Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: LaMelo Ball makes way into conversation

Players of the Month Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant stay at the top, while LaMelo Ball raises his MVP-caliber profile.

Hornets coach James Borrego says the ever-improving LaMelo Ball is just getting started.

While answering a question about Giannis Antetokounmpo’s improved level of comfort, Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego started to wander into pondering the developmental prospects for his own roster.

“If you look at a guy like [LaMelo Ball], imagine Melo in five years,” Borrego said. “The amount of reps he’s gonna have, and the way he sees the floor now. Can you imagine what he looks like in five years?”

Borrego then threw up both hands.

“Special,” he said. “It just takes time to get there. He’s much further ahead than I even anticipated at this stage.”

Ball showed the world as much in a 127-125 loss Wednesday to Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks by racking up career highs in points (36) and 3-pointers (8), while dishing nine assists and tallying 3 steals. Most importantly, Ball flexed poise and grit when it counted most, tying the game at 125 with 5.9 seconds remaining, before Antetokounmpo hit the game-winner on a spinning finger roll to give Milwaukee its eighth consecutive win.

Giannis puts up 40 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists, while LaMelo Ball finishes with 36 points and 9 assists.

“He’s grown all year,” Borrego said of Ball. “He’s a fantastic player. We are lucky to have him, fortunate to have him. Against one of the elite teams, the NBA champions, on the road, his fearlessness is fantastic. He’s a great player. He’s only getting better. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The kid’s got a bright, bright future.”

The performance against Milwaukee marked Ball’s fourth game this season with 30 points or more, and despite Charlotte suffering its third consecutive loss, Borrego and the 13-11 Hornets left Fiserv Forum feeling optimistic about the team’s chances as the season progresses.

Ball has averaged 12 assists over his last four games, and his unselfish play has become contagious. If you’re nerdy enough to pull up the hustle stats, you’d see that Ball also ranks 10th in deflections per game (3.1), and eighth in total deflections (65).

“If we continue to play like this, I feel like we are going to go on a win streak again,” Hornets forward Miles Bridges said. “Everybody was sharing the ball, taking on the defensive side of the ball serious. Once we start taking the defensive side seriously, that’s when we are going to become a good team and stay consistent.”

Ball makes his debut in this week’s edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, but there’s still work left to do for the 20-year-old before he can crack the Top 10. Antetokounmpo creeps up a spot to No.3, while Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic moves back one slot to fourth. Atlanta’s Trae Young finally ascends into the Top 10, while Utah’s Rudy Gobert makes his way back into that grouping as well.

We also see the return of 2018 Kia MVP James Harden to the list.

And now, the Top 5 this week in the 2021-22 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 27.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 6.6 apg

Stephen Curry is named the Kia NBA Western Conference Player of the Month in November.

It’s official: Curry watch is on, as we await the Warriors guard surpassing Ray Allen as the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made. Curry struggled in Golden State’s loss Tuesday at Phoenix, but you’ve got to give credit to the Suns’ defenders and the coaching staff for executing a solid plan for slowing down the crafty sharpshooter. Curry enters Friday’s rematch against the Suns ranked second in scoring, first in 3-pointers made (108) and first in free-throw percentage (94.3). The Warriors own the NBA’s best home record (11-0) and have won their last 10 games at Chase Center.

2. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 28.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 5.6 apg

Kevin Durant is named the Kia NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month in November.

Durant still leads the league in scoring, despite ranking just 10th in field goal attempts per game (19.2), and was named alongside Curry as a Kia NBA Player of the Month for October and November. Even more impressive is the fact that Durant is shooting a career-high 53.9% from the field. But there are concerns about Durant’s heavy workload, as his 35.8 minutes per game are the most since 2015-16, his final season in Oklahoma City. Durant played 40:30 on Tuesday against the Knicks. “It’s not ideal to have him have such a burden,” Nets coach Steve Nash said.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 27.6 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 6.0 apg

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with 40 points in a marquee matchup with the Hornets.

Averaged 29.4 points, 12.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists during Milwaukee’s eight-game winning streak, which was snapped Thursday by the Toronto Raptors as Antetokounmpo sat out due to a sore right calf. The last time Antetokounmpo played was Wednesday against Charlotte and he scored 40 points on 15 of 24 from the field to improve the Bucks to 7-1 when he scores 30 points or more. Antetokounmpo has posted a double-double in each of the last three games he’s played, and Milwaukee remains undefeated (10-0) when he’s on the floor with both Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 25.7 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 6.4 apg

Check out Nikola Jokic's top plays from the season so far.

Jokic returned to an undermanned Denver squad after missing four games due to injury on Monday to help the Nuggets snap a six-game losing streak with a win over a Miami team playing without Jimmy Butler. Then, Jokic and the Nuggets suffered their seventh loss in eight games with a 108-103 setback Wednesday at Orlando. Jokic shot a season-low 37% from the field in the loss to the Magic. Denver’s injury situation remains one of the worst in the league, and it doesn’t appear to be improving anytime soon. So, it’s on Jokic to continue to carry this team.

5. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 14.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 10.1 apg

Take a look at the crafty dribble moves CP3 has been showcasing in his time with Phoenix.

Paul and the Suns started out the week knocking off a red-hot Warriors team with the veteran point guard putting up 15 points and 11 assists to go with five steals. Paul followed that up Thursday with a 12-point, 12-assist night with two steals as the Suns – playing without leading scorer Devin Booker – defeated the Detroit Pistons to capture a franchise-record 18th consecutive win. The victory marked just the sixth time in NBA history a team finished a full calendar month undefeated. Best believe Paul had a lot to do with that.

The Next Five:

6. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

7. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

8. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

9. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

10. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

And five more (listed alphabetically): LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets; Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; James Harden, Brooklyn Nets; Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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