Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder mailbag: Is Kemba Walker worthy of his perch?

Fielding your questions on Luka Doncic, James Harden and more

With the quarter pole of this season upon us, we have a large enough sample size for what many consider proper evaluations of how players and teams are progressing.

Those evaluations are being processed as we head into the meat of this week’s schedule and will be reflected in the Dec. 6 edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

Anyone wondering about the sustainability of a hot start to this season from youngsters like Luka Doncic or Pascal Siakam have had their lingering questions answered.

The absence of injured superstars who would normally occupy space in the Kia MVP conversation — namely Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry — has no doubt created an opening for some of these new faces.

But that doesn’t mean these young upstarts wouldn’t have played their way into the mix anyway.

The best since MJ?: James Harden is making a compelling case that he is indeed the greatest scoring machine the league has seen since Michael Jordan. That is a remarkable statement in an era with Durant and Curry establishing themselves as two of the all-time greats as well. Harden is on track for his third straight scoring title and would join MJ and KD on the list of players to ever do that.

Player(s) of the week: Giannis Antetokounmpo won the honor for the Eastern Conference, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. But for Carmelo Anthony to snag the honor for the Western Conference is truly special. Out of the league for the past year, Anthony has returned with a vengeance in Portland.

But Anthony is exuding a much more mature vibe rather than the sort of traditional chip on the shoulder we’re used to in these scenarios. His humbling year away from the league seems to have focused him in a way that might have been missing in his stops in Oklahoma City and Houston. The Blazers were obviously a great fit and kudos to the folks in Portland for taking the chance on the future Hall of Famer that so many were not willing to take.

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

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Numbers can lie

From: Rosemary Filou

Nov. 29, 2019 | 11:18 a.m.

Kemba Walker should not be 3rd. Just because his team has a good record doesn’t mean he is better than other players. Bradley Beal is not in the top 15 players on the MVP ladder and he is averaging roughly six points and two assists more than Kemba and roughly the same amount of rebounds (Beal, 4.3 rpg; Walker, 4.7 rpg). Just because the Wizards are not a good team doesn’t mean they can’t have good players. In my opinion, the MVP ladder should be…

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

2. Luka Doncic

3. LeBron James

4. James Harden

5. Anthony Davis

6. Kawhi Leonard

7. Bradley Beal

8. Kemba Walker

9. Pascal Siakam

10. Karl-Anthony Towns

I hope that this e-mail changes your view of the MVP ladder.

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My response: Thank you, Rosemary, for the message, but your email doesn’t change my view. If we’re just going with raw numbers absent of any context we can just sit and stare at this all day and save ourselves a whole lot of time. Your advocacy for Bradley Beal or any other player putting up monster numbers on a losing team are well noted. But that argument should be made come All-Star or even All-NBA voting time, not here.

The case for Giannis

From: Giorgos

Nov. 29, 2019 | 4:47 p.m.

Dear Mr. MVP Ladder evaluator,

I really like your way of analyzing who and why is on the top 5 spots of the ladder every week, and independently if I agree or not, you pose solid arguments behind that.

My two pennies:

1. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who is No. 4 or No. 5. I am 35 years old and I hardly can remember any year that the MVP award didn’t go to one of the top-three front runners.

2. Why Giannis is the MVP? No numbers matter but this: he is the only player in NBA history who will elevate another teammate to an All-Star level, a teammate who — in normal conditions and without Giannis on the team — would not even be a borderline All-Star. This achievement might be even more tremendous if that player is not named “Khris Middleton” this year

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My response: So formal, Giorgos. Your manners are impeccable (“Mr. MVP Ladder evaluator” has a nice ring to it). Your point is well stated. I’m sure there are a few players, past and present, that would love to debate you about Giannis being the “only player in NBA history who will elevate another teammate to an All-Star level.” That’s a little rich, even for this forum. Again, your underlying point is spot on. Thanks for the pennies.

Luka over LeBron?

From: Noah James

Nov. 29, 2019 | 9:23 p.m.

Luka should be higher than Lebron. Luka straight up I believe has better stats than LeBron, and Luka has a better impact on the floor. In the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers, when Luka was off the floor the team couldn’t go anywhere. The Mavs need Luka more than the Lakers need LeBron. When LeBron is missing his shots, Anthony Davis backs him up.

I love Kristaps Porzingis and all, but I can’t really say that about him. Luka makes a lot of plays for him and sets him up. Plus, Luka is averaging almost a triple-double while averaging almost 30 ppg is nearly historic. Russell Westbrook wanted the win, but he stat hunted and Steven Adams gave him boards. Without Adams, he is not averaging a triple-double. Luka is doing more stuff for his team than LeBron is doing. He is more valuable the LeBron and should be at least in second place.

Sent from Noah


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My response: Congratulations Noah, you just had to rub it in, didn’t you? The rest of us know we’re ancient (I remember 12 like a black and white silent movie). Your belief that Luka does more for his team than LeBron does for his team makes sense when you consider there is no one the caliber of Anthony Davis on that Dallas roster. Both LeBron and Luka carry a huge load for their respective teams, that much we can agree on. That’s always a good place to start.

Are you really watching?

From: Patrick Moran

Dec. 1, 2019 | 2:57 a.m.

Hey Sekou!

Big fan here and hoping I could get a clarification for the recent MVP ladder that was posted.

Just want to know if you actually spend time watching the NBA at all?

I think you’d find it would help when putting compiling the next MVP Ladder. Let me know if I can be of any help.


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My response: Cheers to you as well, Pat. And, yes, I watch as much as is humanly possible. That said, it’s good to know you’ll be there in my time of need.

Winning matters most … right?

From: Akhila Vila

Nov. 30, 2019 | 11:54 p.m.

I realize you seem to value winning over anything else, but Boston is only 13-5, with only a marginally better SRS than the Rockets in a much weaker conference. Harden’s leading the 2nd best offense in the NBA with two starters injured in Green and Gordon, not to mention with co-superstar Russell Westbrook shooting a career-worst 22.5% from 3-point range.

Every advanced stat in existence has Harden as a much better player (PIPM, RAPTOR, BPM, WS/48, VORP, PER, TPA, you name it).

I could see a semblance of an argument if Kemba were anything close to a lockdown defender, but neither player is a positive defensively and it’s not even close on offense — Harden’s lapping Kemba in scoring, efficiency, and assists, while leading an offense that’s ranked 10 positions higher.

I apologize for my harsh words, but I honestly feel that this is an affront to NBA reporting, and an insult to everything Harden’s doing to keep the Rockets competitive in an excruciatingly tight Western Conference (not to mention an insult to great seasons across the board from Tatum, Brown, Hayward, Smart, and the rest of a gritty, tough Celtics team, to insinuate that the majority of their success comes down to Kemba).

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My response: It’s not that I value winning over anything else, Akhila. Winning is one way to separate players having great (statistical) seasons. The difference in measurables for players who are at the top of the league in any statistical category often comes down to the context they are being viewed in. If advanced statistics is your main measure, then we will certainly have major differences in opinion. They play a part for me, but are not the deciding factor when it comes to how I determine who goes where on the Ladder in a given week.

Kemba vs. Luka

From: David Mirc

Nov. 30, 2019 | 1:19 a.m.

First of all, I really enjoy your weekly MVP ladders so keep up with the good work.

However, it is really hard for me to agree with Kemba Walker being above Luka Dončič in the MVP race.

The Celtics are 13-5 in an easier Eastern Conference, while Dallas Mavericks are 11-6 (I don’t count the Suns game here tonight, where Luka torched them again), so record-wise they are on a similar level. Kemba has a slightly better supporting cast in my opinion until Porzingis gets to full flight in Dallas.

If we look at sheer head-to-head stats, it’s not even close:

Doncic is averaging approximately 30 ppg, 10 rpg and 10 apg on 30-10-10 on 48% shooting, while Walker is at approximately 22 ppg, 5 rpg and 5 apg on 41% shooting.

No amount of defense (which Luka improved drastically in the past few games and still a long way to go though) can negate the absolute Grand Canyon of a statistical gap between these two players.

Looking forward to your counter-argument, as I can’t really find one.

P.S.: I understand numbers don’t tell the whole story, but the difference here is just mind-boggling.

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My response: Thanks for reading, David. And I’m glad you know that numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. The numbers, however, do tell a compelling story about the work Luka is doing in Dallas. What the Mavericks ask of Luka is obviously different from what the Celtics ask of Kemba, which makes comparing their raw numbers straight up just a bit more challenging. Different, sure. But mind-boggling? Eh, I’m not sure I agree with that characterization.

No agenda here

From: Nick Kopke

Nov. 30, 2019 | 6:36 p.m.

Giannis Is an outstanding, dominant player. But let’s not forget he was exposed in the playoffs and Kawhi Leonard should’ve been the MVP last season. Keeping him up in the No. 1 spot despite the seasons LeBron James and Luka Doncic are delivering is, to me, irresponsible and it does not give justice to the top players in the league.

Luka Is playing better than anybody in the league right now — you can’t argue that and there is no disputing it. Putting Walker above him in the No. 3 spot just makes it look like you have some type of an agenda you are attempting to promote.

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My response: No agendas here, Nick. There’s no need. The NBA is the greatest reality show there is and it comes without a script. These players write it and rewrite it time after time over the course of a long and grueling season. Kawhi Leonard was the MVP last season … in The Finals, an honor he earned the hard way. Giannis did the same for the regular season version of the award. I’ll let you and everyone else decide which one is more impressive.

That’s a new one …

From: Milos Visnjic

Dec. 1, 2019 | 1:06 a.m.


You are on something. Kemba Walker in the top 5? Doncic at No. 4 while averaging a near 30-point triple-double at 20 years old in his second season? No mention of James Harden? You are just either craving to get attention or plain stupid in your rationale when making your picks. Remember, basketball is a team sport so please for goodness sakes don’t judge the player ranking on team performance ever!!! If that was true, Bill Russell is then greatest of all time. Which we both know as great as he was (undeniably), he is just not GOAT. Stop the lunacy, homie, and go based on numbers like anyone else does in business.

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My response: Milos, oh Milos. Perhaps you didn’t see the sign above the front door. This is the All-Natural Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, my good man. Now that I’ve read and reread your email … dude, I’m confused. You want me to “remember that basketball is a team sport” but don’t judge the player rankings off of team performance? I’ve got a novel idea for you that doesn’t involve any insults. You can use whatever factors you want to in crafting your list and I’ll stick to mine. We can just politely agree to disagree.

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LeBron over Davis?

From: Eliezer Garcia

Nov. 29, 2019 | 1:55 p.m.

Why do you rank LBJ above AD? AD only trails in assists and in all other metrics he has been better. I think No. 9 is too low considering his stats are very similar to LBJ, who is at No. 2

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My response: The dilemma with ranking two teammates on the list is weighing the contributions of both guys and deciding whose impact is greater on the team’s bottom line. LeBron’s role for the Lakers is more significant to me. And that’s with a healthy appreciation for just how great AD is playing for them this season.

Overstating Harden’s value a bit?

From: Javi Dent

Nov. 29, 2019 | 3:01 p.m.

Make the Ladder make sense. Take Harden off the roster and theyre a 12 seed.

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My response: A 12 seed? Come on now. You don’t think Russell Westbrook could serve as the catalyst for that Rockets team and have them in the playoff mix?

Some clarity, please

From: Max Steves

Dec. 1, 2019 | 12:04 a.m.

How can an outstanding offensive player be MVP just for the above abilities? Harden cannot get his own shot! Does not (see) pass often to other players? That is not an all-around MVP!

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My response: The notion that James Harden can’t get his own shot is patently false, as his many victims around the league can attest. If your argument is that he shouldn’t be considered because he’s a lousy defender, I’m sure there are plenty of folks would agree with you. But getting his own shot is the one thing Harden does better than anyone in the league.

Inquiring minds want to know

From: Daniel Fripp

Dec. 1, 2019 | 6:25 p.m.

Is Luka good for No. 1 this week on the MVP ladder? Do it for your fans Sekou!

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My response: Could be. Come back Friday and find out.

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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.