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  • Mamadou Tall

Talley's MVP Ladder

Fifty-five games in, this season's given us posters, blowouts, injuries, and breakout performances from the league's rising stars. This unusual season has given us new faces and new names to watch out for.

The 2020-2021 MVP award race is one of the most heavily competitive races I can remember. With about 17 games left in the season, the storyline revolving around the MVP race has shifted numerous times. The cause of the shift? Injuries.

1. Nikola Jokic

Season Stats: 26.2 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 8.8 APG, 56.5% FG, 42% 3FG, 85.4% FT%

At the top of the MVP ladder is Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. Jokic has continued the run he started going on in last season's playoff bubble. With the latest trends of position-less basketball and the slow phasing out of the big man, Jokic is a refreshing sight to see at the top of the race. The last time a center won the MVP award was more than two decades ago when Shaq took home the award in 2000.

Jokic is almost averaging a triple-double. He has established himself as one of the best passers in the league as a center. What he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with skill and IQ. The separating factor for Jokic in this season's race is health. He's played every game this season and has his team sitting at the fourth seed in a tough Western Conference. The Joker leads his team in points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game. He has been carrying the load offensively. Jamal Murray's recent injury (torn ACL) means Jokic's workload and case for MVP will be on a rise.

2. Damian Lillard

Season Stats: 28.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 7.6 APG, 44% FG, 38% 3FG, 92.7% FT

Coming in at second is none other than Damian Lillard a.k.a "Dame Time." Damian Lillard's season has been what we come to expect at this point. Pulling up from 30 feet and hitting game-winners has been Dame's M.O. throughout his nine-year career. What makes this season different? Again, injuries.

Dame has the Portland Trailblazers sitting in the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The sixth seed isn't all that impressive, but Lillard is an exception. While others in the hunt for the MVP have had their battles with injury, Dame's teammates have had their battle with injuries. Most notably, CJ McCollum (Dame's partner in buckets) missed 25 games with a fractured foot. McCollum's absence for those 25 games was just the beginning, as another player, Jusuf Nurkić, missed 34 games. Without the integral pieces by his side, Dame's game didn't fall off or falter. In years past, we celebrated players for doing a lot with less. I don't see why Dame should be the exception.

3. Joel Embiid

Season Stats: 29.8 PPG, 11 RPG, 3 APG, 51% FG, 38.9% 3FG, 85.2% FT, 1 SPG, 1.5 BPG

Embiid's position on this list is a result of circumstances out of his control. His placement at third is only a result of that word I said earlier; injuries. Take away the injuries, the 18 missed games, and Embiid is the frontrunner for MVP. The big man is a mixture of old-school basketball and current-day basketball. His energy on the court is unmatched. Unlike the first two players on this list, he heavily affects the game on both ends.

Embiid has the Philadelphia 76ers sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference. The hiring of head coach Doc Rivers has helped transform Embiid and the 76ers into full-blown contenders. Embiid is playing with a sense of urgency and poise we haven't seen from him before. After returning from a two-week hiatus due to a knee bruise, Embiid has picked up where he left off. His size allows him to dominate in the post. His skill allows him to step out and help stretch the defense out if need be. Embiid is one of the most dominant players in the league. It looks like he's entering the prime years of his career. If Embiid keeps up his high level of play and carries the 76ers to the first seed, I find it hard to deny him the MVP.

4. James Harden

Season Stats: 25.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 10.9 APG, 46% FG, 35.8% 3FG, 87% FT

James Harden is having an eventful season. At the beginning of the season, Harden was donning the red and white colors of the Houston Rockets. After nine seasons of carrying the offensive load for the Rockets, Harden decided enough was enough. Following the new trend, Harden forced his way out of Houston and made his way to the Brooklyn Nets. Harden sits at fourth because of what was going on in Houston for the first part of this season. He seemed uninterested and disengaged out there on the court.

Fast forward to now, Harden is back to the Harden we have come to know. His offensive load has decreased, yet he still commands the attention of everyone watching. Harden has transitioned into the Nets offense seamlessly, showcasing his ability as a facilitator by leading the league in assists. Injuries have been a concern for the Nets this year. Harden has been able to carry the Nets' offense and make it look easy. The Brooklyn Nets are the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and the way Kevin Durant and Kyrie have been missing games, it's all thanks to Harden they find themselves there.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Season Stats: 28.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 6.2 APG, 56.5% FG, 30.2% 3FG, 68.7% FT, 1.1 SPG, 1.3 BPG

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the last player on this list. After winning back-to-back MVPs, voters' fatigue is starting to set in. Giannis is doing the same things he did the past two years. Dominating on both sides of the floor on very high levels. The Bucks are currently sitting in the third spot out east. Giannis is a big part of that.

Giannis is at a crossroads in his career. No one cares if he wins another MVP, it's time for him to perform like an MVP in the postseason. Despite all that, his dominance on the court and injuries to other players has him barely getting the fifth spot on my list. It's a stretch to say Giannis will win his third straight MVP, but he's in the running for it yet again. That speaks volumes

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