It’ a little too early in the 2020/21 NBA season to pencil in a frontrunner for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. However, we’re over a month removed from opening night, and this condensed season will be about a month shorter than a typical NBA campaign, so it’s not too early to check in on which players are establishing themselves as 2021 MVP candidates.
Michael Scotto of HoopsHype did just that this week, polling 15 media members who voted on last season’s NBA awards about their first-month MVP picks. The top choice was Nets star Kevin Durant, who missed all of last season with an Achilles tear but has been extremely impressive in his comeback so far, averaging 31.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 5.8 APG with a scorching .538/.475/.865 shooting line in 13 games (36.2 MPG) for Brooklyn.
Durant will certainly be in the conversation if he maintains those numbers, though there are a couple red flags on his candidacy worth watching. One is KD’s health — he has been limited to 13 of Brooklyn’s 18 games so far as the team exercises caution with him, particularly in back-to-back sets.
Durant also shares the court with two other superstars, so if the Nets finish with a similar record to other contenders, voters will have to decide whether to vote for him over other stars who probably didn’t spend the season playing alongside a former MVP like James Harden and a six-time All-Star like Kyrie Irving.
Lakers star LeBron James, last year’s runner-up, received the second-highest vote share in Scotto’s poll, coming off an impressive Thursday win over the Bucks and last season’s MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. As Bill Oram of The Athletic wrote this week, James downplayed the idea that 2020’s voting results played any part in his impressive 34-point showing against Giannis, but the performance nonetheless served as a reminder that – even at age 36 – LeBron is a legitimate MVP candidate each and every year.
Third place on Scotto’s list belongs to Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, a two-time All-NBA selection who is off to his best start ever in 2020/21. His 25.8 PPG, 12.0 RPG, and 9.6 APG would all be career highs by a comfortable margin. Nick Kosmider of The Athletic contends that Jokic also has the power of narrative on his side, since he’s redefining what a player of his size and body type can do on the court.
Still, Jokic’s Nuggets will likely need to move up a few spots in the standings for him to receive serious consideration — even after a three-game winning streak, they still have a modest 9-7 record.
Sixers center Joel Embiid, Clippers forward Paul George, Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, Antetokounmpo, and George’s teammate Kawhi Leonard fill out Scotto’s top 10.
We want to get your thoughts. If the season ended today, who would be your MVP pick? Which player do you think is best positioned to win the award this season? Are there any dark-horse candidates further down on Scotto’s list (or missing altogether) that you think will make a push for consideration in the coming months?