It's definitely too early to speculate who will take home an award that will be handed out in June 2020 but here we are. The league has never been so full of pure talent which in-turn has gifted fans with a superfluity of players to watch dominate on a nightly basis. As expected, the 2019-20 season has gotten off to an interesting start and with that, a number of players have tossed their name in the hat that will decide who the best, or rather most valuable, hooper in the league is (over the course of the regular season).
While there are many players deserving of recognition and accolades, only one player can win MVP, with the key word being "valuable". Team record is taken heavily into account with these picks as it's been proven that one player can make a true difference to a team's long-term success.
This list will be updated at each quarter of the season (around 40, 60, and 82 games).
All stats as of 12/8/2019.
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1. GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO (Milwaukee Bucks)
23 G (31.4 minutes), 30.8 points (56.4/31.6/59.3), 13.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, 3.9 turnovers, 33.7 PER
Milwaukee Bucks: 20-3 (first in the Eastern Conference)
Coming off a historic season that saw Giannis take home his first MVP and lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the league's best record in 2019, some had questions about sustained success moving forward. With former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon heading to the Indiana Pacers in restricted free agency, would the Bucks continue to be the best team in the league without an integral part to their greatness? Would Giannis' game keep evolving? Could he really become more dominant?
Short answer, yes, to all of the above. The Bucks are in the midst of a 14-game win streak and remain atop the Eastern Conference, once again finding themselves with the best record in the league. Giannis is effortlessly plowing through defenses while continuing to expand on each part of his game. The largest knock against his skillset has always been his lack of shooting but Giannis is taking a career-high amount of threes (5.0 per game) and is making them at a career-best rate (31.6%, unless you count his 30.7% on 1.9 attempts in 2017-18, which I don't). He's also averaging three more points and one more rebound per game, impressive considering how many he's already able to collect on a nightly basis. What Giannis is doing in just about a half-hour each night is mind-boggling; the next few years will be terrifying for the rest of NBA.
Giannis' presence in the media has been noticeably less, but we've all been put on notice. We know exactly what he can do, and as the Bucks remain the best team in the league, Giannis has his place at the top of the MVP race solidified until further notice. Perhaps his lack of coverage directly pertains to the emergence of another overseas star...
2. LUKA DONČIĆ (Dallas Mavericks)
22 G (33.4 minutes), 30.1 points (48.0/32.4/81.4), 10.0 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 4.5 turnovers, 32.2 PER
Dallas Mavericks: 16-6 (second in the Western Conference)
Luka Dončić just averaged a triple-double in November (yes, all of November). He's four months younger than me. Not only does that make me feel like a piece of shit in regards to where I'm at in life, but Luka wasn't supposed to be this good this early; it's simply astounding. He's not just a star on the rise anymore, he's one of the league's best players.
Most players who come into the league with the "future star" tag and follow through with it tend to have a clear statistical jump from their rookie to sophomore campaigns. Luka's is comparable to LeBron's, and it might even be more impressive. If you want an honest opinion (that might be a bit flagrant), especially this early into Luka's career, then here you go: he's the next LeBron. It's hard to put into words exactly what he's doing, but it's one of the most impressive feats I've seen over the course of my NBA fandom, and the fact that he's not even 100 games into his career is insane.
The addition of Kristaps Porzingis has been one of the biggest benefactors to Luka's historical start because it takes some eyes, and defenders, off Luka when he has the ball. Even as Porzingis readjusts after missing over a year due to an ACL injury, his 7'3" frame and ability to knock down threes takes double teams away from Luka, allowing him more space to navigate on offense and absolutely tear apart opposing defenses.
If Luka keeps up the pace and continues to pull in triple-doubles while leading the Mavs to their first playoff birth since 2016, he will find himself as an MVP finalist. Even if he doesn't win the award, he'll find himself being regarded as one of the best in the league.
3. LEBRON JAMES (Los Angeles Lakers)
23 G (34.7 minutes), 25.6 points (49.7/34.1/70.1), 7.0 rebounds, 10.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 3.7 turnovers, 27.1 PER
Los Angeles Lakers: 20-3 (first in the Western Conference)
I would say LeBron is back but King James never left. For what seems like the first time in a few years, LeBron is having fun playing basketball. The Lakers finally washed away all the drama that plagued them last season and Showtime has officially returned. There isn't a more fun team to watch on a nightly basis and it feels damn good to type that. Yeah, I know as a Bulls fan I shouldn't root for the Lakers in any capacity, but I'm not going to conform to a set of old man rules. I love the NBA in general and LeBron is the undisputed GOAT, I'm going to bandwagon whoever I want to, man!
The addition of Anthony Davis (who, spoiler alert, will be appearing on this list) has been advantageous for LeBron, to say the least. AD's ability to be the perfect pick-and-roll player whose sheer dominance on both ends of the floor allows for LeBron to truly run each aspect of the offense has been the best thing to happen to LeBron's career since joining the Heat in 2011. When LeBron has the perfect partner with the right supporting cast, it's game over. The front office, who deserved all the criticism they received last year, now deserves applause. Rob Pelinka and crew assembled a great team and it's showing in the standings.
Even though LeBron is clearly having a blast on and off the court, he's locked in and it shows. He's putting full effort into every possession and doesn't appear to have lost a step. In fact, he seems completely rejuvenated and any lingering issues from last season's groin injury are non-existent. Full strength LeBron is the league's scariest player, especially when another ring is in sight. At this point in the season, a trip to the Finals for the Lakers feels inevitable, a thought that should excite all NBA fans, even those who despise the Lakers.
Just to add some of my own bias, I really hope LeBron wins MVP. A fifth MVP in his seventeenth season would be absolutely glorious, I'd love to see MJ truthers squirm on the timeline. Squirm!
4. JAMES HARDEN (Houston Rockets)
22 G (37.6 minutes), 38.5 points (43.1/33.9/87.6), 6.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 4.9 turnovers, 30.9 PER
Houston Rockets: 15-7 (fifth in the Western Conference)
If you read anything NBA-related that I wrote last season, my affinity for James Harden's style of basketball is no secret. Few things make me happier than seeing people get mad about him shooting 20-something free throws or chucking up an absurd amount of threes en route to a 50-point outing.
After averaging an obscene 36.1 points per game last season, Harden is back at it again but upping his output by over two points. He's had a few games of poor shooting efficiency but his effective field goal percentage (which takes into account that threes are a farther shot than twos) sits at 52.8%, about 10% higher than his straight up field goal percentage. Not to be an advanced stats dickhead, but his PER should also be taken into account: 30.9! All while shooting only 43% from the field! Harden might not appear to be dominating at a high-level with a glimpse at his box scores, but if you take a deeper dive the monstrosity of his abilities are clear.
Harden is taking nearly four more free throws per game than last season when he set a career-high in attempts per game (11.0). The increase in attempts from the line doesn't mean he's lazy or is getting his points in a cheap way, one of the knocks people try and use against him, it means he's deemed a threat who gets drawn into constant double teams but still manages to get fouled on his way to the basket. They aren't that exciting to watch, I get that, but it's how Harden hoops and people have to accept that. His biopic should be titled "The Art of Getting Fouled". Damn, that's good. I hope that was my idea and hasn't been thought of by a much more clever tweeter.
Harden has been my favorite player to watch in the league the last few seasons and 2019-20 is no different. He's starting to consistently put up 40-pieces on better shooting and once Westbrook gets a bit more adjusted to his sidekick role, the Rockets will be a serious contender. They already are, but once they're at full power, they'll be scary. I'd LOVE a Lakers/Rockets Western Conference Finals.
5. ANTHONY DAVIS (Los Angeles Lakers)
22 G (34.2 minutes), 26.6 points (49.4/34.2/86.3), 9.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.7 blocks, 2.3 turnovers, 29.0 PER
Los Angeles Lakers: 20-3 (first in the Western Conference)
Honestly, AD should probably be higher on this list; I'm certain he will be in the next edition. It's safe to say that AD has been as valuable to the Lakers' (tied for) league-best play. The trade that put AD in purple and gold is looking like one of the best moves of recent years and if everything works out, perhaps ever. With a long-tenured list of all-time great Laker big men, AD's play will surely slot him alongside the likes of Kareem and Shaq, should he remain a Laker.
As of now, AD is the only player averaging 25+ points and 2+ blocks while shooting 85% or better from the charity stripe. If he finishes the season with those numbers, he'll be the first player in league history to do it. AD will finish as an all-time player and it's been great to see it not go to waste. Him and LeBron were made for each other as teammates and watching them click so fast and flourish under the bright lights of Staples Center has been beautiful.
AD is taking a career-high number of threes (3.3 per game) and is putting them in like never before (career-high 34.2%), a testament to his ever-evolving, always-improving play. Now in his eighth year, AD has never been better and is likely not even in his prime at 26-years-old. As he continues to play with LeBron, he's only going to keep learning and getting better.
LeBron has started to campaign for AD to take home Defensive Player of the Year, something the three-time block leader has never won. AD has pulled off some asinine blocks this year and his defensive presence is constantly felt, helping anchor the number-one defense in the NBA.
Honorable Mention: Lennox "Loco Slide on it With a Fo-Fo" Locatelli