This year’s NBA season is one of the strangest in recent memory, second only to last year. In this shortened and compacted season we’ve seen some staggering numbers from the league’s star players. Perhaps it is due to there being far fewer fans in the arenas. Or it could be due simply to the ever increasing level of offensive talent. Whatever the case may be, many players have on fire all year. And one of them will be awarded the MVP come award season. Here are three of the standouts so far.
Embiid had an impressive start to the year. He saw career highs in all his shooting percentages and had a massive five point increase in points per game average. In addition he helped carry the Sixers to the top of the Eastern conference where they have remained for most of the season. History shows that MVPs are almost always chosen from the top 2 seeds in either conference. Of the four best teams in the league Embiid is the stand out player.
However, Embiid did suffer a knee injury recently and the Sixers are reported to be extremely cautious with his return, eyeing a deep playoff run. Significant missed time would hurt anyone’s MVP bid. And the team’s continued success without Embiid could almost be used as a knock against him, if you were to take the term most valuable player literally. But if he makes his return before the playoffs and performs as well as he did in the first half of the season then he will be a frontrunner.
Jokic statistically has had an incredible season. He is averaging 27 points per game as opposed to 20 last year. He’s had more than a 10% increase in three point percentage, and is shooting a whopping 57% from the field. These are numbers any player would love to replicate and easily worthy of winning MVP.
The problem for Jokic is that the Nuggets are currently the fifth seed in the west. With how tight the conference is they could very easily rise or fall in the standings. As mentioned above, with few exceptions, (most recently Russell Westbrook winning MVP on a sixth seeded team) the award is only given to the top teams in a conference. If the Nuggets fail to climb the rankings then that hurts his chances significantly. But if they do find themselves a few spots higher then Jokic is likely the favorite to win MVP.
In NBA history, only 9 playoff series have ended with a single shot. Only two players have done it twice. Michael Jordan and Damian Lillard. Lillard has always passed the eye test as a clutch player but this year his end of game stats are on a whole different level. The NBA defines clutch time as a game that is within five points, with under five minutes to go. In that time this season, Lillard leads the league in points, while averaging 60% from the field, 53% from three, and 100% from the free throw line.
Lillard has carried a very injured Trail Blazers team to a 25 and 18 record which puts them at sixth in the west. What he’s managed to do in the face of major injuries around him is extremely impressive and puts him square in the MVP race. That said, just like Jokic, however deserving he may be, the odds of winning the award on a low seeded team are incredibly low. With key players returning from injuries the Blazers could make a push. And if they do, Lillard is just as qualified as any to be MVP.
All three of these players are capable of winning the award despite very different play styles. It has been years since two centers have led the discussion. And Lillard is rivaled only by Steph Curry in his deep shooting ability. Only one of them will win the award but all are deserving. And the level of talent they showcase on a nightly basis is to be commended.