Prior to the season being postponed in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the MVP race was seemingly starting to heat up.
With more than three-quarters of the NBA regular-season in the books, let’s swerve away from the normal top-5 and look at the top-10 in the 2020 Most Valuable Player race!
10) Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics
2019-20 stats: 23.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.9 apg
There’s no doubt about it, Jayson Tatum has come of age throughout the 2019-20 regular season.
While consistent injuries to key players have hampered the Celtics throughout the campaign, Tatum has risen to the occasion to become a consistent scoring force with the ball in hand.
With a usage rate spiking from 21.8 percent last season to 27.9, Tatum is registering career-high marks in points, rebounds and assists, while also boasting a +10.3 net rating while on the floor.
His first All-Star berth in Chicago last month capped off a monster February for the 21-year-old, as he also received his first Eastern Conference Player of the Month award after averaging 30.7 points per game on 49 percent from the field, while also leading Boston to a 9-3 record.
Tatum just makes this list as a rising talent on one of the East’s best teams, but remember, he is just Twenty-one, so you could expect him to be a regular in months and years to come.
9) Pascal Siakam – Toronto Raptors
2019-20 stats: 23.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.6 apg
Speaking of breakout stars, Pascal Siakam has taken over the mantle as the No. 1 player on the defending champion Toronto Raptors incredibly well, helping Nick Nurse’s squad to sit second in the Eastern Conference.
Averaging 28.0 points and 9.2 rebounds through five games in October, Siakam was one of the far-too-early frontrunners in the MVP race, before a combination of nagging injuries and the weight of responsibility began to take their toll on the 25-year-old.
Missing 11 games over the New Year period halted Siakam’s momentum significantly, though, it would be silly to ignore the impact the reigning Most Improved Player has had on the Raptors offence.
Without Kawhi Leonard in the frame, Siakam’s shot attempts have skyrocketed from 11.8 to 18.9 per game, while his usage percentage has spiked from 20.8 to 28.5 percent.
In the same boat as Tatum, Siakam was a first-time All-Star in Chicago, and the next step will now be showing an ability to carry the load against the other elite squads in the NBA – something he has struggled with thus far.
8) Russell Westbrook – Houston Rockets
2019-20 stats: 27.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 7.0 apg
So often maligned during his stat-stuffing run as an NBA superstar, the tide was beginning to turn on the outside perspective of Russell Westbrook prior to the NBA suspending the season, as a new-found sense of control and restraint has very visibly crept its way into the former MVP’s game, in what has arguably been one of the best stretches of his career.
Perhaps the most notable difference in Westbrook’s game has been his ability to move away from his major flaw – the outside shot.
Averaging just 29 percent on 5.8 attempts from the outside with Oklahoma City last season, Westbrook has dropped that mark to just 3.8 this season in Houston, and an even more impressive 2.3 a night since the turn of the New Year.
With those numbers in mind, it’s no surprise Westbrook entered March coming off by far his best month of the season, where he averaged 33.4 points a night with a true shooting percentage of 59.4 – his highest monthly true shooting percentage since February 2016.
7) Kawhi Leonard – LA Clippers
2019-20 stats: 26.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.0 apg
Similar to last season in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard feels like a sleeping giant.
Not playing enough to seriously warrant legitimate MVP consideration, Leonard would still arguably strike as much fear into the opposition as any other player in the league after his Championship winning heroics a season ago.
As the pioneer of ‘load management’, playing in back-to-back situations is still a rarity for Leonard, though, when he has played, he has led the Clippers to a 38-13 record, while they are 6-7 when he sits.
Is there a player/franchise that will benefit more from an extended break than the Clippers? Perhaps not..
6) Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
2019-20 stats: 26.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 3.1 apg
This is where things get interesting.
Despite the groundswell of support behind LeBron James, there is a legitimate case to suggest that Anthony Davis is the most important player on the Lakers roster.
A dominant force on both ends, Davis is one of the main contenders to take out the Defensive Player of the Year award, with his 2.4 blocks per game good for a tie for second in the NBA.
His 26.7 points per game place him in the top-10 in the league, despite at times taking a backseat to James in the offence.
As far as No. 2 options go, Davis is the creme of the crop, and one could argue the Lakers championship aspirations are placed firmly on his shoulders, with a recent trend indicating he may be more than up to the task.
5) James Harden – Houston Rockets
2019-20 stats: 34.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 7.4 apg
James Harden, much like previous seasons, is scoring a lot – it’s just not necessarily in the most efficient fashion.
Leading the league in scoring with 34.4 points per game, Harden is attempting 22.7 shots per game, second only to Bradley Beal with the Washington Wizards (22.9).
Harden is down to 43.5 percent shooting from the field, his lowest mark since his rookie season in 2009-10, though, in fairness, giving the ball to the former MVP and letting him go to work is often the best plan for the Mike D’Antoni’s offence.
With five games of scoring 50+ points including a 60-point explosion against the Atlanta Hawks in November, there’s no question, Harden is an all-time great when it comes to putting the ball in the bucket.
As long as he continues to put up monstrous scoring numbers, he’ll remain near the top of this conversation.
4) Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets
2019-20 stats: 20.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 6.9 apg
After a sluggish start to the 2019-20 season, Nikola Jokic has slowly but surely worked his way into condition, as the Nuggets once again have their eyes set on a deep playoff run.
When Jokic averaged just 15.0 points on 54.8 percent true shooting in October and then 15.8 on 51.0 percent, there were legitimate concerns that the MVP level expectations on 25-year-old Serbian were well and truly overblown.
Instead, the now two-time All-Star has rounded into form, averaging over 20 points per game since that rough start, including a scintillating 25.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists on 70.6 (!!) true shooting in February as the Nuggets zeroed in on securing home court advantage for the first-round of the playoffs.
The best passing big man in the game, Jokic combines his extraordinary vision with delicate touch around the basket to become one of the toughest players in the Association to guard.
Forget those first two months, the Joker was simply cranking into gear.
3) Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
2019-20 stats: 28.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 8.7 apg
Similar to Siakam above, Luka Doncic was all the rage in the early MVP discussion, bursting out the gate to lead a surprising Dallas Mavericks team towards a place at the top of the Western Conference.
Again, similar to Siakam, injuries somewhat curtailed that MVP steam, but make no mistake, Doncic is piecing together a season for the ages.
If his current per game averages hold, the Mavericks star would join Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only players in NBA history to record season averages of at least 28 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.
Robertson rattled off those numbers in four straight seasons from 1961-64, while Westbrook topped those marks in his MVP season back in 2017…. and oh yeah, just a reminder that Doncic just recently turned 21.
Doncic controls a Mavericks offence with an offensive rating of 115.8, a staggering 2.4 points per 100 possessions better than the second-ranked Houston Rockets.
For reference, that difference of 2.4 points per 100 possessions after the Rockets takes you all the way down to the 14th placed Oklahoma City Thunder.
In any other season, Doncic would arguably be the lead candidate for league MVP, it’s just in this campaign, the two ahead of him have been simply absurd.
2) LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers
2019-20 stats: 25.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 10.6 apg
Prior to the stoppage, LeBron James was beginning to make his move.
Despite being the No. 1 team in the Western Conference, the Lakers had failed to notch a marquee win during the entirety of the regular season. That changed with win over the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers in the same weekend, with James playing a critical role in each victory to the surprise of absolutely nobody.
James would post 28 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in the home win over the Bucks, before compiling a line of 29 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists against the Clippers.
Averaging a league-leading and career-high 10.6 assists per game, James is once again denying father time, displaying his trademark durability by missing only three games while averaging 34.9 minutes per game – good for the 15th highest mark in the league.
LeBron James is a marvel that should never be taken for granted and just one season after injury appeared to surface the first minor signs of weakness, he has responded as emphatically as could be imagined, as the Lakers attempt to once again be champions of the basketball world.
However, unfortunately, you don’t get extra credits for age in an MVP race, which is why the next name remains the leader of the pack.
1) Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
2019-20 stats: 29.6 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 5.8 apg
From opening night of the NBA season, the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a wrecking ball, blasting his way through the competition at a historic rate.
While the workloads of LeBron James and James Harden have been noted above, the truly remarkable number to look at when analysing the dominance Antetokounmpo has had over the competition is his minutes per night average.
Logging just 30.9 minutes per game, the 25-year-old ranks 73rd in that category, simply obliterating the opposition with absurd efficiency.
Antetokounmpo ranks third in the league for scoring and fourth in the league for rebounding despite the above number, the Bucks are outscoring their opponent by 16.1 points per 100 possessions while he is on the floor, while his PER of 31.7 is on pace to be the greatest in NBA history.
As for his record against good teams?
Antetokounmpo is averaging a combined 51.6 points, rebounds and assists per game against above .500 teams this season – a number no one has topped over the last 25 years, yes, that includes LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
While the narrative was swinging prior to the stoppage, don’t get it twisted, Antetokounmpo is still a ways ahead in the 2020 MVP race.
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