This year’s NBA playoffs start on May 22nd. That means that we are in the home stretch of the NBA season. There are exactly 52 days left, and this is the time where the race for the Most Valuable Player of the NBA starts to heat up. Over the next couple of months, we will be looking at the NBA MVP race and trying to predict who may win it.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of who the leading candidates are for this year’s MVP award, we need to define what it means to be the “most valuable” player. It seems that every year different people redefine what it is. It’s a definition that feels up to interpretation based on the person. To me, the most valuable player is the individual that helps lead their team to more wins based on production, and the team without said player would be significantly worse. Based on this definition, there are a few players that are disqualified from this list. If a player is on a team that is below .500 or currently out of the playoff race, I have decided to keep them out of the running. Now, historically the MVP hasn’t always been on the winningest team (see Russell Westbrook in 2017), but I think it should be a player on a team that is at the very least in the middle of a winning season and in the middle of a playoff race. A few players are currently injured and will also be off this list until they come back. Those players include LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Joel Embiid (if he were healthy, he’d be number 1).
Honorable Mentions – Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz, 14.7 Points, 13.4 Rebounds, 1.2 Assists, 0.5 Steals, and 3 Blocks), Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks, 25.4 Points, 4 Rebounds, 9.5 Assists, 0.9 Steals, and 0.2 Blocks), and Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers, 26 Points, 6.3 Rebounds, 4.9 Assists, 1.8 Steals, and 0.5 Blocks).
5 – James Harden (Guard, Brooklyn Nets)
Averages: 38.2 Minutes (Leads the NBA), 26.1 Points, 8.2 Rebounds, 11.2 Assists (Leads the NBA), 1.3 Steals, and 0.7 Blocks
James Harden is one of the more interesting cases in the NBA for the MVP. While he is undoubtedly a great talent in the league and one of the many faces of the league on this list, he has the most challenging case to make on this list in terms of value. If you took Harden off the Nets (as he was for the first eight games of the NBA season), the Nets are still making the playoffs. He has added to the Nets some of the better playmaking ability in the NBA and an elite level of scoring. He has allowed the Nets to take their time with Kevin Durant’s injury this season, where they don’t feel the need to rush him back on the court prematurely. Harden being on a loaded team with fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant diminishes his value a tad and is the main reason he finds himself at 5th place on this list.
4 – Damian Lillard (Guard, Portland Trail Blazers)
Averages: 36.2 Minutes, 29.8 Points, 4.3 Rebounds, 7.8 Assists, 0.9 Steals, and 0.3 Blocks
Damian Lillard has been an elite player in the NBA for the last couple of seasons. He’s already had an incredible NBA career, but it feels like he has hit his stride in the previous four seasons and entered his prime. He’s become famous for his playoff series ending game-winners against Houston and Oklahoma City and can hit a jumper from anywhere on the court. This season has been no different. He is one of four players to have an Estimated Wins Added (EWA) on ESPN’s Hollinger Rating of 13 or above. He and his counterpart CJ McCollum have helped the Trail Blazers to a 29-18 record in the Western Conference, which leaves them as the 6th seed currently, and their best-case scenario would realistically be as high as second in the West. What has been most impressive about Lillard this season is his ability to keep the Trail Blazers steady when McCollum has been out with injury.
3 – Luka Dončić (Guard, Dallas Mavericks)
Averages: 35 Minutes, 28.5 Points, 8.1 Rebounds, 9 Assists, 1 Steal, and 0.6 Blocks
The Dallas Mavericks have been disappointing this season. It looked like they might take a step towards being legitimate contenders but have just been stagnant as a lower-tier playoff team in the Western Conference. None of this has been to the fault of Luka Dončić, though. He has put up almost identical numbers compared to his sophomore season in the league (which is an absurdly great sophomore season). He has consistently shown up for the Mavericks and, at the young age of 21, is becoming one of the faces of the NBA. His MVP argument is straightforward because, without him, the Mavericks are easily a lottery team. He’s so great on a consistent level at such a young age. If the Mavericks get on a hot streak abe move up a few seeds, he will quickly make his way into more MVP leaderboard conversations.
2 – Giannis Antetokounmpo (Forward, Milwaukee Bucks)
Averages: 34 Minutes, 28.4 Points, 11.4 Rebounds, 6.3 Assists, 1.2 Steals, and 1.3 Blocks.
Giannis is incredible. As this is being typed, he is playing against the Lakers, and he just makes the game look so easy. Giannis is coming off back-to-back MVP awards and could easily make a push to win his third. He has helped make the Bucks into a consistent threat in the Eastern Conference and will have similar stat lines to his previous MVP seasons. Like Dončić with the Mavericks, if Giannis were not on the Bucks, they would easily be a lottery team. Giannis has a pretty decent supporting cast of teammates this season, but without him, they are at the very best a team eligible for a play-in game come playoff time. Giannis is a lot like LeBron James in the sense that every year you could make the argument for him being the best player in the league and why he’s deserving of the MVP award, and that argument would just make sense. He’s a miraculous basketball player, and his impact in every part of an NBA game should not be taken for granted.
1 – Nikola Jokič (Center, Denver Nuggets)
Averages: 35.6 Minutes, 26.8 Points, 11.1 Rebounds, 8.5 Assists, 1.6 Steals, and 0.6 Rebounds
Nikola Jokič is incredible. He has put together his best season in the NBA, all while helping the Nuggets cement themselves as a real threat for an NBA Championship this season. It feels like no one player or even a team has had an answer for Jokič this season. The closest has been Joel Embiid for the Philadelphia 76ers, and even in these matchups, he hasn’t slowed down Jokič too much but instead has matched his offensive production. Jokič has quickly become the face of the Denver Nuggets franchise over the last few seasons, and he has solidified himself as the MVP frontrunner and one of the best basketball players on the planet. His case for MVP speaks for itself just by looking at his basic statline; he does it all on an offensive level. Then if you look at advanced statistics, it is even more impressive. It is likely with the addition of Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline, Jokič and the Denver Nuggets will have an increase of wins down the stretch which will only bolster the MVP caliber resume of Nikola Jokič. He leads the league in EWA, posting a 19.4 (only player above a 13), he’s second in the league in terms of offensive rating with 120.6 (only Kawhi Leonard is better), and when you look at his Player Efficiency Rating (PER), he has a league-leading score of 33.87 and the only two other players with a score of 30 or more are Embiid or Giannis. In other words, Nikola Jokič is very good at basketball. It is his award to lose with 52 days left in the season.