By Shawn Dennis
Now that the 2020-2021 NBA season is less than a week from coming to a close, the MVP frontrunners are finalized. There have been plenty of individual performances to remember this season and incredible records broken, like Russell Westbrook passing the great Oscar Robertson’s mark of 181 career triple-doubles and LaMelo Ball being the youngest player ever to record a triple-double. Aside from an array of highlighted moments, few players have been consistent enough each game, while chalking up wins for their team, to be a candidate for the Most Valuable Player in the Association.
So, who are they?
Before I start naming names, it’s essential to define what being a MVP entails. Some may say that it’s simply the best player in the league that has put up the highest statistics in a consistent fashion. However, that’s not what the voting panel chooses the winner of the Maurice Podoloff trophy off of.
An MVP is a player that provides everything that a team needs as a leader for winning games, putting up points, and is the “go to” guy for the franchise. Likewise, they also have to be bringing their team to the playoffs and stay healthy for the entirety of the season.
Health has wreaked havoc on the NBA this season, as so many star-players have been absent for consecutive and numerous games. Since commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors agreed to shorten the season and have a Play-In Tournament, it seems that a myriad of players have either had to take a “load management”-type reason to miss a game or have been dealt with an injury that typically ties into exhaustion because of being overplayed. That’s what makes this MVP race more impressive than the others, especially with COVID and contact tracing protocol preventing players from playing for as long as two weeks.
With all of that being said, here’s my list of ten candidates that the voting panel will have to choose from for MVP:
10. Devin Booker
9. Kawhi Leonard
8. Donovan Mitchell
7. Julius Randle
6. Stephen Curry
5. Luka Doncic
4. Chris Paul
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
2. Joel Embiid
1. Nikola Jokic
I’m not sure what’s stranger: not seeing LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or James Harden’s names in the top ten for MVP or that Julius Randle is a candidate, leading the New York Knicks into their first playoff appearance since the 2012-2013 season at the four-spot. Either way, the race now is only truly between two players, Embiid and Jokic.
I give the slight edge to Jokic because he has been in the conversation for MVP for the last three seasons and deserves the trophy more than anyone on this list. Jokic is currently in the top ten for all three major categories (points, rebounds, assists) and has a 31.09 player efficiency rating, which is second in the league behind you know who, Embiid. Aside from the assists column, Embiid has practically identical numbers to Jokic, but there are a few conditions to mention as to why Jokic is my top guy.
The Denver Nuggets, in my opinion, have a harder schedule throughout the season than the Philadelphia 76ers do, as the West is miles ahead in competition than the East. Yes, the Sixers are atop the East mainly because of Embiid, but the Nuggets are actually only three games behind their record while being the four spot in the West.
The absence of Jamal Murray since April 12 has put a ton of weight on Jokic shoulders, in which he has delivered for Denver. Embiid has also missed quite a few games, as he’s played in 49 to Jokic playing 68. A 19-game difference is substantial in trying to compare and contrast the validity of who deserves MVP more.
When it comes down to it, both Embiid and Jokic are freaks of nature and are deserving of MVP, but between games played, specific averages, and strength of schedule, I give the advantage to Nikola Jokic.
In all honesty, however, Stephen Curry has had the season to remember and nobody should be sleeping on what he’s done for that depleted Golden State Warriors team.