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NBA MVP Race 2021-22: Giannis Antetokounmpo takes over as favorite

With the 2021-22 season slated to get going next month, it’s time to look at our initial NBA MVP rankings. When all was said and done, Nikola Jokic earned the award after newly-minted champion Giannis Antetokounmpo won the award the previous two seasons. They are among our 10 favorites to hoist the award in 2021-22.

Top 2021-22 NBA MVP candidates: The big five

1. 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. This is especially true after the Greek Freak put up an historical performance in Milwaukee’s NBA Finals win over the Phoenix Suns. That six-game set saw the reigning NBA Finals MVP average 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals. Yeah, he’s our favorite to win the award in 2021-22.

2. 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. Dallas also brought in Jason Kidd to replace Rick Carlisle on the bench and is going to be extremely active under new general manager Nico Harrison in helping find Doncic a better supporting cast.

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.

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry, NBA MVP
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. The biggest key here will be general manager Bob Myers adding more talent with the excess of assets Golden State has this summer.

4. 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. Could that lead to back-to-back awards for the Serbian?

5. 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 34.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 12 playoff games. Whew.

Top 2021-22 NBA MVP candidates: Best of the rest

6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

NBA MVP: Joel Embiid, 76ers
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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. After a premature playoff exit, the 76ers might be looking to move Ben Simmons as a way to find Embiid a better fit on the roster. Depending on how that turns out, it will impact his NBA MVP candidacy in 2021-22.

7. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

NBA MVP: LeBron James
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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 even after a first-round exit in the playoffs. Simply put, LeBron will be an MVP candidate until he ultimately hangs those shoes up.

8. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

NBA MVP: Trae Young
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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 led an ascending Hawks team to the Eastern Conference Finals. 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.

9. 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 average 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 and could even ask out of dodge if things don’t change from a team-wide standpoint. The good news? New Orleans is looking to add a better supporting cast this summer.

10. 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 embattled Blazers general manager Neil Olshey build a better supporting cast. There’s also a chance that Dame forces his way from the Pacific Northwest to latch on with a legit title contender. Simply put, he’s wasting away in Portland right now.

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