That’s roughly all the time the major players have left to make their case for inclusion on the Kia MVP ballot.
Since this is a regular season award (and something we are reminded of constantly), there is a clock that ticks on this campaign trail. There is no resting on what was done before the All-Star break -- not with more than a quarter of the 2019-20 season left to be played.
Now is as good a time as ever, then, to pause and recalibrate the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder for the stretch run of campaign season.
There are some basic components that must be addressed by the contenders as factors they do (and do not) control will help define the race. The more boxes checked, the more likely a superstar will find his name on that ballot.
That all said, these five key ingredients will come into play for everyone on the MVP list harboring dreams of snagging the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
1. The narrative: Hate it or love it, nothing resonates more than the right narrative as the regular season wanes, especially with a voting block (writers, broadcasters) who make their business crafting narratives. Every Kia MVP in recent memory benefited from a specific narrative to claim the trophy. Owning a compelling outline for the league’s most distinguished individual honor is a must.
2. Window of opportunity: As mentioned, the season’s final eight weeks puts a premium on doing the work now. Easing into the regular season in the days and first few weeks after training camp is one thing. However, there is no such luxury in the MVP chase in the days and weeks after the All-Star break.
3. The importance of good health: How many times have we seen an injury dash the hopes of an MVP candidate who simply could not stay healthy long enough to keep the pace into the final, critical weeks of the season? Availability, perhaps as much as anything, determines who makes the final ballot.
4. Sustained excellence: It goes without saying that statistical superlatives matter in this race. Triple-doubles and leading the league in scoring have been the winning tools in recent seasons. Historic numbers, in any category, only enhances a candidate’s reputation when determining how to separate the best of the very best.
5. Winning matters: Team success, and the candidates’ impact on the win column, is the most glaring and obvious gauge for the eventual Kia MVP. It’s not everything, by any means, but it’s a huge factor.
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The Top 5 this week in the 2019-20 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
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1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Season stats:30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.1 block
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks got back to business in their first game after the All-Star break as he notched 33 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and three steals in a rout of the Detroit Pistons. There will be no cruising to the finish line for “The Greek Freak” or the Bucks, who aim to hold on to the top spot in the standings and the home-court advantage throughout the 2020 playoffs.
2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Season stats:25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 10.8 assists, 1.3 steals
LeBron has guided the Lakers into the spot many expected when they added Anthony Davis to the mix. Doing it by leading the league in assists while maintaining his spot among the league’s MVP elite, during his 17th season no less, is remarkable on its own. But lifting the Lakers into the championship realm this spring and summer, if he can finish what he’s started this season, is what will bolster his legacy.
3. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
Season stats:27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.8 steals
Leonard is fresh off winning the first Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award and the latest reminder that he occupies whatever spot he wants in the NBA’s superstar pecking order. His workload the next few weeks will be greater given Paul George’s availability is a bit of an unknown. Leonard has grown so accustomed to winning that it’ll be hard for anything to shake his confidence in himself and a Clippers team built for June.
4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Season stats: 28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 1.0 steals
A couple of injury setbacks knocked Doncic off course a bit in this race. But, he should be locked in down the stretch for a Mavericks team that has seen Kristaps Porzingis recently develop into a more than capable No. 2 option. Getting them both to play at the highest level will be the difference between this being a surprisingly good season in Dallas or perhaps something much more than that for Doncic and the Mavericks.
5. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Season stats: 35.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks
Harden’s embrace of the Rockets’ small-ball system has unleashed the most unpredictable attack in the league -- or at least for the remainder of this season. That he and Russell Westbrook -- who recorded their first matching 20-point, 10-assist game on Thursday -- are just getting into a good groove should worry the rest of the West. This is the team no one wants to see early in the playoffs.
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Got thoughts on the Kia MVP chase? Hit me up via e-mail or send me a tweet and I'll get back to you!
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The Next Five:
6. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: He has shed 25 pounds since the start of training camp and powers the most underrated team in West.
7. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat: Miami's leader has to figure out how to apply the same focus at home on the road.
8. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers: The other half -- along with James -- of the most dynamic duo in the league this season.
9. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: His emergence as the Celtics’ go-to star during critical moments is a testament to his growth.
10. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: The groin injury suffered before the All-Star break is the only thing that slowed Lillard down.
And five more: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors; Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
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