NBA MVP: Ranking the top-10 candidates for 2020-21, Stephen Curry rides career-best performance to top tier

By Vincent Frank

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

Related: NBA Power Rankings – Celtics and Warriors ascending, Wolves among the bottom feeders.

Top-three NBA MVP candidates

1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

NBA MVP: Kevin Durant
Sep 27, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) poses for a portrait during media day at HSS Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Nets, check out #WeGoHard rumors, rankings, and news here.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

NBA MVP: LeBron James
Oct 11, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) smiles while holding the MVP trophy after game six of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena. The Los Angeles Lakers won 106-93 to win the series. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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

NBA MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Aug 24, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo reacts during the second half against the Orlando Magic in game four of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

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.

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Top NBA MVP candidates: Under-the-radar options

4. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

NBA MVP: Kawhi Leonard
Dec 11, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kostas Antetokounmpo (37) guards Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) as he heads down court in the first half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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

NBA MVP: Luka Doncic
December 12, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the basketball against the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Mavericks, check out #MFFL rumors, rankings, and news here.

Top NBA MVP candidates: Best of the rest

6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

NBA MVP: Stephen Curry
December 12, 2020; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the basketball against the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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

NBA MVP: Anthony Davis
December 29, 2019; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) controls the ball against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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

NBA MVP: James Harden
Nov 18, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) plays air guitar after he made a three point basket against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

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

NBA MVP: Jayson Tatum
Sep 25, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) moves the ball against Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) during the second half in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Celtics, check out #Celtics rumors, rankings, and news here.

10. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

NBA MVP: Trae Young
Dec 26, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) brings the ball up court during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

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.