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10th March 2021

NBA: Early MVP Contenders

Who will be the MVP this year? Arsh Asthana takes a look at the early MVP candidates
NBA: Early MVP Contenders
Photo: All-Pro Reels @ Wikimedia Commons

As the 2021 All Star Game is approaching, there are some players who have risen above the rest and cemented their superstar status this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the reigning league MVP for the past two seasons, but it looks like we will have a new MVP this season.

Let’s take a look at the early contenders for the 2020-2021 NBA Most Valuable Player of the season.

  1. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
Photo: All-Pro Reels @ Wikimedia Commons

Joel Embiid lives by the motto of “trust the process,” and it looks like it’s working for him. The Cameroonian center is ranked second in the NBA for points per game with 29.8, and 8th in the NBA for rebounds with 11.3, while shooting a career high 52.1% from the field and 41.7% from 3-point range.

Joel Embiid is having the best season of his career so far, as he leads the Philadelphia 76ers to the first seed in the eastern conference after playing 35 games. The key for Embiid throughout this season has been staying fit, as he is considered as one of the more injury-prone players in the league, playing only 51 out of 82 regular season games last season. If Embiid does not sustain any long-term injuries, and the Philadelphia 76ers end the regular season as the first seed in the eastern conference, Embiid could make a strong claim for the 2020-2021 MVP award.

2. LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers

Photo: All-Pro Reels @ Wikimedia Commons

“The King” has put the league on notice that he is here to retain his crown as the best player in the NBA. At an age where most players start thinking about retirement, Lebron is still performing at the highest level and is showing no signs of slowing down.

LBJ’s commitment towards maintaining his body and diet have helped him consistently perform at a high-level, despite being 36 years old. LeBron is averaging 25.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 7.8 assists, ranking 12th in points per game and 9th in assists per game as he looks to add a fifth MVP trophy to his accolades. He is the focal point of a Los Angeles Lakers team who are second in the Western Conference, and first in terms of defensive rating.

Coupled with his impressive individual performances, LeBron has also managed to come up clutch for the Lakers when they needed him the most. He scored 10 points during double overtime in a win against the Detroit Pistons, and 21 points in the fourth quarter in a win against his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. As of now, LeBron James looks primed and ready to win the 2020-21 Most Valuable Player award.

3. Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers

Photo: Frenchieinportland @ Wikimedia Commons

Much like Joel Embiid, Damian Lillard has also been enjoying the best season of his career. This season, Damian Lillard thrived under his increased role, as he is shouldering more responsibility due to the injuries of CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. The Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard is averaging 29.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 8.1 assists, ranking third in the league for points per game.

After barely making the playoffs last season, Damian Lillard leads a significantly improved Portland Trail Blazers team to the fifth seed in the western conference after 33 games. Apart from his excellent leadership abilities, Lillard has also built a reputation for being clutch, coining the phrase “Dame Time” for himself. He has hit numerous game winners for the Blazers, most notably a buzzer beater against the Houston Rockets in 2014, which won them the series, and a step-back three-point buzzer beater over Paul George to seal their first round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019.

This season, Damian Lillard has continued to show up for the team. He ranks first in field goal percentage with 63.2% and three-point percentage with 58.8% in the last five minutes of games separated by five points or fewer. If the Blazers can maintain their top four ranking in the western conference by the end of the season, Damian Lillard could be looking at his first MVP trophy.

4. Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets

@All-Pro Reels from Wikimedia Commons

Nikola Jokic is another player who seems to have also been enjoying the best season of his career. The Serbian is averaging a career high of 27.1 points, 8.5 assists, and 11 rebounds, ranking in the top fifteen for all three categories. Jokic has revolutionised his role within the Denver Nuggets team with his guard-like ball handling and playmaking abilities while playing the center position. He is the only center in the top 20 assists per game leaders.

The only setback for “The Joker” is that, despite all his dominance on the statistics leaderboards, the Denver Nuggets rank 7th in western conference. If the Nuggets can improve their standings to one of the top four seeds in the western conference, Jokic may have a chance at adding the MVP award as his first major accolade.

5. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

Photo: Cyrus Saatsaz @ Wikimedia Commons

After missing the majority of last season due to injury, Curry has returned to the league looking better than ever. Like Damian Lillard, Steph has also taken additional responsibility due to Klay Thompson’s achilles injury, and Kevin Durant leaving the Warriors in free agency last season. Many media analysts shared concern over Curry’s ability to handle the extra offensive load, but he has proven he can handle the additional responsibility with ease. He is averaging 29.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists, ranking fourth in the league for points per game.

Steph Curry is statistically having one of the best seasons of his career, with the last time he averaged over 30 points per game being his 2015-2016 MVP season, where he led the league in scoring, and became the first ever unanimous MVP. Steph Curry has been on an absolute tear this season offensively, making threes from anywhere and everywhere, and dazzling fans with his incredible dribble moves. He is dominating the offensive statistics, ranking first in total three pointers made with 164, and having two of the highest scoring individual games, scoring a career high 62 points against the Blazers and 57 points against the Dallas Mavericks.

The only setback for Steph Curry’s MVP campaign is that the Warriors are currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference after 35 games. Team success has played an important role in determining the league MVP over the past few years, with only four of the NBA’s 65 MVP winners being on teams below third place in their conference standings. If the Warriors can improve their standings to one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference, Steph Curry could be looking at a third MVP trophy.

6. Kevin Durant – Brooklyn Nets

Photo: All-Pro Reels @ Wikimedia Commons

After missing out the entirety of the 2019-2020 season due to an achilles injury that he sustained in the 2019 NBA finals, Kevin Durant is back and is playing better than ever.

Kevin Durant is averaging 29 points, 5.3 assists, and 7.3 rebounds, ranking sixth in the league for points per game, while shooting 52% from the field and 43% from three-point range. Like his former teammate Steph Curry, Durant’s performances this season have mimicked his 2013-14 MVP season, where he led the league in scoring while averaging 32 points per game.

Durant is playing as part of a “big three” with All-Star guards Kyrie Irving and James Harden, leading the Brooklyn Nets to being the best offensive team in the league in terms of points per game, and second in offensive rating. The Nets are currently the second seed in the eastern conference after 36 games, but Durant has only played in 19 of the Nets 36 games so far this season. His lack of playing time may have an impact on his MVP campaign. If the Brooklyn Nets can finish the regular season as the first seed in the Eastern Conference, Kevin Durant could add a second MVP trophy to his trophy room.

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