NBA MVP Race 2020-2021: Injuries continue to mount for game’s top stars

By Vincent Frank

With the 2020-21 season hitting its stretch run, we’re seeing injuries impact who might win the game’s top individual honor. That includes both LeBron James and Joel Embiid. Meanwhile, star players on mid-tier teams are being let down by their supporting casts.

Can Giannis Antetokounmpo win the award for a third consecutive time? Will James Harden come away with the award after an early-season trade to the Brooklyn Nets? Check below for our most-recent NBA MVP rankings updated on a weekly basis.

Updated: April 13, 3:15 PM EST

Related: NBA power rankings – Phoenix Suns now a championship contender

1. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets (LW: 1)

James Harden NBA MVP candidate
Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

As of right now, Harden has to be the NBA MVP favorite heading into the stretch run. Since being acquired from Houston in January, he has been absolutely dominant while leading the NBA’s best team during that span. Harden is averaging 25.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 11.0 assists on an eye-opening 47% shooting in 34 games with the Nets. Over the course of the past 20 games, this dude is averaging a triple-double. Unfortunately, he joins other top-end contenders in being sidelined. Harden is out for at least the next few days with a hamstring injury.

2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (LW: 2)

NBA MVP: Nikola Jokic
Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With his team now turning things around after some early-season struggles, Jokic has to be considered a top-end NBA MVP candidate. The most-skilled big in the game has been on an absolute tear thus far. He’s actually averaging a near triple-double at 26.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists. Jokic will now have more of a chance to prove his worth as a top candidate for this individual award now that fellow Nuggets star Jamal Murray is sidelined for the season with a devastating torn ACL.

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3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (LW: 3)

NBA MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

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. While initially unlikely, Giannis has done everything to keep his name in the conversation. Antetokounmpo is averaging 28.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists on 57% shooting from the field. Unfortunately, he’s also joined other top stars in being sidelined recently. The Greek Freak has missed the past five games to a mysterious knee injury.

4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (LW: 4)

NBA MVP: Luka Doncic
Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After turning it around some in February and through the early part of March, the Mavs struggled prior to a recent hot stretch. And it has everything to do with this electric 22-year-old wing. Doncic is averaging 28.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 40% shooting from distance in his past 12 games. It’s not a coincidence that the Mavs are 9-3 in those nine games. They now sit at 29-24 after a 9-14 start to the season. Watch out, Doncic could ascend our NBA MVP rankings in a big way moving forward depending on the injuries to other top-end candidates.

5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (LW: 5)

NBA MVP: Joel Embiid, 76ers
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Having just returned from a knee injury that cost him 10 games, Embiid’s MVP candidacy has obviously taken a hit. Missing that amount of games in a 72-game schedule is going to be impactful. However, consecutive losses to the Clippers and Nuggets without Embiid in the mix tells us how important he is to the 37-17 Sixers. Thus far this season, the big man is averaging 29.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 52% shooting. Those are Shaquille O’Neal numbers. And we don’t make that comparison lightly.

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6. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (LW: 6)

Devin Booker, NBA MVP
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We can no longer ignore the best player on a team that’s a legit NBA title contender. Yes, we’re talking about the Phoenix Suns. That’s a thing in 2021. Phoenix finds itself at 38-15 and with the second best record in the Association. For his part, Booker has been dominating of late. He’s averaging 27.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 50% shooting from the field over the past 31 games. It’s not a coincidence that the Suns have lost only five of those games.

7. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (LW: 7)

NBA MVP: Donovan Mitchell
Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

At 40-14 on the season, this Jazz team is similar to the Hawks squad that won 60 games back in 2014-15. It is unlikely to have a top-end NBA MVP candidate. That’s primarily because of the balance Quin Snyder has on offense. Even then, we can no longer ignore Mitchell. Leading the best team in the NBA, he’s averaging 26.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists. Mitchell is also shooting what would be a career-best 38% from distance. Over his past four games, Mitchell is averaging a resounding 40.5 points. That’s just insane.

8. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (LW: 8)

NBA MVP: LeBron James
Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As you can see, King James continues to fall in our NBA MVP rankings. It’s no fault of his own. The game’s best player has been sidelined for the past nine games to a high-ankle sprain and will likely be out for at least the next month. That’s just not going to help when it comes to the league’s top individual award, especially during a truncated 72-game season. It’s clear that James is among the most-valuable players in the Association. He will be until the legend opts to retire. Even then, we can’t have him any higher with the future first ballot Hall of Famer likely to miss at least 20 games due to this injury.

9. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (LW: 9)

NBA MVP: Kawhi Leonard
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After some initial struggles this season, the Clippers sit at 37-18 and as a top title contender. That’s in large part due to the performance of this former NBA Finals MVP. Leonard is averaging 26.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists while playing still-elite basketball on defense. It won’t be enough for him to win the Association’s top individual award, but he’s certainly in the conversation.

10. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (LW: NR)

Stephen Curry, NBA MVP
April 12, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates with forward Kent Bazemore (26) during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It appears that Curry took note after missing from this list in our most-recent update. In all seriousness, the two-time NBA MVP has been absolutely brilliant since returning from a tailbone injury. Historically brilliant. In seven games since coming back, Curry is averaging 38.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists on an otherworldly 46% shooting from distance. Oh, and he just passed Wilt Chamberlain as the leading scorer in Warriors franchise history after dropping 53 on the Nuggets back on April 12.

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