Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Award chase proves David Stern's vision has been realized

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

The death of NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern presents an opportunity for generations of basketball fans to celebrate the life and work of one of the most distinguished and influential figures in the history of the game.

The tributes about Stern’s stewardship of the league will ring loud from all corners of the globe for years to come. It’s only fitting to honor the man whose audacious vision for a truly global game came to fruition while he could appreciate it.

The 108 international players from 38 countries and territories on NBA rosters to start this season punctuate Stern’s vision.

But the fact that the leading vote-getters in the first 2020 All-Star returns just happen to be the league’s two biggest international stars shines a special light on the worldwide hoops ecosystem Stern spent so much time cultivating.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic retaining their top spots in the first Kia Race to the MVP Ladder of 2020 is also no coincidence. They represent the next international wave of stars and have taken the baton from previous generations to climb into the league’s elite.

It’s a hardened fact of life these days in the NBA, where youth is being served daily and the international influence on the game is undeniable.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver captured it best in this passage from his statement following Stern’s passing:

“David took over the NBA in 1984 with the league at a crossroads. But over the course of 30 years as Commissioner, he ushered in the modern global NBA. He launched groundbreaking media and marketing partnerships, digital assets and social responsibility programs that have brought the game to billions of people around the world. Because of David, the NBA is a truly global brand – making him not only one of the greatest sports commissioners of all time but also one of the most influential business leaders of his generation.”

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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: 30.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.2 steals

After battling through some issues during the holiday week, Antetokounmpo was back at his brilliant best (32 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two blocks) in Wednesday’s win vs. Minnesota. The Bucks are in the frontrunner role in the Eastern Conference playoff chase provided Antetokounmpo — the reigning Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month — continues to dominate the way he has since last season.

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week: No. 2

Season stats: 29.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.2 steals

Doncic took over late, scoring 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Mavericks over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. He added 13 rebounds, seven assists and a block, playing through the lingering discomfort of a bruised thigh and turning in yet another monster night for a Dallas team challenging Houston for the top spot in the Southwest Division standings.

3. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week: No. 3

Season stats: 38.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.8 steals

Harden’s appreciation for teams that double team him will be tested tonight (8 ET, ESPN). The Philadelphia 76ers have a roster loaded with long and athletic defenders capable of handling the assignment of guarding Harden on their own. That challenge should in turn bring out the competitive best in the West’s reigning Player of the Month. In his last 10 games, Harden is shooting 51.6% overall and 48.6% on 3-pointers.

4. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 4

Season stats: 27.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.5 blocks, 1.4 steals

Davis is playing at an elite level despite struggling with his 3-pointer this season (28.8%). But Davis can still dominate on offense without needing to exploit perimeter mismatches because of his versatile game. The best part for the Lakers is he will be infinitely more difficult for opponents to deal with if (or when) he does heat up from distance.

5. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week: No. 5

Season stats: 25.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 10.9 assists, 1.3 steals

Fresh off turning 35, James is celebrating his birthday in style — on and off the court. The Lakers have won three straight games after dropping four straight games before that. After his latest triple-double (31 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists vs. Phoenix on Wednesday), he continues to bolster the argument some are making for him as the game’s “most complete player” ever.

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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. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

8. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

9. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics

10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

And five more: Paul George, LA Clippers; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder; Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers, Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

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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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