NBA MVP Ladder: Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry locked in back-and-forth battle

As Christmas Day approaches and the NBA rankings begin to take shape after the first third of the season, the race for the season-ending awards is heating up.

The battle for MVP is as open as it has been in recent seasons with a host of players putting on worthy campaigns, so we’ve got you covered with our top five.

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Honorable mentions

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Some players that deserve mention:

  • DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
  • Trae Young, Atlanta Falcons
  • Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
  • Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
  • LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

DeRozan narrowly missed joining the top five after their blistering start to the season, while the lost games for Butler and James have them on the outside looking in.

5. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

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His stats don’t necessarily jump off the page, but Paul is the driving force behind one of the best teams in the league and impacts the most important part of the game: winning.

With 10.1 league-leading assists per game along with 14.5 points, Paul is shadowing a former Suns point guard who won a pair of MVP trophies from Steve Nash.

After leading the Suns to an 18-game winning streak, the best in the franchise, Paul quietly goes about his business and has the Suns hot on the heels of the Warriors in the Western Conference standings.

In typical CP3 fashion, he’s making a difference late in games and is in the top 20 in decisive scoring this season. Paul ranks first in field goal percentage in those situations, knocking down a ridiculous 60.9 percent of shots in games within five points in the last five minutes.

Playing alongside Devin Booker will make it difficult for CP3 to win the award with the duo sharing much of the team’s offensive responsibilities, but at this point in the season, I don’t think there are more than four players better than Paul.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

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The defending champs have somehow gone unnoticed this season, and despite their team being ravaged by injuries, Antetokounmpo has kept them afloat, going 19-11 with the fifth-best record in the league.

In their last 20 games, the Bucks are 15-5. And with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday in and out of the lineup, along with Brook Lopez’s long absence, Antetokounmpo has been a driving force in keeping his season on track, playing with the Swiss Army Knife for the Bucks, occupying the center. , creating offense and doing almost everything for his team.

He is currently second in the league in scoring (27.0), sixth in rebounds (11.6), twelfth in blocks (1.6) and among players in the frontcourt, only Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are averaging more assists (5.8) than him. Greek freak.

The Bucks’ slow start to the season put his MVP campaign on the back foot, but the way he’s played over the past few weeks has him back in the conversation.

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

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ESPN’s Zach Lowe gave a passionate plea for the Jokic MVP case this week and while the Nuggets’ 14-14 record doesn’t get you out of the water, the reigning MVP’s level of play certainly does.

Leading an injury-ravaged Nuggets team, Jokic is putting together a historic season, even better than the one that earned him MVP honors in 2020-21.

Through 26 games, he is fifth in the league in scoring (26.6), second in rebounds (11.2) and 10th in assists (7.5) – the only non-point guard in the top ten. Their efficiency in doing so has been to the next level. , connecting 58.8 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from the 3-point line.

All of that combined puts you on your way to having the highest Player Efficiency Rating (35.0) in NBA history.

With him on the floor, the Nuggets are a good team. Without it, they are almost terrible. If that doesn’t scream MVP, I’m not sure what else does.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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At the season-fourth mark, our Sporting News staff unanimously voted Curry the MVP favorite, and while he made the headlines this week, becoming the NBA’s all-time 3-point leader, he did. I placed second. from now on … alone.

Curry has been arguably the best show in the league this season, leading the Warriors to a surprising 23-5 record to sit atop the Western Conference, but it has had some ups and downs, with four of the 10 worst shooting performances of his career is coming this season.

Having said that, his numbers thus far have been absurd, hitting a career-high 13.4 3-pointers per night and hitting a career-high 5.4 per game. Is the best shooter in the league improving?

When it comes to MVP, team success matters, and it can’t be ignored how Curry has orchestrated the Warriors this season, winning games and improving the players around him. On top of that, he has been a plus defender this season, qualifying third in defensive win actions Y fourth in defensive rating, according to Basketball Reference.

Not only is he benefiting from being on the team with the best defense in the league, he has improved his defense one-on-one, as well as in pick-and-roll situations, fighting through screens and taking more responsibility on that end without Klay Thompson. in the lineup.

Curry has done more than enough to be the MVP favorite, with the exception of one man …

1. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

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The Nets have struggled for lineup consistency this season, with Joe Harris out of the game, James Harden still finding his rhythm and the prolonged absence of Kyrie Irving. But through it all, Durant has kept his team atop the Eastern Conference standings at 21-8, covering many of its problems with his elite level of play.

Durant is averaging 29.7 points, the best in the league, with 7.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists, while shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from deep.

His 51-point performance against the Pistons gave him the highest-scoring game of the season, eclipsing Curry’s 50 pieces in November. Two days later, he dropped a 34-point triple-double to lead the Nets to victory with just eight active players on the roster, followed by a winning performance against the 76ers on Thursday night.

It’s consistency that sets Durant apart this season, scoring more than 20 points in all but one game, and leading the league with the most 30-point games at 13.

Despite all the injuries and health and safety protocol absences that have plagued the Nets this season, Durant has pinned them to the sixth best defense in the league.

“The defense wins games and it gives you a little more control on the offensive side,” Durant said. “If we play great defense, then we’ll have a little more freedom on the offensive side. It starts with me as the guy who sets the tone on both sides of the ball, so I try to do that as much as possible.” . “

As it stands, I think the MVP will ultimately come down to a battle between Curry and Durant. And while there’s still a lot to play for, both the Nets and Warriors will likely finish in the top three of their respective conferences, setting up what will be a back-and-forth battle for the former teammates.