Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder mailbag: Anthony Davis ready to rise up?

Fielding your questions on Devin Booker, Trae Young and more

That chilly reception Paul George received Monday in Indiana should have been expected. That he’s still getting booed by Hoosier faithful two-plus years after being traded is as much about the feelings he crushed leaving town as it does acknowledge what was lost.

George spent seven seasons in Indiana, earning All-Star honors and leading the franchise to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals. But he’s elevated his game to another level since then.

He finished third in the 2018-19 Kia MVP race while playing alongside the 2017 Kia MVP Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. And despite a late start to this season after another trade request (and offseason shoulder surgeries), George has played his way into the conversation again alongside reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

That delayed start is the only thing that’s held George back. As his 36-point performance in Indiana showed (and with Leonard out), George has had no problem getting back to form.

He’s playing on a contender now and whether Leonard is available or not, George has been a catalyst for the LA Clippers.

To date, George is averaging 23.9 points and shooting 41.9% on 3-pointer as well as 6.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He’s been even better in the seven games Leonard has missed, averaging 29.2 ppg (50% overall, 46% on 3-pointers, 92% on free throws).

He was missing from the Ladder early on this season, but he’s clearly making up for lost time now.

Luka’s streak turns 19: I appreciate the humility shown by Luka Doncic when he was asked about passing Michael Jordan for the longest 20-5-5 streak since the Hall of Famer’s run in 1989. Luka pushed back on any statistical comparison between his work and what Jordan accomplished. Yes, the numbers don’t lie. But give the young fella credit for respecting his elders.

Going streaking: Saying the Milwaukee Bucks are the NBA’s best team right now is beyond the understatement of this young season (see their recent pasting of the Clippers for proof). For perspective on just how good Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have been so far, a keen observer shared this nugget: The 14-game win streak the Bucks took into Monday’s game against Orlando matched the combined total win streak of the entire West entering Monday’s games.

Players of the Week: Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat are perfect at home this season. And that’s without having a full roster available due to injuries and other issues. Butler’s been outstanding, though, leading and creating an atmosphere that allows youngsters like Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro to thrive. Anthony Davis won top honors for the West as the Lakers continue to lead the pack. Whatever the through-the-roof expectations were for Davis when the Lakers traded for him, he has by all measures exceeded them. He’s not only the early frontrunner for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, he’s got a clear chance to upset the top of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

Now, let’s get into your comments about last week’s Kia MVP Ladder.

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The LeBron/AD balance

From: Max DeLeon

Dec. 7, 2019 | 2:59 a.m.

I can’t understand why LBJ is ranked higher than AD when AD is doing better in terms of scoring, rebounding and efficiency. And what about impact to the team? With AD, the Lakers are now the league leaders. That did not happen when LBJ arrived in LA.

From: Nathaniel Mosley

Dec. 7, 2019 | 5:50 p.m.

Mr. Smith,

You’re my dude on NBA news, but gotta say that [Pascal] Siakam on the top 5 MVP and Anthony Davis not in that mix got me feeling a certain way. Keep up the good work.

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My response: This is the great dilemma of the Ladder, Max. How in the world do you weigh LeBron’s contributions to the Lakers against what AD is doing for them? They’re both critical to the cause, of course. But in very different ways.

And I hate to make you feel a certain way, Nathaniel. AD has played lights out this season, as good as I’ve seen him at any point previously. How much of that has to do with him playing alongside LeBron? We know LeBron has been the main ingredient for elite, championship-level teams throughout his career. Seeing him operate at this level this deep into his career is something we’ve come to expect from him. AD’s talent has always suggested he could be this type of player, but only now are we seeing him do it on a legitimate championship team. If there’s any way of separating the two of them right now, albeit ever so slightly, it’s there. And we’ll see where they both fit on the next Ladder in a few days. Right now, it’s still up for healthy debate.

The case for Trae?

From: Yehuda and Yonat Tucker

Dec. 7, 2019 | 5:54 p.m.

Hey Sekou! This is Tucker. Greetings from all the fans from Israel and all of luck to Deni Avdija!

I agree with every word except for 2 things.

1. I believe that everyone in the NBA can shoot 35 shots and make 11 of them, which is the reason I think Harden is too high. The reason he scores so much is because of free throws.

2. I understand that winning is one of the most important standards in the MVP ladder, but you can’t ignore the fact the Trae Young is averaging 28.8 ppg on 46% from the field and nearly 40% from 3-point range in only his second year! It is not Trae’s fault that John Collins is out, so it’s not his fault that they are losing.

From: Austin Duff

Dec. 6, 2019 | 1 p.m.

How can you leave Trae Young out of the top 15 players? He’s currently fourth in scoring and fifth in assists. He’s coming off a great week … what more can he do? What do you have against him?

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My response: Shout out to you, Tucker, and all of the NBA fans in Israel and around the globe. Like Austin, you’re looking for a reason as to why Trae is not ranked higher on the Ladder. We all know the answer … and it has nothing to do with his play. He’s been outstanding. But much like Bradley Beal in Washington, it’s extremely difficult to justify a top-15 spot to a guy whose team is so far removed from the playoff picture at this early juncture of the season. Trae and Beal deserve serious All-Star consideration and should be included in that mix in a couple of months. That context is totally different for MVP candidates, at least to me. We must have some measure of separating these players and team success goes a long way in that regard.

Sabonis over DeRozan?

From: Alex Rhodes

Dec. 6, 2019 | 4:29 p.m.

You have Domantas Sabonis in your MVP Ladder at 15 but DeMar DeRozan is averaging 21.4 points on 50.8% shooting. He’s also averaging almost five assists per game. I would like you to take this into consideration.

My MVP Ladder is:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

2. Luka Doncic

3. LeBron James

4. Anthony Davis

5. James Harden

6. Pascal Siakam

7. Devin Booker

8. Kemba Walker

9. Jimmy Butler

10. Kawhi Leonard

11. Joel Embiid

12. Karl-Anthony Towns

13. Paul George

14. DeMar DeRozan

15. Nikola Jokic

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My response: You make an interesting point, Alex. Those are very good numbers DeRozan is putting up this season. It’s too bad the Spurs have struggled the way they have. The narrative would be totally different if the Spurs were the Spurs we’re used to seeing. They are far from that group right now, and for the foreseeable future. Your list looks pretty good other than that.

Seasoning matters

From: Hashem Dasan

Dec. 6, 2019 | 4:06 p.m.

Do you think age and seniority as well as seasons played is a factor in whether or not a player would receive MVP consideration? When is the last time a player won MVP in his second season in the league? (Referring to Doncic).

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My response: Great question, Hashem. I think age and seniority factor into the conversation at certain points. Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld won Rookie of the Year honors and MVP honors in the same season. At 22 years and six months old, Derrick Rose was the youngest Kia MVP winner ever. The last time we had someone win MVP honors in their second season was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor). He won the first of his record six MVPs during the Bucks’ 1970-71 championship season. Doncic has mounted a spirited challenge so far this season. But he can’t let up for a moment, not if he’s serious about joining that elite club.

What happened to Jokic?

From: Shane King

Dec. 6, 2019 | 12:51 p.m.

My MVP list from a couple days ago matched yours. Nikola Jokic to me has fallen far off the radar. Where’s the Joker from last season?

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My response: Short and sweet, Shane. I love it. “The Joker” we got used to seeing last season has been missing in action for the most part this season. He did come out a bit over the weekend. Much has been made about Jokic showing up to camp out of shape. He has more work to do but is at least on the road to getting back to the player who earned All-NBA first team honors last season.

Props for second-best guys

From: Landon Bangerter

Dec. 6, 2019 | 10:09 a.m.

Hey Sekou … your friendly MVP Ladder buddy is back again. I really like the diversity of teams on your list. But I still think we need to look at second-best players on a couple of these teams that deserve some recognition. I’m mainly talking about Fred VanVleet and Eric Bledsoe, who have been great for their teams, but then there’s also Bam Adebayo and Tobias Harris, who deserve MVP praise as well.

I have also opted to not count sixth men for the MVP Ladder anymore. What you’ve said makes sense. Therefore, they will be omitted.

Here’s my personal list updated:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

2. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)

3. James Harden (Houston Rockets)

4. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)

5. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)

6. Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors)

7. Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat)

8. Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

9. Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors)

10. Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee Bucks)

And five more: Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Tobias Harris (Philadelphia 76ers), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)

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My response: Thanks as always for coming through with your own twist, Landon. I don’t know if I can rock with Bledsoe and VanVleet on the list, though. Both are playing well for their respective teams. But MVP candidates? I don’t know about that. That seems like a huge stretch on both counts. I applaud you for thinking outside of the box, though. #salute

Give Drummond some love

From: D. mcfunkerdoodle

Dec. 7, 2019 | 1:35 a.m.

I emailed you last week, but I’m not sure if you got the email.

Anyways, first off, great job on the MVP list so far — although we might as well give the birthday boy (Giannis) his present.

There is one thing I would like change, though. That is giving Andre Drummond a spot on that list. I’m not a Pistons fan whatsoever, but I still have to respect the former UConn center. When you see a man who’s averaging around 17 points, 17 rebounds, two steals and two blocks per game, you think of an MVP candidate. Losing record or not, the man is having a season not so different to a typical Moses Malone season (Rest in Peace, Moses). Either or, I hope you take this into consideration and thank you for your time.

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My response: Somehow I missed your first email. My apologies. With a name like D.mcfunkerdoodle, though, you’re already winning. As for Drummond, he runs into the same problem a lot of good players run into when we start talking MVP: if you can’t win MVP on your own team, there’s almost no way to justify inserting a player into the MVP Ladder mix.

The Booker bump

From: Cole Patel

Dec. 6, 2019 | 7:58 p.m.

Devin Booker should be higher on the list because last year it took 42 games for the Suns to get 10 wins, and this year it took half that many games with Booker as the front runner. This year, Booker actually plays defense and is still getting his numbers on offense. He’s also getting the same great numbers as last year, but this time he’s on a better team, and he’s had great efficiency. So far, Booker is one of the best players I’ve watched this season.

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My response: Cole, I’ve been a Booker backer from the moment he declared for the Draft. It’s good to finally see him playing on a team that has hope that better things are on the horizon. He’s primed for his first All-Star season if he keeps this up. An elite scorer and shooter who is an underrated defender, Booker can drop 30 without breaking much of a sweat. Having him in the top 15 mix is a testament to all the work he’s done the past few years.

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(Return of) The Booker booster

From: Cole Patel

Dec. 6, 2019 | 7:57 p.m.

Devin Booker should be higher on the Kia MVP Ladder because he is putting up the same stats as last year but with better efficiency, and he’s actually an OK defender now, and the Suns are finally a good team even without Ayton because of Booker

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My response: Wait a minute, … you coming at me from all directions, huh Cole? Sneaky but efficient, nice touch..

Slighting the Spida

From: Jason Dunn

Dec. 6, 2019 | 7:40 p.m.

I keep hearing “Nobody saw this coming”, and “Did anyone think the Dallas Mavs would be this good?” I guess I’m that guy. Yes, I fully expected them to be this good. The surprise to me is how Donovan Mitchell hasn’t gotten any better in Utah.

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My response: I disagree on your second point, Jason. I don’t think Donovan Mitchell has plateaued or anything like that. The Jazz have introduced some significant changes to their core and he’s had to adjust like everyone else. He’s still one of the rising young talents in the league. Don’t sleep on Spida!

Still poking at LeBron

From: Price21

Dec. 6, 2019 | 7:52 p.m.

LeBron is not an MVP. Every other guy on this list is playing without another superstar. Harden is top 10 in 4 categories not mentioning free throws.

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My response: There’s no need to poke at LeBron to make a case for James Harden. They both have plenty of data to represent their respective cases in any MVP argument. I couldn’t disagree with you more about LeBron, by the way.

Backing ‘The Greek Freak’

From: William14602369

Dec. 6, 2019 | 7:53 p.m.

The Greek Freak remains on top because he got a supporting cast that play hard every day and night … Look at that record … amazing!

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My response: “The Greek” remains on top because he’s an absolute machine. His supporting cast is playing great, as well.

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Got MVP thoughts? Send Sekou an email!

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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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