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NBA MVP Race 2021-22: The old and the young converge

With the 2020-21 regular season now a thing of the past, we saw injuries impact some of the game’s best players. It impacted the NBA MVP race as the final votes were tallied. Nikola Jokic made history by winning the award over fellow finalists Stephen Curry and Joel Embiid.

This got us thinking about the top candidates for the 2021-22 NBA MVP award. Sure some of these names will remain unchanged. But there’s a number of young players set to take major steps forward next season. Below, we provide you with our early NBA MVP rankings for the 2021-22 campaign.

1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

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

The Dallas Mavericks’ status as a mid-tier playoff team complicated Doncic’s candidacy for the NBA MVP this past season. Don’t expect that to be the case once 2021-22 comes calling. First off, we know that Mark Cuban is going to do everything possible to build a winner around the 22-year-old Doncic. That could include moving Kristaps Porzingis.

From a pure statistical standpoint, the Slovenian will always be considered a top-end MVP candidate should his Mavs be in contention. Since entering the league back in 2018-19, Doncic is averaging 25.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 7.7 assists. He also averaged 35.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 10.3 assists during Dallas’ seven-game first-round series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. That’s insane.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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

Historically brilliant. That’s the best way to describe what we saw from the reigning NBA scoring champion. Despite his Warriors missing out on the playoffs due to a play-in loss to the Grizzlies, Curry was able to average 32.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 48% shooting from the field. With Klay Thompson expected to return in 2021-22 and the Warriors hoping to be in title contention, Curry could end up being one of the oldest players to win the NBA MVP award.

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

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

With Jamal Murray sidelined to a torn ACL, Jokic took that opportunity to prove himself as the 2020-21 NBA MVP. Denver was a shocking 17-8 after Murray went down. This multi-dimensional force was also averaging 31.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists during that span. Still only 26 years old and with Denver boasting young stud Michael Porter Jr. moving forward, there’s no reason to believe that Jokic and his team will drop off moving forward.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

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. Giannis missed out on that in 2020-21, failing to be named a finalist. Even then, he’s always going to be in the conversation. Over the course of the past three seasons, the Greek Freak is averaging 28.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 57% from the field. Did we mention that he’s still only 26 years old? Dude seems to have been in the league since 2000.

5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

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

Despite being named a finalist for the 2020-21 NBA MVP, Embiid’s candidacy took a hit due to the fact that he missed roughly a quarter of the 76ers’ regular-season games. Since entering the NBA in 2014, this generational center talent has not played more than 64 games in a season. This is troublesome. With that said, Embiid averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds for a Sixers team that finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference. We just can’t ignore that.

6. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

NBA MVP: LeBron James
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the early stages of the 2020-21 season, James was a top-end candidate for this individual award. Unfortunately, an ankle injury cost him 27 games. During a truncated 72-game schedule, this was enough for him to be ignored. Even at 36 years old, that won’t be the case in 2021-22. James is still playing at an elite clip. His Lakers remain top-end NBA title contenders. Simply put, LeBron will be an MVP candidate until he ultimately hands those shoes up.

7. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

NBA MVP candidates: Zion Williamson
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Special. That’s the best way to describe Williamson’s performance for an otherwise lackluster Pelicans team through two seasons. This past year saw the former No. 1 pick averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists on an otherworldly 61% shooting. He’s dominant. He’s a mismatch waiting to happen. He’s a generational talent. It’s now up to Pelicans front office head David Griffin to build a supporting cast worthy of Williamson’s brilliance. If not, he’ll continue to put up these numbers without being bandied about as a legit NBA MVP candidate.

8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

NBA MVP: Damian Lillard
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Lillard’s regular-season stats can be compared, at least somewhat, to what we’ve seen from Stephen Curry in recent seasons. Despite this, and the fact that he continues to make the Blazers a perennial playoff team, Dame is not mentioned as a top NBA MVP candidate. Expect that to change in 2021-22 should Portland actually build a supporting cast around him. Lillard, 30, is averaging 27.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.9 assists on 38% shooting from distance since the start of the 2016-17 campaign.

9. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

NBA MVP: Trae Young
Seth Wenig/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

With Doncic and Young, the 2019 NBA Draft class is quickly becoming legendary. It’s also still shocking that the two were swapped for one another during the annual event itself. Perhaps lesser known than his counterpart, Young is leading an ascending Hawks team to potential conference title contention in the playoffs. He’s also averaging a robust 27.4 points and 9.4 assists over the past two seasons. Should Atlanta’s ascension to contention continue, Young will be a viable NBA MVP option moving forward.

10. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

NBA MVP: Kevin Durant
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As with other veterans, it’s going to be all about health. Durant, 32, has played a total of 35 regular-season games since the end of the 2018-19 season. An argument could be made that he’s injury-plagued heading into this point in his career. That’s fine. But let’s not cheat the Slim Reaper. He remains a top MVP candidate. In the 35 games he played for the Nets last season, they went 24-11. Durant also averaged 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists on an astounding 45% shooting from three-point range.