);
NBA

Who is the NBA's MVP heading into Christmas Day? Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James lead the way

On Thursday, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers will meet for the first time this season.

Beyond serving as a potential NBA Finals preview, it presents a golden opportunity to see three of the leading MVP candidates take the floor at the same time in Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Which means now is as good of a time as ever to check in on the MVP race.

To do so, eight members of our NBA Global staff ranked their top-five MVP candidates through the quarter mark of the season. The player in first place 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 this order...

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (39 points)

Averages: 31.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks per game

Antetokounmpo told ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk in the offseason that he was at only 60 percent of his potential.

It turns out he wasn't lying.

After winning last year's MVP award at just 24 years old, Antetokounmpo has boosted his numbers across the board to over 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game. According to Basketball Reference, the only players in NBA history to put up those numbers for an entire season are Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Roberston, Elgin Baylor and Russell Westbrook.

Include the blocks and Antetokounmpo is in a class of his own - although blocks weren't recorded in the seasons Chamberlain averaged 30-10-5, so Antetokounmpo probably wouldn't be alone if they were.

Helping Antetokounmpo's MVP case is the fact that he has legitimately improved since last season. The only real knock on him to this point of his career has been that he doesn't have much of a jump shot. And while he's still a below average 3-point shooter (32.1 percent this season), he's almost doubled his attempts from last season to 5.1 per game, which is more than players like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Brook Lopez, to name a few.

As a result, Antetokounmpo has made multiple 3s in 13 games already this season. For perspective, he had 13 such games in all of 2018-19.

The more consistent he can become in that regard, the closer Antetokounmpo will get to reaching his full blown potential - a terrifying thought considering he only recently turned 25.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (27 points)

Averages: 25.9 points, 10.6 assists, 7.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks per game

Though his scoring may be down to one of the lowest marks of his career, but we've never seen James facilitate like this before.

Not only are his 10.6 assists per game a career-high, it's the highest mark in the league. Those dimes are leading to 26.6 points per game for his teammates, which is - once again - far and away the most in the league.

MORE: Is LeBron the best player in the league right now?

The combination of his scoring and passing has the Lakers functioning at a completely different level with James on the court. According to NBA.com, the Lakers are scoring at a rate of 113.5 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup this season. With him on the bench, that number craters to 101.3.

The Lakers have even survived in the minutes James has been out there without Anthony Davis, posting an offensive rating of 113.5.

James has also been better defensively this season. According to ESPN's Real Plus-Minus, he has been the eighth-most impactful defender in the league. Whether or not he's been more impactful than the likes of Rudy Gobert, Antetokounmpo and Davis is a discussion for another day - he hasn't - but the eye test checks out that he's been far more engaged this season than he was last season.

The fact that James has already drawn more charges this season (seven) than he did all of last season (six) is a testament to that.

To top it all off, the Lakers are tied with the Bucks for the best record in the league at 23-4. If he and the Lakers can keep this up, a fifth MVP is a real possibility for James.

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets (26 points)

Averages: 38.9 points, 7.4 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 0.7 blocks per game

It's remarkable that someone who is averaging nearly 40 points per game ranks third in our MVP ladder.

That's how ridiculous this race is shaping up to be.

Harden has already scored 50 or more points five times this season. The rest of the league has combined for five such games! Harden has been scoring at such a high rate that teams have thrown just about every defence in the book at him, some even resorting to double teaming him as soon as he crosses halfcourt to get the ball out of his hands.

Evan Fournier might have put it best after watching Harden drop 54 points on his Orlando Magic.

"I feel like we lost against just him tonight," Fournier said. "He's the MVP for a reason. We talked about in pregame that he'll take shots, and we'll just live with the results. He did not miss tonight, period."

MORE: The cacophonous chorus surrounding James Harden

So why isn't Harden higher? Some on our staff ranked him as high as second on their ballots - myself being one of them - and as low as fourth, likely because of Houston's record. At 18-9, the Rockets currently have the fifth-best record in the Western Conference behind the Lakers, LA Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets.

It doesn't help that the Rockets have already lost a couple of games this season to players on this list in Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, both of whom outplayed Harden in those matchups.

Even so, what Harden is doing this season is truly incredible.

4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (21 points)

Averages: 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.2 steals per game

The Mavericks have been one of the biggest surprises in the league season due in large part to Doncic.

Last season's Rookie of the Year, Doncic is establishing himself as one of the best players in the entire league at the tender age of 20. He currently ranks behind only Harden and Antetokounmpo in scoring, behind only James and Ricky Rubio in assists and leads all guards in rebounding.

It seems like Doncic does something historic every time he takes the court. He's already achieved a number of milestones this season, from surpassing Michael Jordan for the most consecutive games of posting at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists to recording the fastest triple-double in NBA history. (He needed less than 26 minutes to do so. That's hard to do even in a video game.)

MORE: Is Doncic the greatest 20-year-old in NBA history?

With Doncic pulling the strings, the Mavericks have the best offence in the league. By a healthy margin as well. The Bucks rank second in offensive efficiency, only they're averaging 2.2 less points per 100 possessions than the Mavericks.

The Mavericks are only in the middle of the pack defensively, but it hasn't stopped them from starting the season with an 18-8 record, good enough for third place in the Western Conference.

Unfortunately, Doncic recently suffered an ankle injury that could keep him out for two weeks. Because of the injury, he missed an opportunity to go up against Antetokounmpo and will miss opportunities to go up against other MVP candidates in Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam and James to close the month of December.

His performance in those games might have helped him move up one or two spots on this list.

5. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers (6 points)

Averages: 27.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.6 blocks, 1.5 steals per game

Davis might be the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year heading into the new year.

While James gets most of the credit for how dominant the Lakers have been offensively this season, Los Angeles also boasts the third-best defence in the league, making it one of only three teams - the others being the Clippers and Bucks - with a top-10 offence and defence.

The Lakers have several defensive-minded players on their roster, but it's Davis who sets the tone on that end of the floor. In addition to ranking second in the league in blocks and being one of only four big men in the top-20 in steals, he's on a shortlist of players who can legitimately guard five positions.

As former Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Steve Jones Jr. explained, his versatility has been key to the Lakers' success on defense this season because Davis can do whatever they need from him, whether it's switch, show or drop. That allows them to play lineups with him at centre, as well as lineups with him at power forward next to a Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee.

Davis has been no slouch on offence either. He is leading the Lakers in scoring with 27.4 points per game, the third-highest mark of his career. He and James look like they've been teammates for years, not months, to the point that the two of them have clearly been the best duo in the league so far this season.

Also receiving votes

Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat (1 point) - The Heat rank fourth in the Eastern Conference as of this writing. Butler has been a huge reason for their strong start with averages of 21.2 points and 6.8 assists per game. The points are the third-highest mark of his career while the assists are a new career-high. This is the Butler the Heat were hoping for when they signed him to a four-year, $142 million in the offseason.

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (1 point) - Had we done this two weeks ago, there's a good chance Siakam would've ranked fifth. But he and the Raptors have taken a step back since then. Still, Siakam has taken another massive leap this season after winning the league's Most Improved Player award. It's crazy to think he's gone from being a potential first-time All-Star to an MVP candidate in a matter of months.

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

More from NBA.com

Bertans, Ariza, Lee
NBA players opting out of Orlando restart
NBA.com Staff
ernie-johnson-061120-ftr-getty.jpg
Every episode of '#NBATogether with Ernie Johnson'
NBA.com Staff
RaptorsPodtable
🎙Raptors Podcast: Breaking down Raptors schedule
NBA.com Staff
jr-smith-060120-ftr-getty.jpg
Lakers announce signing of J.R. Smith
NBA.com Staff
#Oladipo #Simmons #Oubre
Who is and isn't playing in Orlando
Matthew Blum
#Giannis
Giannis: "the toughest championship you could ever win"
NBA.com Staff
More News