Week 3 of the NBA season concluded last night, and the MVP race is really beginning to take shape.
Guys like Trae Young who got off to incredible starts have come back down to earth, and guys like Luka Doncic who struggled early are returning to their superstar form. Kyrie Irving has disappeared altogether, but that’s another discussion for another day, and James Harden has made it clear he wants out of Houston.
George Hill has become an outspoken critic of the NBA’s COVID protocols, which have been an unmitigated disaster to this point. The 76ers-Heat game last night looked more like a men’s basketball league matchup than two Eastern Conference contenders battling it out. (If you didn’t see it, both teams had the league minimum of 8 players eligible to play.) Bubble Tyler Herro reappeared, and Joel Embiid continued his MVP campaign with a game-tying bucket and a monster 45-point, 16-rebound performance, which was enough to move the 76ers to 8-4 in overtime.
Members of the media are beginning to advocate for a 7-14 day pause of basketball activity (déjà vu, anyone?), but aside from that, the league’s premier stars are making their case for the MVP award, so let’s dive into the Week 3 rankings while we still can.
Nikola Jokic (24.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 10.5 APG / +950)
Although the Joker is off to a historic start, it’s not enough to crack the top five yet. Jokic is Top 20 in PPG, Top 10 in RPG, and 2nd in the league in APG, but the Nuggets are still below .500, and Jokic was outplayed by somebody who has done enough to crack our top five.
Stephen Curry (27.8 PPG, 6.4 APG, 5.1 RPG / +750)
Curry’s dreadful week, highlighted by his worst single game shooting performance ever, drops him out of our top five. The Warriors’ playoff hopes are looking slimmer and slimmer, and unless they figure things out, Curry will not become the second point guard in history to win three MVP awards this season.
Paul George (25.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.4 APG / +6500)
The Clippers are currently tied for 2nd in the Western Conference, and Paul George is putting up MVP-like numbers. His efficiency is beginning to crush the PG-13% narrative that arose last year when the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets. If the Clips manage to capture the top seed in the Western Conference, Paul George could move into the Top 5 of our rankings. Nonetheless, George has serious value at +6500.
Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown (+2700/+13000)
The short-handed Celtics are still missing Kemba Walker, and several other key players have also missed time, but the young Tatum and Brown duo has this team currently sitting at 7-3 and in 1st place in the Eastern Conference. The stellar play of rookie PG Payton Pritchard has helped, but these two are the heart and soul of this team. Tatum is averaging 26.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 3.8 APG, while Brown is averaging 26.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 3.5 APG. They’re both flirting with 50/40/90 splits, and if the Celtics continue to lead the East, either one of these guys could crack our top five in the near future.
Enough with the honorable mentions, let’s get to the Top 5.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (26.6 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG / +600)
The Greek Freak is getting better each game. His stats are beginning to look eerily reminiscent of his last two MVP seasons, and the new-look Bucks are finding success in the wins column. They currently sit at 7-4 and 3rd in the East, and Giannis’ defensive presence cannot be overstated. That being said, Giannis is going to have to be the clear winner of the MVP award in order to three-peat. Voter fatigue denied Michael Jordan and LeBron James of MVP awards throughout their careers, and Giannis appears to be headed in that direction this season. But don’t count out Antetokounmpo if the Bucks finish atop the East and he continues his stellar play.
4. Kevin Durant (29.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 5.8 APG / +700)
Kevin Durant is unbelievable, and in my opinion, he’s the greatest scorer in the history of basketball. Durant suffered the most devastating injury basketball players can suffer only a little over a year and a half ago, and he has exceeded all expectations in his return. Durant has been incredible since returning from his 7-day quarantine, averaging 35 PPG, 10 RPG, and 8.5 APG on 59% shooting, and his numbers look absurdly similar to his 2013 MVP season. He is scoring efficiently, and the Nets are title contenders, especially with rumors that James Harden could be headed to Brooklyn soon.
3. Joel Embiid (26.6 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.6 BPG / +1000)
The 76ers are the other finalist that has been mentioned in Harden trade rumors, and the idea of an Embiid-Harden pick and roll combo is terrifying. Embiid has been an anchor for the 76ers defensively and is scoring and rebounding with the league’s best. His 45-point, 16-rebound performance last night was unreal, and his efficiency has been incredible to this point. His two-way presence and the success of the 76ers keeps him in our top five over Jokic, the league’s other premier center. If Embiid and the 76ers somehow land James Harden, look out.
2. LeBron James (24.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 7.5 APG / +1100)
If you’re not following our Twitter account, @OutKickBets, then you’re missing out. Our preseason picks for the MVP award were LeBron James and Luka Doncic, who both find themselves firmly in the mix three weeks into the season. James’ odds will continue to rise due to the success of the Los Angeles Lakers and his incredible play in only 32 minutes a night. He has been as efficient as ever, and the no-look three he hit last night against the Houston Rockets was a prime example of how confident he and the Lakers feel right now. They are the best team in the league, and LeBron will continue to thrive as the season goes on. His minutes and statistics should increase as the playoff race heats up, and the narrative of a 36-year-old MVP has to be enticing to voters.
1. Luka Doncic (26.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 8.2 APG / +480)
Imagine the 2021 MVP award coming down to a 21-year-old emerging superstar and a player almost old enough to be his father. That scenario is becoming increasingly likely, as Doncic and the Mavericks have climbed all the way to 6th in the Western Conference. The Western Conference player of the week reaffirmed the notion that he is the favorite to bring home the best individual award the NBA has to offer. Doncic’s play should only improve with the return of Kristaps Porzingis, and the Mavericks will likely look to make a trade before the deadline to improve their roster. As it sits, they look like a serious contender to make an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, and Doncic is on track to break Derrick Rose’s record for youngest MVP in NBA history.