NBA Australia and Juan Estévez, Agustín Aboy and Leandro Fernández from NBA Argentina.
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