Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Jimmy Butler rising in chase as Heat take flight

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

Jimmy Butler doesn’t need your approval.

And he’s not yearning for any validation of his decision to join the Miami Heat last summer.

He’ll let the results do the talking instead of focusing on whatever labels others try to come up with to define the surprising Heat.

“This is a team of one star?” Butler asked reporters after the Heat ended Philadelphia’s perfect home record Wednesday. “Who’s our star, Bam [Adebayo]? I’ll take it. I’ll take Bam as our star any day. I ain’t worried about what anybody says. We’re content with who we are.”

This Heat team is establishing an identity as a rugged bunch capable of competing against the NBA’s best this season with Butler (and not the vastly improved Adebayo or anyone else) as their biggest star.

Butler can brush aside the praise all he wants. But there is no mistaking he’s the main ingredient in the Heat’s rise in 2019-20.

Miami has the Eastern Conference’s third-best record — trailing only Milwaukee and Boston — as a home date with New York on Friday looms (8 ET, League Pass). It only makes sense, then, that Butler rises the ranks on the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

Butler’s laser-like focus on leading this young Heat team is obviously his priority. He’s been off the charts in that and overall for the Heat, leading them in points (20.9), assists (6.8) and steals (2.1).

“I feel like I’ve coached a lot of guys like Jimmy that are adults, that are very serious about winning, about the process of winning,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Ultra competitive. He’s a max player. We wanted a max player, someone that would fit our culture and our system.”

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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: 31.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks

Antetokounmpo made it clear who sits atop the NBA’s player pecking order with a sterling effort in Thursday night’s showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers. He was the best player on the floor in the battle between the league’s two best teams, finishing with 34 points on 11-for-19 shooting (including 5-for-8 on 3-pointers), 11 rebounds and seven assists. In a statement game for both teams, Giannis left the biggest mark.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 3

Season stats: 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 10.6 assists, 1.3 steals

Just another game, huh? LeBron certainly didn’t treat it like that. He did his part in Milwaukee Thursday night with yet another triple-double (21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists), but it wasn’t enough to lift the Lakers past Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 2

Season stats: 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.2 steals

The good news is the ankle injury Doncic suffered two minutes into Saturday’s loss to the Miami Heat isn’t nearly as severe as it appeared originally. The bad news is the Mavericks will have to work without him for at least a few more games. Injury was the only thing that could slow down Doncic’s season-long roll.

4. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week: No. 4

Season stats: 38.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.9 steals

Harden deferred to Russell Westbrook Thursday night as the Rockets knocked off the LA Clippers at Staples Center. Harden played well (28 points and 10 assists) but Westbrook (the Rockets’ “other MVP,” as Clippers coach Doc Rivers put it), went off for 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists as the Clippers keyed in on slowing down Harden.

5. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 5

Season stats: 27.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.6 blocks

Davis played through whatever ankle discomfort he was dealing with and led the Lakers with 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks in their loss to the Bucks. He had a peculiar shooting night (0-for-6 on 3-pointers; 14-for-17 on free throws) and didn’t look nearly as comfortable as he has been recently. It’s clear the Lakers need him at his healthy best to be their best.

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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

10. Paul George, LA Clippers

And five more: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder; Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

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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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