Every year, it’s the subject of debate in basements, barbershops, and bars across the world: who is the MVP of the NBA? An intrinsic aspect of that debate is the question of what the criteria for the MVP award should even be. It’s generally accepted that the award is based on a cumulative measure of a player’s impact on a winning team’s success. Still, that doesn’t answer every question. How many wins is enough to qualify a team’s best player for the award? What statistical markers should a player reach before voters disregard their team’s record?
This season, those questions are likely to come up even more often than usual. That’s because there are a nearly unprecedented number of MVP candidates. Chaulk it up to any number of factors, but what’s undeniable is that the talent in this league is remarkable. Here, we’ll be looking at the top 5 MVP candidates throughout 2021-22 so far. We’ll be considering individual statistics and team performance in our rankings. Ultimately, the ideal MVP criteria may be summarized as follows: a candidate for the best player in the league distinction on a candidate for the best team in the league distinction. Here are some of the NBA’s players approaching that status
Ranking the NBA’s Top MVP Candidates
It’s a true testament to the depth of talent in this league that we couldn’t narrow this list down to 5 candidates. Chris Paul has been the most important player on the second-best team in the NBA. Typically, that would merit stronger MVP consideration. Unfortunately for the future Hall of Famer, his basic counting stats of 14.4 points and 9.8 assists per game would be historically low for an MVP.
The Stifle Tower is probably on track for his 4th Defensive Player of the Year award. His Utah Jazz have the sixth-best Defensive Rating in the NBA at 108.3, and nobody could deny that Gobert is the main reason why. It’s usually offense that garners MVP trophies though. Gobert is arguably the most important player on one of the best teams in the league, but his 15.7 points per game stand to keep him out of the MVP conversation. He’s leading the NBA in Win Shares (WS) at 6.8, but that’s unlikely to sway voters like flashy counting stats.
NBA MVP Candidates
5. DeMar DeRozan
Season stats: 26.8 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game
It’s exceedingly rare to see a player reach new heights in his age 32-season. Consider DeMar DeRozan a huge exception.
Rightfully, DeRozan has a case for the league’s Most Improved Player award. He probably won’t garner serious consideration in that category. MVP candidates usually don’t. DeRozan is sixth in the league in Offensive Win Shares (OWS) at 3.8. His Chicago Bulls currently sit atop the Eastern Conference at 24-10. He’s transitioned from perennial All-Star to bonafide MVP candidate.
The main factor holding DeRozan back from winning the award is probably the depth of talent on this Bulls roster. If he’s the most important player on this team, it’s only by a narrow margin. Teammate Zach LaVine is contributing 26.3 points per game himself. Regardless, the fact that DeRozan has inserted himself into the conversation speaks volumes about his work ethic. It’s doubtful that he was on anybody’s top 10 candidates list heading into 2021-22.
4. Nikola Jokic
Season stats: 25.7 points per game, 13.9 rebounds per game, 7.0 assists per game
As usual, the advanced stats love Nikola Jokic. Pick a metric, and it probably indicates that Jokic is the best player in the NBA. He leads FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTORWAR at 8.6. He leads the league in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at 3.6. Jokic has a strong case for best player in the world.
Unfortunately for Big Honey, his Denver Nuggets are in much more dire straights. Even Jokic’s Herculean efforts can’t compensate for the fact that this team has been without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr for the majority of the season. As a result, the Nuggets sit fifth in the Western Conference at 18-16.
If anything, that winning record is a testament to Jokic’s dominance. However, that win percentage is simply too low to merit awarding Jokic with his second consecutive MVP award. Barring a miraculous turn, he’s likely to stay on the outside looking in on MVP consideration this year.
3. Giannis Antet0kounmpo
Season stats: 27.8 points per game, 11.6 rebounds per game, 5.8 assists per game
Giannis Antetokounmpo is working on quite the NBA resume. He’s fresh off a Finals MVP award. He’s one of three players in NBA history to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. The other two are Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. He is 27 years of age.
There’s no particular case against awarding Antetokounmpo his third MVP trophy. His Bucks have been solid, sitting third in the Eastern Conference at 25-13. Any lack of success on their end can be attributed to a combination of post-championship coasting and bad injury luck. Giannis, as you can see from his counting stats, has been his usual spectacular self.
The only reason he doesn’t rank higher is that, simply, this league is absurdly talented. There are two stars ahead of him who have done more with less to this point.
2. Kevin Durant
Season stats: 29.8 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, 5.7 assists per game
It’s worth noting that at this point in any list, hairs begin to be split. Anyone who’d advocate for Kevin Durant as the NBA’s MVP at this point in the season could not be accused of being wrong.
He’s contributing the above-listed stats while leading his Brooklyn Nets to second in the Eastern Conference (23-11). Meanwhile, the Nets roster a compromised James Harden and an entirely absent Kyrie Irving. It might be fair to say that Durant has done heavier lifting for his squad than anybody in the NBA.
If anyone stands to diminish his case, it’s those same star teammates. Harden has been rounding into form of late. If he continues stringing together 30 point triple-doubles, he may split votes with Durant. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving’s return feels imminent. For those who may have forgotten, he’s pretty good at basketball.
Our MVP frontrunner is also waiting on a star teammate’s return, but his absence has been injury-related, unlike Irving’s. It’s less likely that he’ll contribute at his peak level, which leaves the number one player on this list with a greater burden of responsibility.
1. Stephen Curry
Season stats: 27.7 points per game, 6.0 assists per game, 5.7 rebounds per game
An initial glance at Curry’s basic counting stats may lead to questions about why he’s on top of this list. They’re impressive but less so than any of the last three candidates.
This is where we remind you that Curry is shooting 40% on 13.5 three-point attempts per game. That’s outrageous. As usual, the gravity of Curry’s range sucks defenses in, opening up endless possibilities for the Golden State Warriors. Curry has talented teammates, but none of them are even sniffing the MVP conversation. He is by far the primary reason that they have the best record in the NBA at 28-7.
Curry checks every box on the MVP criteria. He’s got a fun comeback narrative, his team is wildly successful, and he’s the main reason for that. At this stage in the season, he’s the frontrunner for MVP.
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