With the NBA season being somewhere from 11 to 14 games in, there’s still a lot of time left in the NBA regular season. Although it’s early in the season, it’s never too early for NBA MVP rankings. Periodically throughout the NBA season, I’ll be giving you my top five NBA MVP rankings. Below you’ll find the main criteria I’m looking for when ranking these MVP candidates.
- Games Played
- Individual Stats
- Team Record
So who have been the top five performers to this point in the season? Let’s get started with my top five early NBA MVP rankings.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
Games Played: 11
Individual Stats: 25.7 points, 13.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks.
Team Record: 9-3
Analysis: The Great Freek is having a fantastic season early on, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue that throughout the season. With LeBron James now a member of the Western Conference, Giannis is quickly establishing himself as the best player in the Eastern Conference.
Along with helping his team start off 9-3 and currently sitting in the two spot, Giannis is also putting up big numbers, doing a little bit of everything. Giannis has some good players on his team. Some of those players are Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon.
Although Giannis has those guys, none of those guys are on his level as an NBA player. I don’t think Giannis will have another all-star teammate this season, which is making what he’s doing for the Bucks even more impressive. In today’s NBA, it’s hard to win with three or more all-stars. Giannis is winning with one all-star, himself.
A player who puts up huge numbers, elevates the play of everyone around him and gets his team wins should be an NBA MVP candidate. Giannis is ranked number one on my early NBA MVP rankings because he’s doing all that and more. For more on how big of an impact Giannis has and could have this season, check out Josh Cartwright’s article “Giannis vs Curry: NBA Finals Preview”?
2. Kawhi Leonard – Toronto Raptors
Games Played: 9
Individual Stats: 24.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.4 blocks.
Team Record: 12-1
Analysis: Kawhi Leonard leads the NBA’s best team in the early part of the season. While leading the NBA’s best team, Kawhi is also putting up a pretty good stat line. He leads his team in points, is tied for first in rebounds and leads his team in steals.
What might be most impressive about what Kawhi’s doing with the Raptors, is that he hasn’t needed much time to adjust to his new team. Everyone keeps looking at LeBron James with the Lakers and their slow start, but we all say something along the lines of, “he needs time to adjust to his new team.”
With a very young team, LeBron doesn’t have the same caliber players as Kawhi, but LeBron’s always had slow starts with new teams. He’s even had slow starts with teams who weren’t new. Kawhi has taken his skill set and adjusted it to what the Raptors do right away.
Now, let’s go back to the caliber of players Kawhi has. Kawhi has at least one other all-star player on his team. Kyle Lowry has been a consistent all-star lately, and he likely will be again this season. But even outside of Lowry, Kawhi has Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Danny Green and more.
Kawhi has missed four games so far, but yet the Raptors are still 12-1. That could be a knock on Kawhi, but when it comes down to it, he’s ranked number two on my early NBA MVP rankings because he’s the best player on the best team.
3. Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
Games Played: 12
Individual Stats: 26.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.3 blocks.
Team Record: 9-3
Analysis: Damian Lillard currently has the Blazers as the two seed in the playoff standings. Can Portland sustain that kind of play throughout the season? Maybe, maybe not. They ended as the three seed last season, so the two seed isn’t out of reach.
The knock on Damian Lillard will always be that he can’t lead his team to victory in the playoffs, but the MVP award has nothing to do with the playoffs. This award is about the regular season. So far in the regular season, Damian Lillard is on fire.
Lillard has CJ McCollum as the other all-star caliber player on his team. Then he’s got Just Nurkic. Outside of those two guys, Lillard is playing with a bunch of mediocre players, yet he still wins.
I think Damian Lillard deserves a lot more credit than he gets. He does so much with a lot less than some of the other guys in the MVP conversation. Keep in mind these are only my early NBA MVP rankings. I don’t think Damian Lillard will stay as a top MVP contender because the Blazers will fall a little bit. For now, Lillard is playing at an MVP level, and his team is reaping the rewards.
4. Steph Curry – Golden State Warriors
Games Played: 12
Individual Stats: 29.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.3 blocks.
Team Record: 11-2
Analysis: Most early NBA MVP rankings I’ve seen have Curry in the number two spot, but I disagree. Yes, Curry is leading the NBA in scoring right now. Yes, he’s led the Warriors to the best record in the Western Conference so far.
I just don’t think a player with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and soon to be DeMarcus Cousins should win, or even be in consideration for MVP. Of course he’s going to have one of, if not the best team in the NBA.
I want to see the NBA MVP award go to a player who doesn’t have all the help in the world. I want it go to a guy who’s not allowed to have a bad game because he doesn’t have three or four other all-stars who can pick up his slack.
Don’t get me wrong here. Steph Curry is a great player, one of the best in the NBA. I just don’t believe he can be considered the most valuable player when, even if he’s out, his team will still probably win because of who’s on his team. Curry is valuable, but I wouldn’t consider him to be the “most valuable” player. That’s why Curry is ranked fourth on my early NBA MVP rankings.
5. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
Games Played: 14
Individual Stats: 27.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.2 steals and 2.3 blocks.
Team Record: 8-6
Analysis: Joel Embiid said he wants to win the MVP award this season. He’s made himself a pretty strong case so far. Embiid is one of the top players in the statistical categories of points, rebounds and blocks. If he wasn’t considered as one of the best big men in the league already, he’s certainly making it so this season.
Some might make the case for Ben Simmons over Embiid, but what really sets Embiid apart from Simmons is his ability to score. Simmons is a great passer, which is valuable, but what really matters is putting the ball in the basket.
Although Embiid is putting up a great stat line, it hasn’t translated into his team being one of the best in the NBA. They dropped to 8-6 after losing to the Grizzlies last night. They’ve still got a winning record, but you can see the struggles this team is having despite Embiid’s dominance down low.
I can’t forget to mention the trade the 76ers made yesterday to acquire SF Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves. I believe this will ultimately help the 76ers be one of the more dominant teams in the Eastern Conference and NBA. Unfortunately for Embiid, it may hurt his status as an NBA MVP candidate.
Butler will surely take away touches from Embiid, which will lower his scoring and potentially his assists. It also hurts him for the same reason I ranked Curry number four. Embiid now has two other stars who can be relied upon when he’s not having a good game.
Philadelphia should be a better team with Jimmy Butler, but it will be interesting to see what Embiid’s stats do with him around.
Who’s Your MVP?
Who would you put on your early NBA MVP rankings? Let us know by naming your top five in the comments!