Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder mailbag: Father Time can't catch LeBron

Fielding your questions on Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and more

Sekou Smith

Sekou Smith

LeBron James was addressing a different issue in the Lakers’ locker room Sunday night after a whirlwind weekend culminated in yet another sterling performance for one of the league’s, ahem, elder statesman.

When you’ve played as long as he has, 17 seasons and counting, at as high a level as he has, your availability at this stage of a career, becomes paramount for all things.

The Lakers are championship contenders so long as LeBron and Anthony Davis, who are both featured prominently on the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, remain healthy and operating at the elite level they’ve shown this season.

“I don’t know how many games I’ve got left in my career,” James said after the Lakers topped the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena. “I don’t know how many kids show up to come see me play. … That’s my obligation. My obligation is to play.”

LeBron’s reminder holds true for a veteran and all-time great nearing his 35th birthday later this month, as well as a youngster on the other end of that spectrum chasing that status. A player like 20 year old Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks wunderkind who is navigating his way through the first significant injury absence of his NBA career.

The Mavericks snapped the Bucks’ win streak at 18 games without Doncic on Monday night. But playing without their catalyst for the foreseeable future is a daunting task for a team that has been on of the biggest surprises of this season.

It’s yet another reminder that player availability, superstars and role players alike, remains one of the most critical components in any team’s success matrix (just ask the Golden State Warriors).

How it impacts Doncic’s position on the Ladder is hard to predict. Much like his status to play, it’s to be determined.

CP3 never surrenders: The opinions were fast and furious in regards to what role Chris Paul would play in Oklahoma City after he was traded to the Thunder in the offseason. Clearly, he plans on doing the same thing he’s always done, and that’s playing with the chip on his shoulder and pushing his team in whatever way he deems necessary to get the job done. He uncorked a vintage CP3 performance in Monday’s win over Chicago. He nailed five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Thunder rallied from 26 points down. Raise your hand if you thought we’d hit mid-December with the Thunder in the top eight of the Western Conference playoff chase.

MVP Week: With the Bucks falling to the Mavericks, the Lakers’ seven-game win streak becomes the league’s current best mark. They’ll be tested tonight in Indiana. Should they survive that test, they’ll face an ornery Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Bucks team Thursday night in a showdown of the league’s two best teams. The matchup will showcase three of the top five players on the Ladder in a blockbuster TNT doubleheader that features three more MVP candidates when James Harden and the Houston Rockets play Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers. Get your popcorn ready!

Player(s) of the Week: LeBron earning top honors in the West is no surprise. Miami’s Bam Adebayo, however, has been one of best surprises of this early season. He gives the Heat back-to-back Eastern Conference honorees (Jimmy Butler passed the baton). Adebayo’s been outstanding all season. He’s playing like an All-Star and has provided the steady post presence on both ends that the Heat lacked before he took over those duties as a full-time starter.

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

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Giannis Not Deserving?

From: Van Miller

Dec. 16 | 4:52 p.m.

Hello Sekou. I’m Van Miller, coming from Charlottesville, Virginia, and I really think Giannis is having a great season. But he does not deserve the top spot. Despite his recent injury, that spot goes to Luka Doncic. His numbers have been ridiculous, and he’s putting on an MVP-worthy show. Also, Pascal Siakam deserves to be up there, despite Harden’s ridiculous point totals. I think he has the ball more than he should, and shoots a ridiculously high amount compared to his fellow teammates. In my opinion, the MVP ladder should look like this:

1. Luka Doncic

2. LeBron James

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

4. Pascal Siakam

5. James Harden

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My response: Charlottsville is one of my favorite cities Van, so you’ve got my full attention (if you promise to send me a care package from Bodo’s Bagels I’ll be forever grateful). I’m picking up on this anti-Giannis vibe that has me confused. Luka’s been amazing. No one is disputing that. And even with his current injury situation, I can’t see him tumbling down the Ladder. But don’t we have to acknowledge what Giannis is doing for the Bucks? He went off for 48 Monday night as the Bucks’ win-streak ended at 18 games against a Luka-less Mavericks team. Trivializing his impact on everything going on in Milwaukee is something I’m simply not comfortable with, not at all.

No Love For Ingram?

From: Alexander Roedeske

Dec. 13 | 12:06 p.m.

I agree with the Kia MVP leaderboard you have so far, but at least give Brandon Ingram credit for what he’s doing in New Orleans! Since Zion has been out from injury Brandon and Jrue Holiday have been great! Ingram has been posting 25 points and 7 rebounds a night. Yes, the Pelicans have been struggling to win but he’s still putting up good numbers. He may not be on the leaderboard yet, but at least give him credit for what he’s been doing.

Sincerely,

Xander

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My response: I hear you Xander. Ingram has certainly been one of the bright spots in what’s been a tough start to the season for the Pelicans. You’re focusing on numbers that suggest an All-Star case while there are another set of numbers (the Pelicans are 6-21) that disqualify him from any serious MVP conversation. But consider this credit given for what he’s doing.

Narrative Matters

From: Ryan Kaplan

Dec. 13 | 11:35 a.m.

Hey Sekou!

I love your list and I agree with almost everything on it, but I do believe the MVP trophy has a little more to do with narrative than most of us would care to admit. Due to this, I put Luka Doncic above Giannis at least for the moment. Both teams are on a roll and they are each the primary reason for it. And even though I completely understand why people would disagree with me, if Luka’s stats go up just barely to a triple double, I believe narrative gives him the edge in that regard.

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My response: I agree with you Ryan, narrative does play a bigger role than most of us want to admit. And if Luka comes back from this injury setback locked into triple-double form, he’ll be in the mix right up to the finish. That said, it’s going to take more than narrative for him or anyone else to knock off Giannis if he continues on his current pace.

Almost Perfect

From: August M.

Dec. 13 | 2:15 p.m.

Sekou:

My rankings remain borderline identical.

I might possibly flip-flop James Harden and LeBron for 3 and 4 ONLY because LeBron’s contribution would rank a tad bit lower without Anthony Davis. Vice versa for Davis.

Pascal Siakam sneaks up to No. 5 based on this logic, dropping AD to 6 and Jimmy Butler to 7.

Due to load management, Kawhi should be removed from this list. PG13 needs to play 5 to 10 more games before moving up.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

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My response: Great minds think alike August, well, for the most part. I’ve got LeBron ahead of Harden without any reservations. Siakam is one of the tougher guys to rank this season, given his new role as the Raptors’ No. 1 option. He’s new to the profile (of team’ best player), and perhaps that’s why it seems like he’s not getting the respect he deserves. I have to wrestle with his fit every week, am I not recognizing just how good he’s been or does he fit right outside of that top five? We’ll see where he fits in Friday’s update. Oh and Happy Holidays to you as well.

The Absence Of Embiid

From: Luke Zwayne

Dec. 13 | 4:27 p.m.

Hello Mr. Sekou,

Before I read the MVP Ladder every week, I like to form a ladder of my own in my head. And after I saw this week’s edition, I thought this was your best installment of the ladder this season.

I think the top four players are each having amazing seasons, but you hit the nail on the head when putting Giannis first. The Bucks are on an insane run and he’s the root to their success.

I also love how you put Jimmy G. Buckets at No. 6. The Heat are soaring and Jimmy’s confidence and will to win rubs off on everyone around him. Jimmy is making everyone great.

Thank you for not overhyping Joel. I think the ten spot is good for him, but like Shaq and the guys on Inside the NBA said, he should (and has the skill set to) be putting up 28-30 points a night. And I’m expecting him to climb that ladder as the season goes on.

I could say a lot more, but that’s all for now.

Thanks Sekou!

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My response: Thank you, Luke. And next time, you’ve got to share your list with the rest of us. As for the absence of hype surrounding Embiid, it’s not up to me. It’s up to him. When he plays the way he has recently, it’s easy to see why the steam on his hype train would be on full tilt. I do believe him to be the most talented big man in the game right now. But until his grind matches all that potential, he won’t push anyone out of the way on the Ladder. The Hall of Famers on his case have made sound argument about where his game lacks polish. It’s not a difficult concept. He should dominate on a consistent basis. But he doesn’t … not yet at least.

Respect For Harden?

From: Vonsedrick Chapple

Dec. 13 | 11:59 a.m.

How is Luka Doncic No. 2 and James Harden No. 4? Nobody in the league gets double-teamed like Harden.

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My response: Luka and Harden are in the thick of things, so it’s hard to comprehend these arguments that either one of them is being disrespected on the Ladder. Top five is where they both belong.

LeBron Over Luka?

From: Dylan Miller

Dec. 13 | 5:38 p.m.

LeBron is the focal point of the Lakers, so is Luka with the Mavs. But LeBron is the No. 1 seed and has the best record in the league. LeBron deserves to be higher than Doncic. Here is the leaderboard in my opinion:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

2. LeBron James

3. Luka Doncic

4. James Harden

5. Anthony Davis

6. Kemba Walker

7. Pascal Siakam

8. Kawhi Leonard

9. Karl-Anthony Towns

10. Jimmy Butler

* * *

My response: To each his own, Dylan. And given the way he’s operating right now, the case for LeBron at No. 2 is valid. The funny thing is we all have the same basic group of guys in our respective top 10s, we just differ on the specific order.

Let Us Agree To Disagree

From: Edward Fernandez

Dec. 15 | 3:50 p.m.

I could not disagree more.

My list:

1. Harden – Having a historic season, what he is doing is being taken for granted and without him the team is deep under .500

2. Doncic – Having a historic year, the team has former All-Stars and good supporting cast

3. Giannis – Having a great season, but is surrounded by studs. The team is a playoff team without him.

4 – 5. Davis or James – The Lakers are loaded. Without Davis the Lakers are still a Top 5 team in the West and same goes for LeBron. Hard to to put either one of these guys in the Top 5. I have Karl-Anthony Towns and Kemba at 4 and 5.

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My response: As vehement as you are about disagreeing with my list, Edward, I am just as opposed to your blatant disregard for what Giannis has done in Milwaukee. If he’s not in your top two, then we have to simply agree to disagree. How any unbiased observer ranks two guys ahead of Giannis this season is watching a different season than what I’m watching.

Sixth Man Ladder …?

From: Eyal Ankava

Dec. 15 | 12:28 p.m.

I wanted to ask why not to publish every week a list of the Sixth Man of the Year candidates? In my opinion, it’s a very important tittle and every year there are more than a few candidates who create good competition and deserve the recognition for their important roles. (It might even give them an extra push to play harder and better.)

Thank you for listening and for all your knowledge and passion about the NBA. I always enjoy reading your articles.

Eyal Ankava, from Jerusalem.

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My response: Eyal, you might be on to something. We’ve got the MVP and Rookie Ladders up and running, perhaps a weekly look at the Sixth Man race (we’ll just call it the Lou Williams Invitational) does make sense. I’m reaching out to the bosses to inquire about your idea. You might have to be responsible for the unofficial Sixth Man Ladder until we get clearance.

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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.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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