Last night marked the end of the first week of the 2020-21 NBA season. Although a bit unusual due to the lack of fans in arenas, the season is off to a fast start. While some teams are clicking on all cylinders (the undefeated Orlando Magic) and others are struggling to rebound from the shortened offseason (the 0-3 Toronto Raptors), it’s never too early to look ahead at the 2020-21 NBA MVP race.
Due to the lack of sample size to work with, these rankings will be determined in large part by player success and efficiency. Team success will be factored in, to an extent, while common sense will also be implemented in order to keep players like Julius Randle (24.8 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 7.5 APG) out of the top 5. Shoutout to Julius Randle though.
1. Luka Doncic (+410)
The odds-on favorite Luka Doncic has picked up where he left off last season. While the Dallas Mavericks are only 1-2, Kristaps Porzingis should make his return to the lineup in the coming weeks providing a big boost to the Mavericks overall roster. Teams are currently able to zero in on stopping Doncic, in large part due to the lack of a 2nd star on the floor. This void will be filled by the 7’3 floor spacing, rim-protecting Porzingis. In only 32 MPG, Doncic is averaging 27.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 6.7 APG. Expect these numbers to continue to rise along with his efficiency (44.5 FG%) with the return of Porzingis. Not to mention, the short-handed Mavericks have only played three games this season against the Lakers, Clippers, and Suns, who all have championship aspirations.
2. Kevin Durant (+850)
It took about six minutes of game time for the doubt regarding the return of Kevin Durant to be silenced. He has picked up the 2020-21 season right where he left off in the 2019 NBA Finals, putting the ball in the basket and doing it with unbelievable efficiency. The Nets are 2-2, but one of those losses came against Memphis without Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Spencer Dinwiddie. Durant is averaging 26.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 0.7 BPG in only 31.2 MPG, while scoring with ridiculous efficiency (53.2%/69.2%/84.0%). I expect Durant’s rebounding and assist numbers to increase as he becomes more comfortable with his rehabbed Achilles and new teammates. If the Nets continue to develop chemistry and win games, and Durant hovers around the 50/40/90 range, expect his name to be squarely in the MVP conversation as the season progresses.
3. LeBron James (+1300)
The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers have started the season 2-2. Although they were handled by the Clippers on opening night, the Lakers have opened the season strong; their only other loss coming in Portland. Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell have proven so far throughout the young season that they will be tremendous upgrades over Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo. Anthony Davis and LeBron James are both off to slow starts in comparison to their 2020 statistics, but at the end of the day, the Lakers are the best team in basketball and LeBron James is their best player. This notion alone places James firmly in the top 5 of any MVP discussion. He’s currently averaging 22.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 6.5 APG, while playing on 30.5 MPG and increasing his efficiency from three-point land (up to 35.7%). As long as James is anchoring the Lakers offense, his name will be present in any MVP conversation. What he’s doing at the age of 36 is unprecedented, and he could very well receive some votes due to his age should the Lakers finish atop the West.
4. Nikola Jokic (+1300)
Watching Nikola Jokic play basketball is a thing of beauty. The 7’0 Center of the Denver Nuggets is currently 17th in the league in scoring (24.5 PPG), 6th in rebounding (11.8 RPG), and 1st in assists (13.5 APG), all while shooting blistering 62.5%/40.0%/80.0% splits. His style of play is reminiscent of a bigger Larry Bird, and his ability score and create offensively despite constantly being the least athletic player on the floor is unbelievable. The Denver Nuggets are currently 1-3, but Jokic is playing arguably the best basketball in the NBA. As the rest of the team starts to get comfortable with the quick turnaround of the offseason, I expect the Nuggets to experience more team success and finish top 6 in the loaded Western Conference. If the Nuggets can work their way into a top 3 seed, and Jokic can continue playing similar to how he has throughout the first week of the season, he could most certainly become the third consecutive foreign-born MVP following…
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (+500)
Following a disappointing bubble performance in October, the Milwaukee Bucks have started the season 2-2. They added some firepower this offseason in Jrue Holiday and that was enough to ink Antetokounmpo to a record extension. While the back-to-back MVP is only averaging 21.5 PPG and 11.3 RPG, I expect his numbers to increase dramatically. The Bucks main issue last season in the playoffs was three-point shooting, and last night they set the NBA record with 30 made threes against the defending runner-up Miami Heat. Antetokounmpo is the clear alpha of this team, and he must continue to show that in crunch time. His missed free throw against the Celtics last Wednesday cost the Bucks a chance to win it in overtime, but Antetokounmpo still managed to put up 18 points in the 4th quarter to keep the Bucks in the game. Giannis is still one of the league’s premier defensive talents, and if the Bucks finish the season atop the revamped Eastern Conference and Antetokounmpo puts up similar numbers to last year, he could become the first back-to-back-to-back MVP since Larry Bird in 1986.