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NBA MVP Race 2020-2021: Down the stretch we come

With the 2020-21 season hitting its stretch run, we’re seeing injuries impact who might win the game’s top individual honor. That includes both LeBron James and Joel Embiid. Meanwhile, star players on mid-tier teams are being let down by their supporting casts.

Can Giannis Antetokounmpo win the award for a third consecutive time? Will James Harden come away with the award after an early-season trade to the Brooklyn Nets? Check below for our most-recent NBA MVP rankings updated on a weekly basis.

Updated: May 10, 1:45 PM EST

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (LW: 1)

NBA MVP: Nikola Jokic
Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With Jamal Murray sidelined to a torn ACL, Jokic has taken that opportunity to prove himself as the odds-on NBA MVP favorite. Denver is a shocking 10-4 since Murray went down. This multi-dimensional force is averaging 27.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists on 57% shooting from the field during that span. Should these Nuggets continue their upward trajectory over the final eight games while maintaining their status as a top-four seed out west, Jokic will come away with the hardware.

2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (LW: 2)

NBA MVP: Joel Embiid, 76ers
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Having just returned from a knee injury that cost him 10 games, Embiid’s MVP candidacy has obviously taken a hit. Missing about a quarter of a 72-game slate will be impactful. With that said, Embiid’s performance when on the court has him as the second-best candidate behind Jokic. He’s averaging 29.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 52% for a Sixers team that boasts the best record in the Eastern Conference.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (LW: 3)

NBA MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

There’s only been three players to ever win the NBA MVP three consecutive times. That list is limited to all-time greats Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Larry Bird. Still only 26 years old, Giannis could join that exclusive club in 2020-21. While initially unlikely, Giannis has done everything to keep his name in the conversation. Antetokounmpo is averaging 28.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists on 56% shooting from the field. Due to injuries everywhere around the Association this season, the Greek Freak is a top NBA MVP candidate with a week to go in the regular season.

4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (LW: 7)

Stephen Curry, NBA MVP
April 12, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates with forward Kent Bazemore (26) during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It appears that Curry took note after missing from this list in our most-recent update. In all seriousness, the two-time NBA MVP has been absolutely brilliant since returning from a tailbone injury. Historically brilliant. Over the course of his past 21 games, Curry is averaging 37.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists on 46% shooting from distance. He’s also made 140 three-pointers during this span. Curry also has Golden State preparing for a play-in matchup against the defending champion Lakers.

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (LW: 4)

Devin Booker, NBA MVP
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We can no longer ignore the best player on a team that’s a legit NBA title contender. Yes, we’re talking about the Phoenix Suns. That’s a thing in 2021. Phoenix finds itself at 48-20 and tied for the best record in the Association. For his part, Booker has been dominating of late. With that said, recent struggles on Booker’s part (18.5 points on 31 shooting over the past two games) has him trending down a bit.

6. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (LW: 6)

NBA MVP: Luka Doncic
Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks’ status as a mid-tier playoff contender complicates Doncic’s candidacy for the NBA MVP, much like what we’re seeing with Stephen Curry in San Francisco. However, Dallas has turned it around as a team by winning 10 of its past 12 games and currently finds itself as the fifth seed out west. During that 12-game span, Doncic has been otherworldly — averaging 27.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists.

7. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns (LW: NR)

Chris Paul, NBA MVP candidate
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not a coincidence that the Suns are putting together a franchise-best season in Paul’s first year in the desert. Over and over again, the 11-time All-Star continues to prove himself as one of the most valuable players in the NBA. That’s no different in 2020-21. His stats (16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 8.9 assists) don’t begin to tell the story here. Paul has to be considered a top-10 NBA MVP candidate.

8. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (LW: 8)

NBA MVP: Donovan Mitchell
Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

At 50-18 on the season, this Jazz team is similar to the Hawks squad that won 60 games back in 2014-15. It is unlikely to have a top-end NBA MVP candidate. That’s primarily because of the balance Quin Snyder has on offense. Even then, we can no longer ignore Mitchell. Leading the best team in the NBA, he’s averaging 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Unfortunately, Mitchell has joined others with the injury bug — missing the past 12 games with an ankle ailment.

9. Julius Randle, New York Knicks (LW: 10)

Julius Randle, NBA MVP
Apr 20, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks goes to the basket as Miles Bridges #0 of the Charlotte Hornets defends during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Stier/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

If you had told us several months ago that a Knicks player would be in the top 10 of our NBA MVP rankings, we’d have laughed you off quicker than those who believe James Dolan is a good owner. But here were are. With about two weeks to go in the regular season, New York is currently the fourth seed back east with a 38-20 record. For his part, Randle has morphed into a true star in the Big Apple. He’s put up a stunning stat line of 23.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. The dude is also shooting 41% from distance while averaging an NBA-high 37.2 minutes per game. Whew.

10. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat (LW: NR)

NBA MVP rankings: Jimmy Butler
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

We have to look no further than Miami’s success with Butler on the court compared to its struggles when he’s been sidelined. In the 50 games Butler has suited up in South Beach this season, the Heat are 31-19. In the 18 games he’s missed, Miami boasts a 6-12 record. With the Heat ascending the Eastern Conference standings, Butler makes his first appearance in these rankings. It won’t be enough to win the top individual award, but he should receive acknowledgement.

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