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The NBA’s MVP Race is Hotter than Ever

Typically, in previous NBA seasons the MVP would be a clear front-runner throughout the whole campaign and would not relinquish their position at the top of the MVP charts. Stephen Curry in 2016, James Harden in 2020 and Giannis Antetekounmpo are all prime examples of this trend, where the clear favourite would remain head and shoulders ahead of the pack. This 2020-2021 NBA season is the first in a while where the favourite isn’t so clear, having ebbed and flowed throughout. For the first time in what feels like decades, no one really knows who will win the MVP.

The prevailing wisdom was that LeBron James or Joel Embiid were the two top candidates. Both were performing on the highest seeds in their conference, both posted impressive statistics, both were efficient, and both did it on both ends of the court. Now that both have recently gone down with injuries, with no signs of any imminent returns for either, it begs the question as to who would be the next best candidates, given that the two top contenders had both gone down with injury. Suddenly, a hot MVP race just heated up further. Let’s take a look at who would be best suited to swoop the award from Embiid and LeBron, including what makes them the best possible candidates and what would be a blight on their respective cases.

Nikola Jokic

 

It’s rather ridiculous just how much the big Nugget improves year on year. Already a triple-double threat, Jokic has turned it up a notch this season, posting rather stupendous numbers. 26ppg, 11rpg and a whopping 8apg are unheard of for a big man. He is simply a statistical anomaly and a rarity for his position. The Nuggets go as he goes, with him being the centre of all they do offensively. It’s evident that his ability to score inside and out open up the floor for his teammates, where his passing can be shown off as he improves the others around him.

‘All roads lead to Rome’, well in Denver’s case, ‘all buckets lead to Jokic’ as they simply cannot function without him. The only thing holding him back would be the lacklustre season of Denver as a whole, failing to replicate their heights from last season. It’s known that the MVP voters reward players on winning teams, so Denver must finish strong and in a solid seed – likely top four – for Jokic’s MVP to likely be sealed and delivered.

 

James Harden

 

James Harden being a candidate MVP is a foregone conclusion, with him consistently finishing in the top 3 for the award year on year. Fresh off a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, we have seen Harden back to his best, if not better, as his embracing of a playmaking role on an almost full-time basis has allowed his teammates to flourish, while opening up the scoring aspects of his game. His averages are nearly identical to that of Jokic – 26ppg, 8rpg and 11apg, but it’s the ease at which he is playing that would do him favours. Striking up a partnership with Kyrie Irving in Kevin Durant’s absence has been key for Harden, as Brooklyn have been on a tear since the bearded freak settled into the lineup.

The only hurt on his chances, and a worthy one to note, is his first month with Houston and the volatility of his exit. Harden essentially moaned and pouted his way out of the Rockets in the most unprofessional way possible. The voters are a fickle bunch who could hold this against him. They may also hold his playoff record against him, with the notion of his regular season dominance but playoff mishaps stigmatising an otherwise standout candidate.

 

Giannis Antetekounmpo

The hate on Giannis is almost unfair at times. Yes, his shooting is hit and miss (quite literally), and so long as you wall him off you will limit he and his team from succeeding. But this is a special player. The length of Kevin Durant and the athleticism of LeBron James have been used to describe Giannis often, and they’re apt descriptions. Truth be told, Giannis isn’t too far removed from his statistics last season in an MVP year. 28ppg, 11rpg and 6apg are great no matter who you are. This is coupled with his efficiency that is almost unrivalled, as well as his stellar defence. Giannis has as good a case as anyone.

However, those fickle voters will come back to bite his chances in the backside. As with Harden, Giannis is gaining a stigma of being a playoff choker, and unless he can shake it, it will stick with him like glue. He has also won the last two MVPs, so voter fatigue will undoubtedly kick in. The voters may decide to give it to someone else purely because they’re sick of voting for Giannis. They know how good he is, we know how good he is, so let someone else have a turn, especially when we know that Giannis still has glaring issues in his play

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