Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: No denying Rudy Gobert's value to Jazz

This week's top 5 remains intact, but changes are bubbling up in our latest breakdown of the Kia MVP contenders.

Rudy Gobert continues to be a dominant defensive force for the No. 3-seeded Jazz.

Respectfully Patrick Beverley, we disagree.

While it’s natural for competitive juices to flood out compliments for an opponent, Beverley’s postgame thoughts on Rudy Gobert surely elicited some belly laughs in the visiting locker room Wednesday on the heels of Utah’s 136-104 win at Minnesota.

“If I’m defensive player of the year, I’m always guarding the best player, no matter what. I’m not roaming,” Beverley said of Gobert, the reigning Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year. “It’s no discredit to Royce O’Neale or any of the other players on their team. But if I’m defensive player of the year, I’m not guarding Royce O’Neale. I’m guarding Mike Conley. I’m guarding Donovan Mitchell. I’m guarding [Bojan] Bogdanovic. You’ve got Rudy Gobert out there guarding [Jarred] Vanderbilt. And every time, I hear he’s defensive player of the year. So, uh, whatever.”

Regardless, what’s indisputable is Gobert’s impact for Utah, which captured its season-high sixth-consecutive win Thursday by downing Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers 118-96 behind the big man’s 21 rebounds, two blocks and 17 points. With Gobert pacing the Jazz on the glass, they outrebounded the Sixers 52-34, including 16-6 on the offensive end, as they finished with an 18-7 edge in second-chance points.

The performance marked Gobert’s fifth game this season with 20 rebounds or more, not to mention his 19th double-double.

Rudy Gobert piles up 17 points and 21 rebounds as the Jazz dominate the 76ers.

“People love to take shots at me for no reason,” Gobert said Thursday in his postgame on-court interview. “It’s funny because I never take shots at anyone. But I just do my job, come in every night. When you’re the best in the world at something, people become insecure. I’m just gonna keep going, keep playing for my team and keep getting wins.

“I always stay focused on the game, stay focused on my team. People are gonna keep taking shots at me. I’m just gonna keep being great, keep getting better every night and have fun.”

Party on, Gobert. You’ve earned it, as well as the No. 6 spot on this week’s edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder after helping Utah steamroll opponents by 20 points or more in four of the team’s last six wins. Gobert’s teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also rejoins the MVP conversation after logging his sixth consecutive outing with three or more made 3-pointers, along with Embiid, who was averaging 34.3 points in Philadelphia’s three victories headed into Thursday’s loss to the Jazz.

The top of the ladder, meanwhile, remains unchanged.

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: 27.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6.3 apg

Take a look back at Stephen Curry's career to date with this Ultimate Mixtape!

If you’re tracking Curry’s quest to topple Hall of Famer Ray Allen as the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made, you can check out our tracker right here as the Golden State star preps to face his brother, Seth, and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday (8:30 ET, ABC). The matchup against the 76ers represents the start of a five-game road trip for the Warriors, and Curry has connected on at least one 3-pointer now in 149 consecutive games, good for the NBA’s longest active streak. If Curry extends that streak eight more games, he’ll surpass his own NBA record of 157 straight games with at least one made 3-pointer.

2. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 28.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 5.4 apg

Kevin Durant and James Harden power Brooklyn's rally from a 17-point deficit as it ousts Dallas on the road.

Expect another exciting matchup on Friday (7:30 ET, ESPN) when Durant and the Nets face Trae Young, No. 7 on this week’s edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, and the Atlanta Hawks for Game 3 of the club’s current four-game road trip. Durant still leads the league in scoring despite the face he ranks No. 8 in field goal attempts per game (19.6). Durant is also a major reason that Brooklyn owns a record of 9-3 in clutch games (contests separated by five points or fewer in the last five minutes), good for fourth-best in the NBA.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 27.0 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 5.7 apg

Giannis Antetokounmpo is reminding folks this season just how far he's come on the court.

It’s easy to get caught up in Antetokounmpo’s contributions on offense, but he heads into Friday’s game at Houston just two blocks away from moving past Alton Lister (804) for the most blocks in Bucks history. By the way, Antetokounmpo is also averaging career highs in rebounding, assists and blocks in addition to ranking among the NBA’s top 10 in scoring (No. 3), rebounds (No. 6) and blocks (No. 10). Already just the second player in league annals to average 25-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists in three separate seasons, he’s well on the way to becoming the first player to accomplish that feat in four separate seasons.

4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 26.1 ppg, 13.4 rpg, 7.2 apg

Nikola Jokic racked up a triple-double in Denver's loss to San Antonio.

Jokic and Antetokounmpo are the only players in the NBA averaging 25-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and at least five assists per game. But for Jokic, the Nuggets’ losses are starting to pile up, thus jeopardizing “The Joker’s” standing among the top of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder. Jokic remains here because he’s producing arguably a better clip than his 2020-21 MVP campaign. He has triple-doubles in his last three games and passed Hall of Famer Larry Bird for eighth in NBA history on Monday and then tied James Harden for seventh on Thursday when he got career triple-double No. 62 in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

5. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 14.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 10.1 apg

Check out some of Chris Paul's best plays from the season to date!

Stop focusing on his raw numbers and pay attention to the way Paul affects winning. He racked up a game-high 21 points Monday in a win against the Spurs, scoring 10 of those points in the fourth quarter en route to his 12th double-double of the season (not to mention his third in Phoenix’s last four games). Paul leads the NBA in assists and is No. 3 in steals, serving as the catalyst for the Suns ranking No. 1 in the league in offensive efficiency (136.1) in clutch time, No. 2 in defensive rating (82.7) and No. 1 in net rating (53.5).

The Next Five:

6. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Last week: No. 10)

7. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks (Last week: No. 9)

8. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls (Last week: No. 8)

9. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (Last week: No. 7)

10. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat (Last week: No. 6)

And five more (listed alphabetically): LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets; Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; James Harden, Brooklyn Nets; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz.

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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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