No Easy Way to the Top

As the NBA prepares to play its midseason All-Star game, leading candidates emerge for MVP consideration

Andrew Bryant-Frey, Staff Writer

As the NBA season rolls into All-Star Weekend, the time has come to take a look at which players are having outstanding seasons thus far and establishing themselves into the MVP conversation. In my opinion, there is a solid front runner list of five players, who have clearly put themselves in a position to win this most coveted award. These athletes are Kevin Durant (New Jersey Nets), Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), and Lebron James (Los Angeles Lakers).

Now, if one of these players happens to slip up in the second half of the season, there are two former back-to-back MVP’s that could easily leap frog one of the above mentioned players and take home the trophy for himself. Steph Curry (MVP in ’15 and ’16) of the Golden State Warriors is third in the league in scoring (29.5 ppg) while shooting an astounding 47% from the floor and 41% from behind the arc. Meanwhile, The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetakounpo (MVP in ’19 and ’20) of the Milwaukee Bucks is fourth in the league in scoring (29.2 ppg) and fourth in the league in rebounding (11.8 rpg). The pressure to perform each and every night at a high level is real.

Now, one of the interesting notes on my list is that there are no guards in my Top 5. My Top 5 list includes three forwards (James, Durant and Leonard) and two centers (Jokic and Embiid). There is a list of guards that have the potential to have explosive second halves of the season and put themselves directly into the MVP conversation. This elite group includes Bradley Beal (33.2 ppg), Damian Lillard (29.8 ppg), Luka Doncic (28.5 ppg), James Harden (25.0 ppg) and Donovan Mitchell (24.5 ppg). How your team is playing down the stretch in late April will also be a great factor in who wins this season’s MVP crown.

Let’s begin our conversation by looking at the three forwards who have made my Top 5  list. First, let’s take a look at the new Kevin Durant. I say new because Durant is playing for his third team, the New Jersey Nets, and is coming off of an Achilles tear that sidelined him for the entire 2019-20 season. Durant was the 2013-14 MVP, while playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, as he established himself as one of the purest shooters that game has ever seen. Durant has teamed up in New Jersey with Kyrie Irving and James Harden to form one of the most lethal offensive juggernauts the NBA has ever seen. Kevin is scoring 29.0 ppg while grabbing 7.2 rebounds and dishing out 5.3 assists.

My next player is two-time Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers. Kawhi won his first Finals MVP in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs and his second Finals MVP in 2018 with the Toronto Raptors. Known for his athletic domination on both ends of the floor, Kawhi is trying to end the 50-year drought for the Clippers by winning their first ever title this season. Kawhi is averaging 27.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest.

Probably the most dominant player ever at the forward position is none other than the King himself, LeBron James. James teamed up with Anthony Davis last season to win the Lakers 17th NBA championship inside the “Orlando Bubble”. James, at the age of 36, is still playing elite level basketball in this his 19th year in the league. His level of durability is simply remarkable, and James brings it each and every year. James’ averages are 34.8 minutes, 25.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. In the pantheon of great NBA players, just where is James going to finish? Currently, the Lakers are the second seed in the West (24-11) behind the well-balanced and team-orientated Utah Jazz (27-7). James has a lot more heavy lifting to do in the next three weeks as the Lakers await the return of Anthony Davis, who is still recovering from a calf strain and aggravated Achilles.

Now, let’s finish out my Top 5 by taking a close look at two very different, yet elite centers. In Denver, Nikola Jokic is a passing dominant center who leads his team in assist with 8.5 per game. Their starting point guard, Jamal Murray, only averages 4.6 per game. Jokic adds 27.0 ppg and 10.9 rpg, which makes him a complete team player. Jokic is fun to watch play because he plays at his own 25 mph speed. Jokic does nothing fast, but his basketball IQ is one of the best in the league and he facilitates the Nuggets entire offense.

In the City of Brotherly Love, Joel Embiid is a hulking seven footer, but in his heart Embiid thinks he is a guard. Embiid has helped revolutionize the position by being able to consistently make his 3-point shots. In looking at the stat sheet, Embiid makes almost three 3’s per game (2.9) and his shooting percentage is 41.5% from behind the arc. To finish his stat line, Embiid is scoring 29.8 ppg, grabbing 11.3 rebounds and handing out 3.1 assists. Legendary, but first year, 76ers coach Doc Rivers is getting the most out of the four-time All Star. Embiid’s potential has been off-the- charts since playing for the Kansas Jayhawks for one season, and now the NBA is seeing his full potential blossom.

All in all, we have many great candidates for MVP this year, but right now, I think, the top player from the Western Conference is Lebron James and the top player form the Eastern Conference is Joel Embiid. Let’s sit back, and enjoy the second half of the NBA season that promises to have many move plot twists before the 2020-21 champion is crowned.