NBA MVP: With the 2020-21 season already in full motion, we’re already seeing top teams being bandied about as title contenders. With that comes the need to look at top individual players on said teams.
Can Giannis Antetokounmpo win the award for a third consecutive time? Does LeBron James have a chance? What about Stephen Curry returning to full health? As we will do all season, here’s our initial look at the top-10 NBA MVP candidates.
Updated: Jan. 4, 4:57 PM EST
Top-three NBA MVP candidates
1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
To say that Kevin Durant looks like his old self after missing last season with an Achilles injury would be an understatement. While his Nets are a mediocre 3-4 through seven games, the two-time NBA Finals MVP continues to show he’s 100% recovered. In six games this season, Durant is averaging 28.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists on 51% shooting from the field. That includes an absurd 46% mark from three-point range. Yeah, he’s a top NBA MVP candidate.
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
As long as he’s healthy, King James is going to be a legit NBA MVP candidate until the all-time great calls it a career. What the 36-year-old forward was able to do last season for the eventual champion Lakers was nothing short of extraordinary. Here’s a dude that led the NBA in assists at 10.2 per game, harkening back memories of Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” Lakers. Thus far this season, James is averaging just 32.1 minutes per game due to some blowouts. He’s putting up 23.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists on 47% shooting from the field for the 5-2 Lakers.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
There’s only been three players to ever win the NBA MVP three consecutive times. That list is limited to all-time greats Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Larry Bird. Still only 26 years old, Giannis could join that exclusive club in 2020-21. However, his numbers are down some from a season ago, albeit through just six games. Giannis is averaging 23.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 48% shooting from the field. His Bucks are also coming off an humiliating 20-point loss to the New York Knicks and find themseles at a mediocre 3-3 on the season. At least for now, this drops Antetokounmpo down a tad.
Related: Ranking top NBA defenses
Top NBA MVP candidates: Under-the-radar options
4. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Ho-hum. That’s the best way to describe this former NBA Finals MVP’s performance in his debut season with the Clippers. Sitting out several games due to rest, Leonard averaged a career-high 27.1 points to go with 7.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists while posting a win shares of 8.7. Thus far this season, Leonard has proven his worth as a top NBA MVP candidate. Los Angeles put up a 2-0 record before a facial injury cost Leonard Sunday’s game against the Mavericks. In turn, the Clippers lost by 51 points. If we needed any more evidence surrounding Leonard’s importance to the Clips, that’s it.
Related: Top 50 players in the NBA
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Dallas’ 2-4 start to the 2020-21 season has not shown the team in the best of lights. That includes ugly losses to the Hornets and Bulls. This has talk of Luka Doncic as a legit NBA MVP candidate looking a tad overblown. With that said, the third-year guard is still averaging 24.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game. Those numbers are down from a season ago, but they’ll do just fine.
Top NBA MVP candidates: Best of the rest
6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Now that Klay Thompson is lost for the season, there’s a darn good chance that Curry will compete for his third ever NBA MVP award. Coming off a 2019-20 campaign that saw him miss all but five games, Curry and his Warriors are still attempting to find some rhythm. After some initial struggles, it appears that this all-time great has found some rhythm. That included a career-best 62-point performance in a resounding outing against the Blazers last weekend. Curry currently leads the NBA 32.3 points on 46% shooting. The issue here is Golden State’s pedestrian 3-3 record. The team will have to finish top-five out west if Curry wants to bring home a third NBA MVP award.
7. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
An argument could be made that Davis, not LeBron James, deserved the NBA Finals MVP last season. Here’s a dude that averaged 25.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists during Los Angeles’ six-game series win over the Miami Heat. As with James thus far this season, Davis’ minutes have been limited due to blowouts. He’s averaging 21.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 52% shooting through six games.
8. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Related: James Harden trade scenarios
The NBA MVP back in 2017-18, Harden is a true wild card here. We already know that Harden has demanded a trade from the Rockets. He’s also had some major COVID-19 related drama, finding himself fined a ton of violating the league’s protocols. In no way will this hinder Harden’s MVP chances. In the only game he’s played thus far this season, the three-time reigning NBA scoring champion dropped 44 points and dished out 17 assists in a narrow loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Currently sidelined to an ankle injury, Harden has played only three games for the 2-2 Rockets. That drops the former NBA MVP down some.
9. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
One of the truly elite young players in the Association, the 22-year-old Tatum will be bandied about as an NBA MVP candidate for the next decade. Just think about what this forward did during the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Tatum averaged 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists during the playoffs. He followed that up with a ridiculous game-winning shot over Giannis in the Celtics’ season opener. Despite averaging 24.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists, Tatum’s Celtics are a mere 4-3 on the season.
10. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta’s hard-fought loss to the Brooklyn Nets last week painted this up-and-coming organization in a great light. Could the Hawks surprise and contend for a top-five spot back east? If so, Trae Young has to be considered a legit NBA MVP candidate. Here’s a dude that’s averaging 28.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists for the surprising 4-2 Hawks. While he might be a year away from being a top-five candidate, Young is putting himself on the map.