Is the NBA season done? Nobody really knows yet. We do know that the league will be suspended for at least 30 days.
At this time, it makes sense to take stock of what the league’s award races look like, whether or not the regular season is finished.
Let’s start by checking in with the MVP race. Who’s on top, and who is challenging for that top spot? Let’s look at the top five candidates.
- Honorable mentions: Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)
Top MVP Candidates for 2019-20
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
If you’re surprised here, you shouldn’t be. While LeBron James has been very good as of late, and the Lakers are now just three games behind the Bucks in the race for the NBA’s best record, Giannis has been the wire-to-wire leader in this race.
Antetokounmpo’s key statistics (29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists) are extremely impressive, but they are even more impressive when you consider that he’s averaged just 30.9 minutes per game. Many of his best performances have come in games against bad teams where he hardly played in the fourth quarter and didn’t get a chance to inflate his stats.
Add in that the Greek Freak could also be the favorite for the Defensive Player of the Year award and that makes Antetokounmpo the no-brainer choice for his second MVP in a row.
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Lots of media voices are clamoring for James to be the MVP favorite this year. While I think they are being prisoners of the moment and often bringing up the irrelevant point of his age (35 years old), there’s no doubt that he is having a fantastic year.
James is putting up a career high of 10.6 assists per game, a number that also leads the NBA. His scoring efficiency is slightly down from previous years (25.7 points per game on a 58.2 true-shooting percentage), but he has improved his defensive impact to make up for it. The Lakers rank third in defensive rating, which is partially a credit to LeBron showing more effort on that end.
If the NBA playoffs do happen, the Lakers just might be the favorite to win the championship. Even in year 17 of LeBron’s career, there’s nobody you would rather have on your team than him when you really need to win a game.
3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
When it comes to MVP consideration, I’m a sucker for players who lead teams that far exceed expectations. I was not high at all on the Mavericks heading into this season. I had them winning 35 to 40 contests and missing the playoffs by several games.
In fact, though, the Mavericks are currently on a 52-win pace over an 82-game season when Doncic plays, and that’s with several disappointing crunch-time losses. Dallas’ point differential (plus-6.1) is within striking distance of the Los Angeles Lakers’ (plus-7.4) and Los Angeles Clippers’ (plus-6.5) for the best mark in the Western Conference.
Doncic’s terrific campaign is easily the single biggest reason for the Mavericks’ fantastic season. He averages 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game and is a legitimate three-level scorer who makes everything so much easier for his teammates. He has a whopping 10 30-point triple-doubles this season.
Luka’s 12 missed games as well as his occasional slumps from the three-point line and free-throw line do weaken his case. However, since Doncic only recently turned 21 years old, we can be assured that this is only the beginning for the Slovenian point forward.
4. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Consistency is the name of the game for Leonard. He doesn’t often go nuts with monster stat lines like some of his peers on this list, but he is just so dependable.
Leonard is averaging 28.8 points, 7 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals in 32.6 minutes per game in his last 23 games. He has just one 40-point game in that stretch, but he has had more points than field-goal attempts in all 23 of those contests. He rarely has those stinker games that often plague other superstars.
Of course, Leonard is also a defensive stud. Although injuries have hindered the team from truly taking off at any point this season, Leonard and star teammate Paul George have spearheaded a very strong Clippers defense that now is up to a No. 5 ranking in the NBA.
5. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Earlier in the season, Harden looked like he might challenge for the MVP award. He was averaging 38.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.6 assists on January 8. That scoring average would’ve been the highest since Wilt Chamberlain’s 44.8 points per game in the 1962-63 season.
Since then, though, Harden’s scoring average is down to 28.8 points per game, and his shooting percentages are also down considerably. His backcourt mate, Russell Westbrook, has actually outplayed him in that stretch. The Rockets went all-in on a super-small-ball approach when they traded Clint Capela away at the trade deadline and not having that lob threat has hindered Harden’s capabilities as a scorer and playmaker. Overall, Houston has just a 15-13 record in its last 28 games and has lost some ground in the playoff standings.
Overall, though, this has been another fantastic season from Harden, even though the past two months haven’t treated him as well.