Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Luka Doncic follows own 'rhythm' in NBA rise

Taking stock of the Top 5 contenders in the Kia MVP Award chase

Goran Dragic tried to warn us.

When he and Luka Doncic were leading Slovenia to the title at EuroBasket 2017, the Miami Heat point guard was singing the praises of his teenage teammate who was still playing for Real Madrid.

Dragic swore that Doncic would do the same things he’d done on the world stage in the NBA.

“He’s a born winner. No, I’m not kidding, he already has a lot of trophies, and medals,” Dragic said after Slovenia knocked off Serbia in the title game. “I’m happy for him. Mark my words, he’s going to be one of the best in the whole world.”

Fast-forward to this season and Doncic is doing exactly what Dragic said he would. As proof, he’s No. 2 in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

But even Dragic has to admit he’s been a little surprised at how quickly Doncic has dominated in the NBA.

“I know what I said before and I meant it,” Dragic said after a Miami Heat shootaround this week. “The only thing that surprises me is that it’s so quick. I was thinking third, fourth, fifth year [in the NBA]. But not in his second year. He’s already showing he’s one of the best and he’s only 20 years old and he’s putting up the numbers like, it seems crazy to say it, but the next Michael Jordan.”

As big a deal as Doncic has become in the NBA, Dragic said it’s hard to describe what his rise means back in Slovenia.

“It’s awesome, crazy and awesome, and I’m just so happy for him and his family,” Dragic said. “I played with his dad [Saša]. I’ve known him since he was five years old, he was a ball boy for our team. So it’s amazing to see his growth from a young kid until now. I mean, he’s still young, but … he doesn’t play like it.”

To Dragic, seeing Doncic dominate the NBA in his own way is enjoyable — mostly because Doncic is silencing the skeptics who didn’t believe his game would translate.

“I told somebody that even when we played for the national team, he plays at his own pace. Nobody can speed him up, and nobody can make him feel uncomfortable,” Dragic said. “He’s always in a rhythm and he just knows how to use his body and his strength. He’s a strong, big guy who can make plays over the top of any defense and makes everybody better around him and you can see it every night.”

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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

Last week: No. 1

Season stats: 30.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks

He missed his first game of the season Wednesday night with a sore right quadriceps tendon. It was a well-earned night off for the “The Greek Freak,” who wasn’t needed to dispatch the struggling New Orleans Pelicans. The Bucks are a remarkable roll right now, winners of 16 straight and counting, and it starts with the tone Antetokounmpo set in training camp.

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 2

Season stats: 30.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 1.3 steals

Doncic posted his second 40-point triple-double of the season with a 41-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist masterpiece in a win over the Pistons Thursday night in Mexico City. More importantly, the Mavericks are rolling, having won 11 of their past 13 games to climb within a game of second place in the West behind the LA Clippers.

3. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 3

Season stats: 25.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 10.8 assists, 1.3 steals

Anthony Davis earned the latest Western Conference Player of the Week honors, but it’s LeBron who keeps reminding us all who the Lakers’ true energy source is. He scored 63 points and dished out 21 assists in wins over Portland and Minnesota before knocking the Magic out Wednesday with yet another triple-double (25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists).

4. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week: No. 4

Season stats: 38.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.0 steals

The Rockets needed every one of the 55 points Harden delivered in Wednesday’s win in Cleveland. He continues to touch every scoring space in the NBA record book, having now authored the most 55-plus point games on the road (four) in league history behind Wilt Chamberlain (31). Anytime you trail only Wilt on a list, that’s a good thing.

5. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 6

Season stats: 27.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.3 blocks

After smoking the Minnesota Timberwolves for 50 points Sunday, Davis cooled off a bit Wednesday night in Orlando (16 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks). But it’s hard to argue there is a more potent duo in the league right now than he and James.

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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. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

7. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

8. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

9. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

T-10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers & Paul George, LA Clippers

And five more: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder; Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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