As the 2020-21 NBA season nears its midpoint, we’re rating the top performers so far.
Most Valuable Player
Kurt Helin: Joel Embiid (76ers)
Much like this entire upside-down NBA season, it’s tough to get a clear picture in the MVP race. It’s a crowded field. That said, for me Joel Embiid has carved out a frontrunner position: He’s carried the Sixers offense (30.2 PPG with a ridiculous usage rate), been a Defensive Player of the Year candidate on the other end, and his team is +18.3 when he is on the court (which speaks to both how well he is playing and the lack of depth behind him, sorry Dwight).
LeBron James started lobbying for this award back in the bubble — he has the narrative behind him. That doesn’t sway me much, however his game has him second on my ballot today: he’s been strong defensively all season, he’s got the Lakers poised for a deep playoff run, but while he’s put up good numbers this season he lacks the statistical resume of some others. Nikola Jokic does have the statistical resume and has elevated his game season, but defensive issues and the Nuggets early-season stumbles hold him back to this point (he’s third for me right now). Damian Lillard is the same: He is clutch and the reason the Blazers are where they are, but his defense and the Blazers current spot in the standings ding him. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic have come on of late and could climb this ladder, as might Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry, both of whom have had strong seasons. James Harden could get a bottom of the ballot vote at the end of the season, he has been amazing in Brooklyn (Durant has played at an MVP level there but has missed to many games).
Dan Feldman: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)
This was ultimately a two-man race between Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. Jokic does so much – passing, scoring – to drive efficient offense. Embiid is much better defensively and also excellent offensively.
The biggest differentiator: Jokic has played 20% more games than Embiid.
That’s not fair to Embiid, who has missed time due to coronavirus contact tracing. But I’m judging results, and Embiid’s absences have limited his value. Their six-game difference in games played would look much smaller at the end of the season. Unfortunately, the season could resume with Embiid out.
LeBron James had an opportunity make a major move in this race with Anthony Davis sidelined. Instead, the Lakers have stumbled along and LeBron has fallen back into an MVP-chasing pack that also includes Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden.