Double Clutch
Double Clutch

Top 5 MVP race: Kawhi checks in

Christmas is always a key time during the NBA calendar. With five games on the slate, millions tune in around the world and it marks the unofficial start of casual fans taking an interest in the league. That’s why the last Top 5 MVP race of 2020 is important. It sets the tone for the rest of the season. The likes of James Harden, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler and Pascal Siakam are still around the fringes, but based on the last two weeks, here are this edition’s Top 5.

Giannis Antetekounmpo

Just 10 teams. In the history of the NBA, just 10 teams recorded a longer winning streak than the Milwaukee Bucks managed, before the Dallas Mavericks ended it last week. That’s stupid. Honestly, 10 teams?

When you consider how concerning it was that the team was getting very little back for Malcolm Brogdon last summer, the Bucks’ hopes for this season might have been slightly muted. In response, the reigning MVP has upped his game to increase scoring by nearly four points. His plus-minus is also more positive, as is his win shares, and the team has a greater chemistry after a second season with Mike Budenholzer at the helm. The winning percentage of the team has gone from .732 from the end of last season to .857 as I write. 

If any list has anyone other than Atetekounmpo on the top of their list, I’m not sure what the argument can be.

LeBron James

Only one player this season is averaging at least 10 assists per game, and it is someone who has never averaged more than 9.1 assists in any season before that. LeBron James has the talent to have been the ultimate point guard at any point in his career. He also could have been the ultimate center, or the ultimate coach, or general manager, but there have been few seasons when James has not had a guard on the court alongside him.

The concern is that the Los Angeles Lakers forward last had a usage rate this high when he was under 25 years old. That was a decade ago. However, James is coming off the longest break he’s had from basketball since long before he entered the NBA, and he’s averaging the fewest minutes of his career.

The Lakers are in the top five in offensive and defensive rating, and James is averaging more than 25 points while leading LA to the best team in the Western Conference. 

Luka Dončić

Due to injury, this might be the last time we see Luka Dončić on this list for a few weeks, especially if the Dallas Mavericks continue to beat the best teams in the league without their best player, like the did against the Milwaukee Bucks this last week.

But to remove him completely wouldn’t be fair on what the 20-year-old has achieved. Against the Detroit Pistons at the Mexico game, Dončić score 41 points and added 12 rebounds and 11 assists. 

For the team to succeed this season, the Mavericks might benefit from not relying on Dončić for a stretch this season, and hopefully he can learn to trust his teammates slightly more and become more efficient. His 32 percent shooting from long distance needs work, especially as most of them are off the dribble, but relying on the good ball handlers on the bench could help him score and his fellow Mavericks gain confidence. It just might not help his MVP candidacy this season.

Joel Embiid

It’s not necessarily a good sign that you need to be called out by a handful of legends to turn up to a game, but if that’s all it takes for Embiid to score 22, 38 then 24 with at least 10 rebounds and 5 assists in three straight games, then let’s start wheeling out the critics.

This summer, Embiid said he wasn’t going to be ok social media as much, which, honestly, is a bit of a loss to NBA Twitter. But on top of that, the trash talk of the internet might have kept him engaged for the long regular season.

He’s averaging 5 points fewer than last year, but if he remains focused going into the new year, and can play himself into better shape, he could finish above 25 points per game for the season and find himself in MVP consideration again.

Kawhi Leonard

Load-Management Man is probably never going to rise higher than fifth on this list due to the number of games he is projected to miss this season. Have already missed eight, the only reason he can be considered this highly is how much worse the Los Angeles Clippers are without him.

That’s not to say they are a bad team, but against the Chicago Bulls, the Kawhi Leonard-less Clips fell 109-106, despite getting 30 from Montrezl Harrel.

When he is in the game, Leonard gets the easiest 25, 7 and 5 in the league. Yes, the franchise has surrounded him with talent, but they clearly need him to win a championship, which they’ll probably do, but you don’t get a regular season MVP award for such accolades.