Starting this week, we’re keeping tabs on the NBA MVP race and updating the top five contenders with votes from our Global NBA.com staff.
This week’s voters?
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Prior to the groin injury that kept him out 11 games, Curry looked well on his way to winning a third MVP award. And while missing games shouldn’t actually help a player’s MVP candidacy, watching the Golden State Warriors struggle in his absence – they went 5-6 while ranking 12th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency – serves as a strong reminder for just how valuable Curry is to that team.
Curry’s actual candidacy will likely boil down to availability as he’s already perilously close to missing too many games to warrant serious consideration. If he plays every remaining game, he’ll finish with 71 on the season. Considering he’s a decent bet to sit out a few for rest, he might fall short of 70 games.
Excluding lockout shortened seasons, each of the last 38 MVPs has played in at least 70 games, dating all the way back to Bill Walton in 1977-78, who played in 58 of 82.
Make no mistake, when Curry’s been on the floor he’s been incredible. Not only is he averaging over 30 points per game, he’s shooting 50.3 percent on 10.6 3-point attempts per game, which might not be sustainable but is simply ludicrous. He’s a threat to finish with the best true shooting season of all-time.
Stay tuned (and healthy!).
4. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Until sitting out on Friday against the Detroit Pistons, Joel Embiid had played in every game for the Philadelphia 76ers while averaging over 34 minutes per. He’s currently on pace to play more total minutes than both of the last two seasons combined.
It’s certainly valid to think that Jimmy Butler’s arrival could dampen Embiid’s numbers to the point where he’s no longer a threat to actually win the award. Since Butler made his debut on Nov. 14, Embiid is averaging 23.8 points per game, down from 28.2 prior to this arrival. Though his field goal attempts before and after the acquisition are nearly identical (18.6 before, 18.5 after), he’s getting to the line about three fewer times per game.
Embiid’s candidacy is also likely tied to the team’s finish in the Eastern Conference as both the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks have MVP candidates of their own. For Embiid to win the award, Philadelphia likely has to finish ahead of at least one of them – and perhaps both.
3. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Even with Friday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs, which snapped a four-game win streak, LeBron James has the Los Angeles Lakers within two games of first place in the Western Conference. It’s quite the turnaround after they started the season 0-3.
James has simpy been sensational following a somewhat sluggish start to the season, offering up several MVP moments along the way, the latest coming on Wednesday against the Spurs when he finished with 42 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter of the come-from-behind win.
He’s averaging his most points per game since 2009-10, his final season in his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to joining the Miami Heat, all the while averaging a career-low 34.8 minutes per game. On a per-minute basis, James is on his way to the most prolific scoring season of his entire career.
Not bad for the four-time MVP in his 16th season.
2. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
It’s been a seamless transition to Toronto for Leonard, who is averaging a career-high in points per game while leading the Raptors to a 21-6 record, the best in the NBA and the best start in franchise history.
He’s had a few resounding performances over the last week and change, dropping 37 in a win over the Warriors and 36 in a win over the new-look 76ers. He’s starting to heat up even more as he’s now scored at least 30 points in four of his last five games and is the NBA’s leading scorer over that span.
The argument against Leonard for MVP at this point is that he’s sit out six games already and has yet to play in both games of a back-to-back. Unlike Curry with the Warriors, the Raptors haven’t missed a beat without Leonard, going 5-1, with the only loss coming on the road in Milwaukee who was missing Giannis Antetokounmpo.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak is averaging 27 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists per game, something that no player in NBA history has ever done for an entire season.
So yeah, those are MVP-worthy numbers.
Did we mention he just turned 24-years-old?
He’s been spectacular, orchestrating everything for a Bucks offense that ranks first in the NBA in both overall scoring and efficiency. Somewhat incredible is that unlike the other names on this list, Antetokounmpo has yet to have a truly awe-inspiring offensive performance as his season-high for points is 36, one of just two 35-point games he’s had so far.
He’s dump-trucking opponents in the paint as 58 percent of his shots have come within three feet of the rim, a place where he’s shooting over 80 percent from the floor. He’s scoring almost 19 points in the paint per game, the most by any player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2002-03.
6. Anthony Davis
7. Kevin Durant
8. Paul George
9. Nikola Jokic
10. Damian Lillard