Examining the NBA MVP Race

By: Logan Hill

After a slew of injuries to the league’s biggest stars, the MVP race in the NBA is seemingly wide open, with just about a month and a half to go in the regular season.

Heading into March, the three candidates leading the MVP race were all noteworthy stars. It was Lakers superstar Lebron James, dominant Sixers big Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic, a playmaking seven-footer who is dangerous anywhere on the floor. As the final days of March wind down, Jokic is the only one actually still on the floor.

The Frontrunners

LeBron James and Other Stars Form a Voting Rights Group - The New York Times
Photo Courtesy of The New York Times

James was enjoying a terrific season coming off of his fourth NBA Championship, averaging 25.4 points per game, to go along with almost eight rebounds and eight assists a game. He had been praised for his availability, as taking advantage of load management opportunities in past seasons had hurt his credibility in the MVP race. Facing the Atlanta Hawks on March 20, James suffered a high ankle sprain in the second quarter and is out indefinitely as he recovers. Being out of the lineup for an extended period, James’ chances of taking home the MVP are likely shot while others continue to shine night in and night out across the league.

Philadelphia 76ers Need Joel Embiid To Be Joel Embiid, Warts And All
Photo courtesy of Forbes

Embiid was also off to a career season and finally seemed to be enforcing his presence throughout the NBA. The Cameroonian big man was averaging 29.9 points per game and also pulling in 11.5 rebounds per contest. He had the Sixers in prime position in the Eastern Conference, contending for the first overall seed. Embiid hyperextended his left knee in a March 12 victory against the Washington Wizards. He left the game and was ruled out for several weeks with what was eventually ruled a bruised knee. While the Sixers still sit atop the east heading in April, Embiid has yet to return to the lineup during his standout season.

B/R NBA Digest: Nikola Jokic Charging into the MVP Conversation | Bleacher  Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights
Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report

Jokic, on the other hand, has stayed healthy and continued to play at a high level. He is averaging a career-high 27.2 points per game, while also grabbing 11.1 rebounds, and dishing out 8.6 assists per game. His play has the Nuggets sitting in fifth place in a loaded Western Conference. Forming a dynamic duo with Point Guard Jamal Murray, Jokic’s play has taken the league by storm recently, as he has scored at least 20 points in all but one game so far in the month of March. With both of his primary competitors for the award dealing with injury, he has become the front runner to take home the MVP in many circles.

The Field 

With two of the three frontrunners for the MVP award now out for an extended period of time, the race behind Jokic has opened back up and a handful of players have made their case for consideration.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Twitter reacts to Giannis Antetokounmpo winning MVP
Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Antetokounmpo, who is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, has had another great season even though it has flown under the radar. The Bucks’ superstar is putting up 28.3 points per game and recording 11.5 rebounds on his own. While not the dominance of past seasons, the Bucks still sit third in the Eastern Conference. If Antetokounmpo continues his superb play and Milwaukee is able to jump Brooklyn or Philadelphia in the standings, the Greek Freak could have a shot at his third straight MVP.

Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard Is the Best Closing Point Guard in the NBA - The Ringer
Photo courtesy of The Ringer

Lillard, who has become known for his shooting and ability to take over a game pretty much single-handedly, has also enjoyed a terrific 2020-21 season. He is scoring 30 points per game and also dishing out almost eight assists a night. Lillard’s play has the Blazers sitting in sixth place in the West, a year after scraping into the playoffs as the eight seed. If he continues to stay hot, and the Trailblazers remain near the top of the standings, Lillard has an (Outside) chance of taking home his first MVP award.

James Harden

James Harden says 'I am the MVP' when asked whether he belongs in  conversation, and he's not exactly wrong - CBSSports.com
Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports

Harden, playing in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets after being traded from the Houston Rockets in January, has been flat-out dominant since the move. Previously known primarily for his lethal scoring ability, Harden has done things differently in Brooklyn, leading the league with 11.2 assists per game. While it hasn’t been the scoring barrage fans are used to, Harden is also adding 25.8 points per game and also pulling down 8.1 rebounds per contest. He has been a spark plug for a Nets team that is in second place in the East standings, and currently the favorite from that conference to make the NBA Finals in most corners. Harden could have a shot at the MVP, which would be his second, if the Nets continue to soar and he continues to stand out among the rest of the Nets’ superstar roster. Worth noting however, no player has ever been traded and won the MVP in the same season. Harden is looking to be the first to do so.

Final Thoughts

One of the most hotly contested awards in all of sports, the NBA MVP race is definitely still playing out as the season draws towards a close. Jokic is currently the front runner and rightfully so, and should win the award if things continue to go his way. His main competition is likely Antetokounmpo & Harden, both stars in their own right. However, Giannis has two seasons of dominance playing against him in terms of winning a third straight, and Harden could lose out because he is surrounded by fellow superstars Kyrie Irving & Kevin Durant. With these factors in mind, it seems as if the race is currently Jokic’s to lose.

Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokić for NBA MVP | Denver Nuggets
Photo courtesy of NBA.com

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