The first episode of the Top 5 MVP Race this season was sub-titled the ‘it’s way too early’ edition for a reason. A lot has changed between this issue and the column from two weeks ago, which is reflected in the current leaders.
Only Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics remains, and several players have shuffled in and out of the ranking in the build up to this post, including Luka Doncic, Jimmy Butler and Donovan Mitchell. But when it came to the crunch, they didn’t quite crack the final list.
So without further ado, here is the second edition of this year’s Top 5 MVP Race.
1 – LeBron James
As outlined last week, LeBron James has put his stamp on this season. Five triple-doubles in the first 10 games is no joke, but the more impressive stat is that he has become the ultimate playmaker with no other point guard on the floor. Averaging 11 assists means the #WashedKing is leading the league in assists per game for the first time in his career. He has long been considered the best passer in the NBA, and it is great fun watching him put the skills to good use for 35 minutes per game.
Is it a different type of start for James, who spent most seasons during his eight-year stretch in the NBA Finals starting patiently to ensure he was in a good place by the playoffs. Whether it’s to prove the doubters wrong, or maybe it’s just what his Los Angeles Lakers need to contend with players out of the line-up to start 2019-20, but there must be some consideration for his body’s ability to withstand the heavy minutes this early in the year.
If James leads this squad to the Finals this season, let’s just hope he is able to sustain the level of play deep into the season.
2 – Jayson Tatum
Consistency counts, and in the past two weeks, Jayson Tatum is the only MVP contender to have stayed in the top five. However, there’s a reason he didn’t reach the very top this week, and that is because he is arguably not the MVP of his own team. With Kemba Walker leading the Boston Celtics in scoring, and Jaylen Brown perhaps being the team’s MVP since Gordon Hayward suffered a hand injury, and the league’s worst kept secret in Marcus Smart, Tatum has tough competition.
But the wing’s plus/minus is still the best on the team, and Tatum has consistently shown an ability to be clutch. His efficiency is down slightly, but splits of 40-40-80 is still very good.
The knock on him is that there are line-ups when he is the only offensive star on the court. He’ll be joined by Smart, Daniel Theis, Brad Wanamaker and Carsen Edwards, in which he absolutely has to be the star, but that five-man unit is minus-2 in 7 minutes per game.
There is still room for Tatum to grow, and he is showing an ability to be the guy for this young Celtics team, but Head Coach Brad Stevens has plenty of options and uses them wisely, which, more often than not, results in Tatum looking like the most valuable player on the court.
3 – James Harden
There was always going to be a surge. Each year, James Harden puts on a scoring stretch or a triple-double streak that gets the Houston Rockets into a position to contend. But every season, he either flames out, or opponents figure out a way to shut him down, and the lack of support from his teammates results in a tough stretch or an early exit from the playoffs.
But what Harden achieved through the first 13 games is ridiculous. He is averaging more than 39 points, nearly 8 assists and 5 rebounds. He is also doing it with pretty impressive efficiency. While his three-point percentage is currently the lowest of his career, if you remove the first four games of the season, he is actually shooting the joint-second best since being drafted in 2009.
He is also driving to the rim more than ever, and getting rewarded with a career high in free-throw attempts while hitting 88 percent of them.
He is having the best scoring season of his career, and might be the best scorer ever… for the regular season at least.
4 – Giannis Antetokounmpo
What… you thought the reigning MVP was just going to sit this season out?
The Greek Freak might not have been in the first edition of the Top 5, but he was not going to be missing for very long. His 30 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists per game are all career highs, so if you wondered exactly how Antetokounmpo was going to improve on last season, he is making the answer easy to understand.
What’s particularly scary is his shooting percentage. Every single season sees a leap in field goal efficiency, and 58% is fifth in the league for all players who had played 350 minutes by the end of Sunday night.
On top of that, Antetokounmpo has released the kraken. In the first four games, Milwaukee Bucks fans cringed when the MVP shot from beyond the arc, but since then, he is shooting 38 percent from three, and the NBA is worried. If he keeps this up, you can start etching his long name on the trophy now.
5 – Pascal Siakam
When NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard got on the plane for Los Angeles during the summer, he left the Toronto Raptors with plenty of questions: Who will score? Who is the best defender? Who will they go to into the clutch? Can anyone create their own play for a full season?
The answer to many of them, and more, is one man: Pascal Siakam.
Nobody adds nearly 10 points to their scoring average in two consecutive years. That just doesn’t happen. Why would it? The only reasons to include a bunch of stars leaving, several injuries and one individual’s monumental improvement… oh, wait.
But even then, in most of these situations, the team takes a nosedive in the rankings, because there’s no depth and the leadership has changed. But the Raptors’ situation has seen players who were missing during their championship run return from injury – shouts to OG Anunoby – and others take huge steps in their growth with a starting point guard injured – we see you, Fred Van Vleet.
The person who is putting these players in a position to succeed, however, is Pascal Siakam. His 26, 8 and 4 is leading this team to a top spot in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, which many thought would not be a realistic expectation coming into 2019-20.