While the NBA has only been off of our televisions for four and a half months, it feels as if the league has been on hiatus for years. With that hiatus, many casual NBA fans have forgotten about the 2019-20 NBA MVP race, which the NBA has recently decided will only be determined by games that took place before the hiatus.
This means everything that happens in the eight-game pseudo-regular season will not impact the voting for the most prestigious award in the league.
As a bit of a refresher, here are five potential candidates who can win the 2019-20 NBA MVP award, ranked from least likely to most likely if I were filling out a ballot today.
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
This will likely be the toughest choice on the ballot for most voters, as there is a legitimate case for Kawhi Leonard to take this spot over Doncic due to his career highs in points and assists, plus the fact that he was regarded as the best player on one of the league’s elite teams.
Even though the Mavericks are undoubtedly a much worse team than the Clippers, I’m giving the slight edge to Doncic for a few reasons. First of all, he is one of the most improved players in the NBA, as going from Rookie-of-the-Year to a player who regularly puts up 30-point triple-doubles.
It’s quite astounding the Doncic led a team that was not only the No. 1 offense in the league this season, but has a legitimate statistical case to be the most efficient offense the NBA has ever seen.
Doncic leading that truly incredible offensive season, combined with the fact that Doncic played in three more games and averaged almost two more points and more than three more assists a game than Leonard gives him the slight edge.
4. James Harden, Houston Rockets
It truly speaks to the offensive dominance of Harden that he averaged 34.4 points, 7.4 assists, and 6.4 rebounds per game, and it’s considered a down year by his normal standards.
Harden also led the league in VORP for the second straight season, points per game for the third straight, and win shares for the fourth in a row, truly asserting his dominance as the league’s most prolific scorer and 1-man offense.
While a lot of the national attention to the Rockets going towards Russell Westbrook, The Ringer’s Dan Devine wrote back in May that the attention NBA defenses focus on Harden make him a shoe-in for a top-5 spot on the ballot.
“Harden remained the engine of Houston’s no. 3 offense, a threat so worrisome that opponents eventually started double-teaming him in the backcourt. The Rockets had the point differential of a 54-win team with Harden on the court, and of a 37-win team with him sitting down. He can run hot and cold, and he may rub some people the wrong way, on and off the court, but Harden’s undeniably one of the most prolific offensive forces the sport’s ever seen—a virtual guarantor of a top-five-caliber offense all by himself.”
3. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
I gave Davis the edge over Harden simply due to his two-way impact and positional flexibility, as he allows the Lakers to go big with Davis at the four and go small in crunch time with Davis at the five.
Davis has been on track to win Defensive Player of the Year since early December, has been ability to move his feet quickly makes the league’s most talented offensive big men like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid look like pedestrian scorers.
Lebron James has always been considered “the man” on his team, but he has never had a teammate truly challenge him in that alpha-role like Davis has. He has lived up to the hype in his first Hollywood season, proving to be not only the best finisher and defender the King has ever played with, but perhaps the best one in the league.
Speaking of the King…
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
King James continues to be the most dominant player that this league has ever seen, and appears to be a cyborg, still putting up some of his most efficient years at Year 17 of his career.
At age 35, James has been able to add more layers to his game, truly proving himself as point guard in a power forward after posting a career-high 10.6 assists per game this season, creating more shots for his teammates than any player in the league.
No player in league history age 35 or older has ever posted a better box plus-minus, and only five players ever have averaged at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game past 35. James passed all those numbers, especially in scoring (25.7 points per game) and assists (10.6), leading the league in dimes for the first time in his career while leading the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference.
All this offensive efficiency, combined with a newfound passion for defense helping to make the Lakers one of the best defensive players in the league, help him notch a top-2 MVP finish for what feels like the 27th time in his career.
1. Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
As dominant as James’ 2019-20, you have to put a lot of qualifiers on his season (including all seasons of players 35 or older) to make a case for putting him first on the MVP ballot.
You don’t have to put any qualifiers on Antetoukounmpo’s season, as he managed to better his numbers in almost every major statistical category while upping his usage rate to levels much closer to James Harden.
On top of that, some of the Greek Freak’s numbers are skewed because the Bucks were so good, they often blew teams out with Antetokounmpo sitting out most of the fourth quarter. The dominance in the Bucks season is clear, as the gap in point differential between them and the second-place Lakers is just as big as the gap between the Lakers and the 10th-place Denver Nuggets.
That dominance doesn’t happen without Giannis, as the man who was named the league’s best player last season got even better with a much higher usage rate.
He wasn’t exposed for “lacking skill and only scoring because he’s big” as some players claimed. He turned the fifth-best season in player efficiency rating ever, and was the dominant player on the most dominant team, securing him the Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive season.