NBA MVP ranking: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic in mix, but Joel Embiid is the leader of the quarterfinals



You might not realize it, but we’ve hit quarter point this truncated NBA season. How confident can we be of what we have seen so far? This is probably a case-by-case question, but whatever your take on the evidence that has been admitted in a shaky season to date, the end of season rewards will be affected, to some extent, by this initial period.

LaMelo Ball at least laid the groundwork for his Rookie of the Year bid. Mikal Bridges, Andrew Wiggins, De’Andre Hunter, Jerami Grant, Christian Wood, Collin Sexton, Chris Boucher and Julius Randle took first place in what is a truly intriguing Most Improved Player race. Doc Rivers, Quin Snyder, Tyronn Lue, Taylor Jenkins, JB Bickerstaff and Tom Thibodeau are arguably the top coach candidates of the year.

When it comes to MVP, the biggie, it’s going to be a fascinating battle that probably goes until the very end. So many great players are enjoying incredible seasons so far – career seasons, indeed – that it’s nearly impossible to build a pecking order at this point. But we’re going to do it anyway. Coming into play on Wednesday January 27th, here’s where I believe the MVP race is.

The Philadelphia 76ers are 12-2 when Embiid plays. They are 0-4 when he doesn’t. The Sixers beat their opponents by 11.9 points per 100 possessions when Embiid is down. When Embiid is off the ground, they are outscored by 10.2 points per 100. Do the math, and Embiid is worth 21 points per 100 north in favor of Philadelphia.

Entering Wednesday, Embiid ranks sixth in points (27.7) and eighth in rebounds per game (11.5). He’s shooting 55 percent from the field, including 40 percent from 3 on three attempts per game. Are you ready for this? Embiid shoots 58.7% from the midrange, according to NBA.com, which is the league’s best score among players taking at least two of those shots per game.

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To get a feel for how wild that statistic is, Kevin Durant, the greatest mid-range shooter of all time in the midst of what is, so far, the best shooting season of his career, shoots 50 , 6% between the extended free throw line. and the 3-point line.

When you shoot more than eight percentage points better than Kevin Durant from anywhere, let alone his prettiest spots, you’re on fire. When you’re a 7-foot center who also dominates on the defensive side and your team leads the Eastern Conference standings, you are the MVP leader.

LeBron hasn’t won an MVP since 2013, and I think that will play a big role this season. We’ve tried for too long to put other players in his class, and if voter fatigue works to nullify guys who recently won, then it can work the other way around to propel a guy like LeBron, than the voters have to be tired of snubbing.

Want a story? LeBron is 36 in his 18th season and remains the best player in the world. Do you want to win? The Lakers are the best team in the league. Want an impact? When LeBron is on the court without Anthony Davis, the Lakers still earn those 6.8-point-per-100 possessions minutes, per Cleaning the Glass. When you flip that over and put Davis on the court without LeBron, the Lakers are under 3.5 percent.

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LeBron’s stats look pedestrian by his standards: 25.2 points per night, 7.9 rebounds, 7.4 assists, which – ho-hum – makes him the only player in the league with an average of at minus 25-7-7 on better than 40 percent 3- point shot.

Oh yeah, did we mention that LeBron is pulling a career-high 6.63 per game and putting them at a career-high 41.2%? He also plays his back in defense. For the sake of effort alone, in a season where everyone expected him to go through the regular season, LeBron is going to garner a lot of votes. If the Lakers end up as the No.1 seed and LeBron keeps that kind of activity (one more question) and production (he can do that in his sleep), given how late he is for his fifth MVP, LeBron is a great bet to end up winning this thing.

You can argue that Jokic should be at the top of this list. If the Nuggets were a little better than their 10-7 entry Wednesday record, they probably would be. Jokic is fourth in the league in assists per game, a category he led most of the season until a few teams start to realize that you can’t overtake one of the greatest assisters of all time. without being diced, which in turn leaves. him with just one more cover, which unlocks him as a goalscorer.

This dilemma is at the heart of Jokic’s rule. Entering on Wednesday, Jokic and Luka Doncic are the only players averaging at least 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, but Jokic does so with a 29% utilization rate, which is a career high. for him but still well south of Doncic’s 35.4 rate. .

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Jokic has been on an inevitable path to superstar in recent years. He was once one of the most dangerous playoff players in the league, and now he’s having the best regular season of his life. Once Denver starts earning a bit more, which is a good bet, Jokic could very well make his way to the top of this list.

4. Kevin Durant

Durant has the best season of anyone on this list, and I’m not sure it’s even debatable. Coming into play on Wednesday, he averages 30.1 points per night, which is good for second place in the league, to go with 7.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.4 blocks.

After about 18 months without playing an NBA game, Durant doesn’t appear to have lost a step on either side, and the Nets haven’t had to limit his workload; his utilization rate of 32.3 is the second highest mark of his career. He’s shooting 52% from court and just under 45% from 3, the latter also being a career high by far.

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Coming in on Wednesday, Durant scores a ridiculously effective 130.8 points per 100 shot attempts, thanks to a 59.3 effective goal percentage by CTG, both of which are the second best of his career. The Nets, who are a plus-12.8 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the ground, drop to minus-7.6 per 100 when he’s not playing.

You wonder how James Harden’s coming to Brooklyn might affect Durant’s candidacy in the long run. Could they split some votes? Could Durant take things a little easier as we deepen the season? These are questions for later. Right now, the only reason – the only reason – Durant isn’t at the top of this list is Brooklyn’s 11-8 record. The No.5 seed in the East just won’t do it, but I suspect that will change very soon.

You could argue Leonard over Durant, or even Jokic, but No.5 feels good for a guy who will likely lose votes to Paul George, is behind LeBron James in the standings and who, frankly, isn’t. not a major part of any NBA Conversation unless it’s about to be traded. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Leonard, in terms of daily and national buzz, remains perhaps the most sleepy superstar.

I bet there are a lot of people out there, actually, who just assume Leonard is doing his usual load management thing. But it is not. He has played 15 of the Clippers’ 18 games and they are 12-3 in those competitions.

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Entering Wednesday, Leonard is the only player in the league with at least 25 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals per game. The Clippers are over-10.1 points during his minutes, the highest rating of anyone on this list. Extrapolate that to 100 possessions, and the Clippers are plus-15 in Kawhi’s minutes against minus-7.6 when he’s off the field, per CTG. That’s better than a differential of 22 points per 100 possessions, the biggest gap attached to anyone on this list.

Keep an eye on …

  • Stephen Curry: Fourth in the league in scoring and he’s starting to warm up 3-47% in his last four games. If the Warriors find a way to string together a few wins after enduring the league’s toughest schedule to start the season, Curry could become a hot name in this conversation.
  • Jaylen Brown: Brown has, at this point, jumped right after the star jump and landed in the MVP conversation. Entering Wednesday, Brown is averaging 30.4 points per game on 47% 3-point shots. These are numbers that rub your eyes to make sure you don’t see things. Brown has the Celtics at 10-6, currently No.2 in the East, despite Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker missing 17 games combined. Frankly, Brown should be in the top five in this conversation, but who are you going to eliminate? On top of that, I think voters would ultimately have a problem awarding the MVP to a guy who hasn’t even been on an All-Star team yet.
  • Doncic injuries: Doncic was most people’s favorite to win this pre-season award, and he flaunts his usual monster numbers. But the score is down slightly and he’s shooting just 28 percent from 3. Plus, the Mavericks have under 0.500 coming in on Wednesday with just the 16th ranked offense.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo: Voter fatigue strikes here, plus the fact that Giannis is down in points, rebounds and assists compared to last season. We’re splitting our hair here because Giannis is still averaging 27-10-5 on 54% shooting, but to earn three MVPs in a row you need to have a flawless record.
  • Donovan Mitchell: He’s not yet an MVP-caliber player, but he’s excellent nonetheless and (probably) the best player on a Jazz team who is the best team in the league not named the Lakers at the moment. At least that puts him in the conversation, but at 23 points per game out of 39% 3-point shots, he’s got a big hill to climb.
  • Paul George: Have a fantastic season, but almost impossible to earn MVP when you’re not the best player on your own team.
  • James Harden: See Paul George.




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