MVP race: The Top 3 candidates are international players

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Frank Urbina
·14 min read
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We have reached the ninth edition of our weekly 2020-21 NBA MVP rankings and for the first time this season, the Top 3 positions are a clean sweep of international players.

Below, you can check out the Top 15 players in our MVP rankings for 2020-21, as voted on by our entire team at HoopsHype.

Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

The top player in our MVP rankings for the second week in a row, Joel Embiid had another strong stretch from the last part of this series, averaging 29.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists over his last three games, a span that saw Embiid post a +34 plus/minus and lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 2-1 record. Embiid had a message for an opponent after his last outstanding performance, where he dropped 24 points and 13 rebounds against an elite defensive big man in Myles Turner: https://twitter.com/jackfrank_jjf/status/1366577051751223298 Never change, Joel. For the latest Joel Embiid news, click here.

Nikola Jokic (Denver)

Nikola Jokic likewise had a strong stretch of games since the last edition of this series, putting up 27.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists over his last three games, a stretch in which the Denver Nuggets have gone 2-1. Despite disappointing in the record department, Denver actually ranks sixth league-wide in net rating at +4.5, ahead of Philadelphia and other contenders like the Brooklyn Nets, an indication that the Nuggets are playing better this season than many believe them to be. Jokic recently made interesting comments about comparisons he's received to NBA legend Tim Duncan, who the Serbian big man faced early on in his career: https://twitter.com/HarrisonWind/status/1366603391095296000 Imagine watching those two face off against each other in their respective primes. That would have been must-watch viewing. For the latest Nikola Jokic news, click here.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)

No player has come on stronger in recent weeks in this ranking than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who we have to admit probably should have been placed higher on this list in the past few editions. Antetokounmpo had been outside of the Top 5 until this week, which doesn't look great in hindsight considering the level he's been performing at. In his last 17 games, Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.7 blocks, astronomical numbers that should not be taken for granted just because he's the two-time-running league MVP. Voter fatigue be damned, if Antetokounmpo keeps this up and the Milwaukee Bucks – who have won five in a row and sit second in net rating this season – maintain this level of form, the Greek Freak will absolutely warrant MVP consideration come year's end. For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo news, click here.

LeBron James (LA Lakers)

LeBron James slips out of the Top 3 of these rankings for the first time since Week 1, though through no fault of his own, as the Los Angeles Lakers have won their last two games while the four-time MVP averaged a solid 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks over the past week. Besides the Jazz, Blazers and Warriors, James also faced off with soccer legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic over comments the footballer made regarding athletes like James staying out of the political realm. James was none too happy with what the mercurial Zlatan had to say, responding publicly (via USA Today Sports):

“I would never shut up about things that’s wrong,” James said when asked about Ibrahimovic’s comments. “I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social injustice, racism, systematic voter suppression, things that go on in our community,” James said. “Because I was a part of my community at one point and seeing the things that was going on and I know what’s going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that’s going through the same thing and they need a voice. And I’m their voice. I’m their voice and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on not only in my community but around this country and around the world.

Respect to James for standing his ground here. For the latest LeBron James news, click here.

Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Another LA-based superstar swingman rounds out the Top 5 this week. Despite the Los Angeles Clippers' up-and-down week that saw them go 2-2, Kawhi Leonard earned his spot in this ranking by averaging 26.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists over the last week while shooting 54.4 percent from the floor. Leonard admitted after L.A.'s most recent loss to the Bucks, one that saw the Clippers completely melt down late in the game despite holding the lead, that Los Angeles is still trying to figure each other out, which can only be considered concerning since it's their second season together (via ESPN):

“As a team, I don’t feel like we’re there yet,” said Leonard, who remains positive about the Clippers building toward where they want to be. “We’re looking to the sideline for plays. I feel like our pace has pretty much slowed down. “You gotta give them credit though. They locked in and tuned in on us, and they got stops when they needed it. So just for us to get better, I feel like we gotta have a better stride, open the floor, just getting down and getting into a play. I felt like we got stagnant a little bit.”

Los Angeles has time to figure things out before the playoffs, but this little rut they're in is noteworthy nonetheless. For the latest Kawhi Leonard news, click here.

James Harden (Brooklyn)

Another player who has made a move over recent weeks to the top of these rankings is Nets guard James Harden, who just had a three-game stretch that saw him average 26.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists while hiiting 42.9 percent of his threes. Brooklyn is 9-1 over their last 10 games, the majority of which have come without Kevin Durant, so the bulk of the winning has been largely thanks to Harden's excellent play. Coming up this week, Harden travels to Houston to face the team that helped make him a superstar, the Rockets. Harden, for his part, is excited about the upcoming matchup (via the New York Post):

Nets star James Harden gave an MVP-level performance Monday in San Antonio. That was just the warm-up, with the former MVP making his highly anticipated return to Houston on Wednesday. “Yeah, I’m excited just to go back to Houston where I basically had an unbelievable career there,” Harden said. “They showed me mad love and respect and I am just excited to be playing in front of those fans. Yeah, I’m pretty excited.”

The reception Harden gets from Rockets fans should be interesting, though don't be surprised if it's a bit frosty considering the bearded 2-guard's sloppy departure from there. For the latest James Harden news, click here.

Damian Lillard (Portland)

It's been a bit of a slog recently for the Portland Trail Blazers, losing four of their last five games, but it's impossible to blame Damian Lillard for that. Rather, the plethora of injuries affecting the club at the moment have been too much to overcome. Portland only had two games last week, but Lillard was excellent in them, averaging 29.0 points and 8.5 assists in the two contests, which the Blazers split to go 1-1. For the latest Damian Lillard news, click here.

Stephen Curry (Golden State)

It was an up-and-down week for Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors, going 2-1 but losing their last game by 26 points to the Lakers. Curry's play recently, likewise, has been inconsistent, with the two-time MVP averaging 23.0 points, 8.0 assists and 2.0 steals over his last three games while going ice cold from the floor: 40.8 percent from the floor and 23.1 percent from the foul stripe. Regardless, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel recently heaped praise on Curry, saying that the almost-33-year-old changed the game with his sharpshooting, bombastic style of play (via Lakers Nation):

“Steph changed the game,” Vogel said. “That’s the simplest way to put it. He changed everything. The whole mindset of offensively, what good shot selection means. I think he changed and broke that mold entirely and made it a good shot to rise up off of screens but also to shoot with range when you have that type of ability. “I think that’s the main thing, but the way they played with the movement and without bigs – or Draymond at the 5 – I think their whole culture and style of play helped transition the league into what we know as the modern NBA with a lot of 3-point shooting and whatnot. I think Steph deserves a lot of credit for that.”

Can't argue with anything Vogel said there; Curry was and is a game-changer for basketball all over the world. For the latest Stephen Curry news, click here.

Lukaa Doncic (Dallas)

Admittedly, we might be underrating Luka Doncic a bit here, as the Slovenian star just had an excellent week, putting up 26.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists while making nearly 52 percent of his shot attempts. On top of that, the Dallas Mavericks are finally living up to expectations, winning eight of their last 10 contests including a 17-point victory over the Nets this past week. Memorabilia collectors must expect Doncic's career to take off even more than it already has, because a Doncic 1-of-1 card recently sold for – are you ready for this? – $4.6 million. No, seriously. https://twitter.com/darrenrovell/status/1366173455457144834?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1366173455457144834%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fhoopshype.com%2Fplayer%2Fluka-doncic%2F Insanity, though that could end up being a wise investment as long as Doncic continues on the sky-high trajectory he's on. Expect Doncic to make a push up these rankings next week. For the latest Luka Doncic news, click here.

Bradley Beal (Washington)

Bradley Beal rightfully has finally cracked the Top 10 of these rankings, and a week that saw him average 37.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists over three games is the primary reason why, along with the fact that the Washington Wizards have won seven of their last nine games. Beal, who continues to lead the league in scoring this season at 33.2 points per game, isn't satisfied with Washington going 7-2 in their last nine, however. He wants more: https://twitter.com/FredKatz/status/1366228581140078593 Beal should continue to move up in these rankings as long as Washington maintains the solid form they've enjoyed over the last few weeks. For the latest Bradley Beal news, click here.

Rudy Gobert (Washington)

The Utah Jazz have finally cooled off a bit recently, losing three of their last six outings, but Rudy Gobert has maintained his All-Star form anyway, averaging 16.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks over four games last week. For what it's worth, Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner Jordan Clarkson believes both Gobert and backcourt mate Donovan Mitchell deserve more consideration in MVP discussions for their play this season (via Yahoo Sports):

In this episode, he discussed the two stars being overlooked for MVP and how the team is unbothered by not receiving acknowledgment. “It doesn’t come up but we definitely praise [Mitchell and Gobert] saying, ‘Yo, you should be in that NBA conversation’ and stuff like that,” Clarkson said on the “Posted Up” pod. “That’s the only conversation that comes out of that. But in terms of worrying about if we’re getting noticed or any of that, I don’t think any of that really seeps into any of our heads. We’re kind of just focused on one thing and that’s winning games and keeping this thing rolling. “I don’t see why they wouldn’t be in the conversation, but hey, it is what it is. We’re just trying to prove people wrong and get better. That’s it.”

We agree with Clarkson's assessment here. For the latest Rudy Gobert news, click here.

Donovan Mitchell (Utah)

Utah's relative 'struggles' aside, Mitchell has, like Gobert, been excellent as of late, averaging 27.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists over his last three games. Mitchell is set to participate in this weekend's upcoming Three-Point Contest in All-Star weekend. For the latest Donovan Mitchell news, click here.

Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn)

Kyrie Irving, along with Harden, has been another major reason for Brooklyn's outstanding recent play, as the enigmatic point guard has averaged 25.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.5 steals over his latfour games. Irving is also looking forward to Harden's Houston return this week, and he told the media that he won't let any trash talk or tension between Harden and the Rockets in his presence (via USA Today Sports):

“There will be no tension and no (trash) talking going on the court or about James or my presence or anybody else’s presence,” Nets guard Kyrie Irving said. “We’re coming to Houston to enjoy the game of basketball and play it at a high level on behalf of James and the rest of the guys because we know it’s a special night, regardless. He’s going back to where you started it all and where he started making a huge jump in his career. We know what it means for everybody on the outside. But internally, we’re just going to play the game that we love.”

Needless to say, that should be an interesting matchup. For the latest Kyrie Irving news, click here.

Zion Williamson (New Orleans)

Although it seems the hype surrounding him doesn't approach the level it was at his rookie year, Zion Williamson has been absurdly good this campaign, especially recently, with the big man averaging 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists over his last four games. If his New Orleans Pelicans were doing better this year and not sitting at 15-19, Williamson would be far higher in these rankings. Either way, the second-year Duke product has been downright awesome in his sophomore season to this point, and we don't expect that to change anytime soon. For the latest Zion Williamson news, click here.

Julius Randle (New York)

The upstart New York Knicks continue to surprise many, sitting at 18-17, fourth in the East and 11th in net rating league-wide, and they're doing it with solely one All-Star on their roster: Julius Randle. Randle has averaged 24.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals in his last three games, shooting 53.4 percent from the floor and an even more eyebrow-raising 46.7 percent from three. A Knicks executive recently raved about Randle's work ethic behind the scenes (via the New York Post):

Thibodeau prefers poring over game film than lying on a beach in Turks and Caicos. He got too much beach time during a 1 ½-year hiatus after his firing in Minnesota in January 2019. And he didn’t like it. The 63-year-old treats every game – as Julius Randle put it recently – “like it’s a playoff game.” One team executive one-upped Randle: “Nah, he prepares like every game is the Super Bowl. Unbelievable attention to detail.”

Reading that, it comes as no surprise that Randle and Tom Thibodeau have gotten along so well in their first season together. For the latest Julius Randle news, click here.

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