NBA MVP Race 2021-22: Wide open race entering the season
With the 2021-22 season finally upon us, it’s time to look at our NBA MVP rankings. When all was said and done last season, Nikola Jokic earned the award after newly-minted champion Giannis Antetokounmpo won the award the previous two seasons. They are among our 10 favorites to hoist the award in 2021-22.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (last week: 1)
Still only 26 (that’s a thing), the Greek Freak is averaging 28.0 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists on 56% shooting from the field over the past four seasons. He dominated in the NBA Finals a season ago, averaging 35.2 points and 13.2 rebounds en route to winning the top individual honor. Did we mention Milwaukee has earned a playoff appearance each of the past five seasons, making it to at least the conference finals three consecutive years? Yeah, Giannis will be a top NBA MVP candidate for the next decade or so.
2. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (last week: 2)
It’s fine to argue that KD has played just 35 games over the past two seasons. It’s also fine to question whether his 33-year-old body is breaking down. It’s not alright to ignore just how dominating of a force the two-time NBA Finals MVP still is. In 12 playoff games last season with James Harden and Kyrie Irving ailing, the Grim Reaper averaged 34.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting a ridiculous 40% from distance. Now that there’s a good chance Kyrie Irving won’t play this season ( you know the story ), Durant’s MVP candidacy just got stronger.
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3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (last week: 4)
Despite his Warriors missing out on the playoffs last season, Curry was able to average 32.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 48% shooting from the field. With Klay Thompson set to return here soon and a much deeper roster, we’re expecting title contention from the Warriors in 2021-22. That’s only magnified by the emergence of Jordan Poole. Should this team win 50-plus games, Curry could very well be in line to win his third NBA MVP award.
4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (last week: 5)
Still only 26, this reigning MVP has been historically good during the past three seasons. The lowest drafted player to ever win the award, Jokic is averaging 22.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists during that span. He’s special. A multi-faceted big that defines this new era of center. With that said, Jokic’s ability to earn a second consecutive award will depend heavily on when Jamal Murray returns from his torn ACL and the progression from recently-extended stud young forward Michael Porter Jr.
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5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (last week: 3)
The Dallas Mavericks’ status as a mid-tier playoff team complicated Doncic’s candidacy for the NBA MVP last season. Don’t expect that to be the case once 2021-22 comes calling. First off, we know that Mark Cuban is going to do everything possible to build a winner around the 22-year-old Doncic. Dallas also brought in Jason Kidd to replace Rick Carlisle on the bench and has been active in finding more talent behind this stud guard. If Dallas improves, Doncic will end up being among the top NBA MVP candidates this season. The team’s struggles are not on him. Etch that in stone.
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6. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (last week: 6)
Throughout the early stages of the 2020-21 season, James was a top-end candidate for this individual award. Unfortunately, an ankle injury cost him 27 games. Even at 36 years old, that won’t be the case in 2021-22. James is still playing at an elite clip. His Lakers remain top-end NBA title contenders after adding Russell Westbrook and a whole host of other proven veterans to the mix. If the Lakers win 60 this season, King James will be in contention to win his fifth NBA MVP award.
7. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (last week: 7)
Two big-time factors will play a role in Embiid’s candidacy. The center must stay healthy and play a vast majority of the regular season. That has not been the case during his career. Secondly, the Ben Simmons situation is a major backdrop. Without him in the mix or barring a trade for another star, Philadelphia can’t be seen as a top-end title contender back east. This will impact the game’s most-skilled and dominating big.
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8. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks (last week: 8)
With Doncic and Young, the 2019 NBA Draft class is quickly becoming legendary. It’s also still shocking that the two were swapped for one another during the annual event itself. Perhaps lesser known than his counterpart, Young led an ascending Hawks team to the Eastern Conference Finals this past spring. He’s also averaging a robust 27.4 points and 9.4 assists over the past two seasons. Should Atlanta’s ascension to contention continue, Young will be a viable NBA MVP option moving forward.
9. Donovan Mitchell, guard, Utah Jazz (last week: 9)
There’s absolutely no reason why Mitchell wasn’t one of the finalists a season ago. In addition to leading Utah to the best regular-season record in the Association, he ad a major statistical coming out party. The former first-round pick averaged 26.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists on 39% shooting from distance.
Should the Jazz continue to perform at an elite clip during the regular season, Mitchell will be a top-end NBA MVP candidate. Remember, this is not an award that takes into account postseason success. That must be noted given that Utah has struggled in the playoffs in recent years.
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10. James Harden, Brooklyn Nets (last week: 10)
Much like Durant, Harden’s candidacy will be impacted by the Irving situation. What we do know is that he was a major difference-maker after being acquired from the Rockets. He averaged 24.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10.9 assists on a Harden-unlike 47% shooting from the field after being acquired from Houston in an early-season trade. Math really isn’t hard, people.