Each week, HoopsHype’s staff ranks the Top 10 candidates for this season’s Most Valuable Player award. This list highlights stars who have entered the 2019-20 MVP discussion thanks to their impressive play.
Which stars have stood out thus far? Who can sustain this production as the sample size increases? Here are our latest MVP rankings:
10. ANDRE DRUMMOND, DETROIT
STATS: 21.2 PPG, 18.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.1 BPG, 1.5 SPG, 56.8 FG%
Drummond has been dominant through the first 10 games of the season. It’s impressive when a player has a single 20-point, 20-rebound performance, but the 26-year-old is nearly averaging that. He’s scored 20 or more points in six games, and he’s grabbed 20 or more rebounds in five games. He’s also doing a good job of finding open teammates, as he’s averaging 5.4 assists in November (and he has 25 assists in his last four games). Drummond is posting video-game numbers and shows no sign of slowing down. The Pistons are getting Blake Griffin back from injury, which should only help them as they look to improve their record (4-6) and climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
9. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, MINNESOTA
STATS: 25.6 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 4.0 APG, 3.7 3PG, 1.7 BPG, 1.6 SPG
Towns missed two games due to his suspension for fighting Joel Embiid, but he’s been a beast in the seven contests in which he’s played. He’s posting career-highs across the board and he’s been able to score the ball with ease this season, inside and out. In fact, Towns has more than doubled his three-point attempts (from 4.6 last year to 9.3 this year), yet his three-point percentage has stayed at 40.0 percent. His 3.7 threes per game is fourth in the NBA behind only James Harden (4.3), Damian Lillard (4.0) and Kemba Walker (3.8). Minnesota is currently 5-4, which is ninth-best in the Western Conference and just two games out of first place.
8. DEVIN BOOKER, PHOENIX
STATS: 25.8 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.3 RPG, 2.8 3PG, 54.5 FG%, 53.2 3PT%
HoopsHype’s Frank Urbina recently wrote a great article breaking down Booker’s impressive start to the season and what he’s doing differently this year. The 23-year-old is playing the most efficient basketball of his career, finishing in the paint better than ever and locking down opponents on the defensive end. Newcomers Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio have made a huge difference for Booker too. The Suns are the NBA’s biggest surprise thus far, sitting at 6-3 with the league’s third-best offense (scoring 109.1 points per 100 possessions) and ninth-best defense (allowing 101.1 points per 100 possessions). There’s no question that Booker is a huge reason for their early success. The red-hot Suns will face off against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday in a game that will feature three players from this list.
7. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON
STATS: 37.1 PPG, 8.2 APG, 5.6 RPG, 4.3 3PG, 1.3 SPG, 39.4 FG%
Harden is once again leading the league in scoring. The main issue for Harden (and the reason he isn’t higher on this list) has been his shooting percentages. He’s currently shooting an ugly 39.4 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from three-point range – both of which are career-lows. It’s taking him 24.2 field goal attempts (and 14.4 three-point attempts) per game to get to his 37.1 scoring average. Those numbers must drastically improve if he wants to compete for this year’s MVP award. There’s always an adjustment period when a team is integrating a new star and that’s what Harden and the Rockets are doing with Russell Westbrook. Still, Houston is 6-3, which is tied for the third-best record in the Western Conference.
6. ANTHONY DAVIS, LOS ANGELES
STATS: 26.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 3.2 APG, 3.1 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 48.3 FG%
There’s a reason LeBron James badly wanted to team up with this guy. Davis is once again filling the stat sheet and making his presence felt all over the court, helping the Lakers win seven of their first nine games. He gives opposing head coaches nightmares, as he’s been the best rim protector in the league and he’s scoring at will. Davis is currently ranked first in Defensive Win Shares (0.9) and third in Win Shares (1.7, tied with James). He’s new to the Lakers and still getting acclimated, but you’d never know it based on his early play. It remains to be seen if voters will dock points from James and/or Davis because they’re on the same team. Opposing teams certainly hate that these two stars teamed up, as they’ve struggled to slow them down thus far.
5. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND
STATS: 33.0 PPG, 6.8 APG, 5.2 RPG, 4.0 3PG, 1.3 SPG, 49.3 FG%
Lillard is having the best season of his career, but he can only do so much for the Blazers. He’s getting little help from his supporting cast, which is why the Blazers are 4-6 and in 10th place in the Western Conference despite Lillard playing out of his mind. That was on display in Portland’s recent loss to the Brooklyn Nets, when Lillard had 60 points (including 7 threes), 5 assists and 4 rebounds while shooting 57.6 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from deep, but the Nets won 119-115. Injuries have been an issue for the Blazers, but they also have a new-look roster after losing Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Enes Kanter and Seth Curry among others. Still, Lillard is averaging the second-most points in the league while also ranking first in Win Shares (2.4) and second in Value Over Replacement Player (1.1).
4. KAWHI LEONARD, LOS ANGELES
STATS: 29.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 5.4 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.6 3PG, 1.1 BPG
Leonard’s decision to sit out the nationally televised showdown against the Milwaukee Bucks relaunched the load-management debate. It seems that Leonard will continue to sit out during back-to-backs to ensure that he’s 100 percent for the playoffs. Leonard credits load management for his monster 2019 postseason with the Toronto Raptors and while this is probably a smart move for the Clippers, it likely means Leonard won’t have a shot at winning this year’s MVP award. Voters seem to disqualify players who rest, regardless of how productive they are when they play. HoopsHype looked at the last 15 MVP winners and they missed an average of 3.93 games in their MVP season (with no player missing more than 10 games). Leonard missed 22 games last season and he’s on pace to miss 18 contests this year, which would seemingly remove him from the MVP discussion (like last year). Still, Leonard is playing well and the Clippers are 6-3, which is tied for the third-best record in the West. If the Clippers stop resting Leonard – or the NBA decides that he’s healthy and must play – perhaps he becomes a serious candidate.
3. LUKA DONCIC, DALLAS
STATS: 27.7 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 9.1 APG, 2.8 3PG, 1.2 SPG, 48.0 FG%
Doncic is the only player in the league who currently ranks Top 11 in points per game (sixth), assists per game (second) and rebounds per game (11th). As if Luka’s counting stats weren’t impressive enough, his advanced stats jump off the page as well: Doncic ranks third in Value Over Replacement Player (1.0), fourth in Box Plus/Minus (10.3) and fifth in Win Shares (1.6). The 20-year-old is the youngest player in NBA history to record 10 or more triple-doubles, passing LeBron James and Magic Johnson. He also became the second player with at least three 20-point triple-doubles in the first six games of a season, joining Oscar Robertson. Doncic must continue to limit his turnovers (4.9 per game) and improve his three-point percentage (32.1 percent on 8.7 attempts per game). But that feels like nitpicking when the kid is nearly averaging a triple-double and winning games for the Mavericks, who are 6-3 (which is tied for the third-best record in the West).
2. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWUKEE
STATS: 29.7 PPG, 14.3 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 58.5 FG%
Antetokounmpo had an MVP performance in the Bucks’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. After struggling in the first half, Antetokounmpo ripped his jersey and kicked a hole in a Thunder sign while walking back to the locker room at halftime. In the second half, MVP Giannis showed up and he finished the game with 35 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 threes, 1 block and 1 steal while shooting an efficient 68.4 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three-point range. Antetokounmpo has now scored 30 or more points in five-straight games. The Bucks are 7-3, which puts them in third place in the Eastern Conference and just one game back from the top-seeded Boston Celtics. Antetokounmpo currently leads all players in Value Over Replacement Player (1.3), Box Plus/Minus (13.9) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.325).
1. LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES
STATS: 24.6 PPG, 11.0 APG, 8.3 RPG, 1.7 3PG, 1.2 SPG, 47.3 FG%
As Tommy Beer of Forbes recently pointed out, no player in NBA history has ever averaged more than 7.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists in their age-35 season. Well, James is currently posting those marks with ease (24.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 11.0 assists). When all is said and done, one could make the argument that James was the best teenager in NBA history (he holds the NBA record for most career points, rebounds and assists before turning 20 years old) and the best mid-30s player in NBA history (if he keeps this up). LeBron’s longevity is remarkable; in the load-management era, he’s playing 35.1 minutes per game, which is the most of any Laker and 12th-most in the league. James is currently No. 1 on this list because his individual production has been impressive and it’s translated into team success, as the Lakers currently have the NBA’s second-best record at 7-2. One area where James must improve is his three-point shooting; he’s attempting 5.2 threes per game, but he’s making just 31.9 percent thus far.