NBA MVP Watch: LeBron Eyes His Fifth
As a new NBA year wraps up the first quarter of the season, it is easy to see there is a very deep MVP race heating up. Players like LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Kevin Durant make up the slew of frontrunners as of right now. This award, over the last few years, has not been won back-to-back, and the road for Giannis Antetokounmpo to repeat is a tough one. Here is a breakdown of the top five MVP candidates as we approach the heart of February.
LeBron James, F, Los Angeles Lakers
At the conclusion of last year before the playoff bubble began, many thought the effort LeBron James put forth for the Lakers was worthy of an MVP Award. After the death of team legend Kobe Bryant, the Lakers steam rolled the entire Western Conference en route to the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Frank Vogel and James’ squad has picked up where it left off. The Lakers currently have the top-rated defense in the league and seventh-best offense. Los Angeles is on pace to win 59 games and repeat as the first seed in the Western Conference.
Anthony Davis struggling early this season has forced James to become more aggressive offensively, where he has been nothing short of astonishing. James is shooting over 41% from 3-point range (a career best) and averaging over 25 points per game. At this point, expect James to continue his reign of dominance and capture an MVP title like he deserved last season.
Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
When Joel Embiid plays, the 76ers win, and when he doesn’t, they lose. It’s as simple as that. Well, not exactly, but the way Embiid has looked thus far in the 2021 season has made the Sixers a frontrunner in the East.
Doc Rivers’ team is one of the best on the defensive end, ranking third in the entire league. That has started with the post play of Embiid, who has showcased the ability to control the best big men in the league on the block. Whether it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo or Anthony Davis, Embiid has been up for the challenge, and the Sixers are playing off of his energy like they did just two seasons ago.
For “the process” to be in line for the MVP trophy in June, he is going to need to play more games and stay healthy throughout the year. But Embiid has—for now—regained his title as the best big man in the league.
Kevin Durant, F, Brooklyn Nets
Not many knew what to expect from Durant to start the 2021 season after rehabbing in 2020 due to an Achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals. But the former MVP winner and three-time champion hasn’t missed a beat.
The expectations for Durant and his Brooklyn counterpart Kyrie Irving were through the roof to start the year and are even higher after the acquisition of James Harden from the Rockets. Even with the addition of Harden and the random and mysterious absences from Irving, Durant is arguably having his best season as a pro, averaging over 30 points per game.
Based on the few games we have seen with the trio thus far, it doesn’t look like Durant will have to give up shots but will instead get key breaks to rest up for the fourth quarter. It is hard to imagine these three superstars won’t be able to figure it out on the court, and if Harden and Irving can do so, Durant may have yet another MVP trophy to his name.
Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets
It just did not seem like the Denver Nuggets got the credit they deserved last season. Heading into a wacky playoff bracket in the NBA bubble, many were sold on the Clippers as the team to emerge from the West and return Doc Rivers to an NBA Finals. Instead, the Clippers ran into arguably the hottest duo in the league in Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Jokic has picked up where he left off, averaging career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists.
Denver’s record does not show how good of a team it will become late spring. If the Nuggets can continue to get monster play from Jokic like he’s had on multiple occasions, such as a 47- point performance that almost stopped the Jazz’s winning streak, they should be in the middle of the pack in the West as the playoffs approach.
However, it will be harder for Jokic to move up in this race in such a loaded Western conference. And even at his own position, few NBA general managers would take Jokic over Embiid to start their franchise, even with Embiid’s health concerns. This places Jokic fourth on this list.
Kawhi Leonard, F, Los Angeles Clippers
After a brutal collapse in the NBA bubble last year, all eyes are on Leonard and the Clippers to prove they are not the little brother in Los Angeles.
Leonard has been remarkable this season, once again averaging 26 points and the most minutes of his career. Leonard is still one of the league's best defenders, and the Clippers will go as far as he does. If he continues to be this consistent on offense with production from Paul George, there is no reason Leonard should not be in the top three of this MVP race.
One important factor that is being overlooked is the Clippers coaching staff: Ty Lue and Chauncey Billups. Both are some of the brightest minds in basketball and may not have even scratched the surface of what they could do with Leonard.
Sam Kirk is a freshman broadcast journalism major. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Junior / Broadcast Journalism
Sam Kirk is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. He is a writer and podcaster for the CommRadio sports department. He is also featured weekly in the CommRadio news department on Thursday newcasts. Sam has written articles all across the board that deal with baseball, football and basketball. He is also working for a football media company called Inside the Hashes, writing articles, interviewing players and contributing to their YouTube channel.