This first Top 5 MVP Race after the All-Star break can be momentum shifting. We have had a number of people in the hunt this season, even if Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James have been mainstays at different positions in the list. But cracking the top five now still leaves enough time to unseat the reigning MVP and the perennial threat – so will any of this week’s entries make a move?
1 Giannis Antetokounmpo
Despite missing the last few games to become a father, Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t put a foot wrong during the games he has played. He has scored at least 30 points in five of his last six games and eight of the last 10, while being +61 during that stretch, even with one loss. The margin of victory for the Milwaukee Bucks during those games he played are exactly 61, which lets you know exactly who is doing what for that squad.
That’s not to pour cold water on Khris Middleton’s 51-point outburst, or the good play of Eric Bledsoe and the hot shooting of George Hill. But the loss against the Indiana Pacers when the Bucks just couldn’t get started and nobody scored 20 points, just shows how much of a catalyst Antetokounmpo is from night to night, and why he is still the MVP so far this season.
2 LeBron James
Something that might have gone unnoticed for LeBron James is that he is going to the free throw line at the lowest rate of his career. Even during his rookie campaign, way back in 2003, James managed 5.8 free throw attempts per game. So far this year, he is averaging just 5.4 and making 68 percent of them.
It’s difficult to call this an issue for his Los Angeles Lakers, because the team is way ahead in the Western Conference. And James’ role is not like what he has experienced in previous seasons. This year, he is, without doubt, the point guard. He has changed his game.
It’s not gone unnoticed, and it is why many believe the Lakers might target a point guard in the buyout market, so Los Angeles have someone who can create their own shot, and feed Anthony Davis and the rest of the team when James is on the bench.
The team’s 10 most-played five-man units have a positive plus-minus with James leading it while just three out of the top 10 line-ups without him have played positive minutes. His impact is huge and while he might have taken a noticeable step back in scoring and getting to the line, he is ensuring the team’s supporting cast is playing to their potential when he is on the floor.
Despite all this, the All-Star Game showed that in a single game, there is no player more valuable to have on your team if you want to win. James can still do it all when he wants to and can lead a team to victory.
3 Pascal Siakam
4.2 – 7.3 – 16.9 – 23.5
That is Pascal Siakam’s points per game average in each of the seasons he’s played in his career, including this campaign so far. The Toronto Raptors forward has compiled box score averages that sit comfortably among a list of MVP contenders, and since returning from an injury that kept him out 10 games, he has shown the first stretch of the season was no fluke.
The issue that’s keeping him from cracking into the very top spot is that his output is slightly inconsistent. It all averages out, but the team still isn’t entirely sure what it will get from him. Just in the last five games, he has scored 25, then 15, then 20, 34 and 16. This pattern continues throughout the season.
Milwaukee Bucks head coach, Mike Budenholzer doesn’t have to worry about how much he is going to get out of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers isn’t concerned with what he is going to get out of LeBron James either.
The growth is impressive and the performances have been incredible, but to take that next step, Siakam needs to be consistent.
4 Jayson Tatum
Having featured on this Top 5 MVP Race list at different junctures throughout the season, it’s good to see the rest of basketball media starting to take notice.
When you talk about consistency, what Jayson Tatum has done since returning from injury (when he missed three games) certainly fits the description. He has only scored fewer than 20 points once in the last eight games, and that led to a loss for his Boston Celtics against the Houston Rockets. However, the others have all led to wins and while it hasn’t been the toughest stretch of the season for the Cs, a signature win against the Los Angeles Clippers and good performances against both the Philadelphia 76ers and Oklahoma City Thunder have shown that Tatum can lead his team to victory.
He hugely deserved the All-Star nod this year, and it will likely be the first of many if he continues in this vein.
5 Nikola Jokić
The Joker has been largely overlooked by this list so far this season. That is partly due to the lack of basketball shape he appeared in at the start of the season, as well as the quiet way in which his Denver Nuggets have gone about their business.
Some players on the team have also slipped this season, so the story has not necessarily been about Nikola Jokić and Denver’s continued rise, but with a 38-17 record, good for second in the West, his MVP case can’t be ignored any longer.
The big Serbian is often criticised for being out of shape, but he has hit numerous game winners this season, proving his ability to stay focused and fresh in games right until the end, and his team is finally creating a bit of breathing space in the hunt for a top two seed in the Western Conference.