Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder mailbag: Bradley Beal won't let up even as Wizards' hopes fade

Fielding queries on Trae Young, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and more

The Washington Wizards are 20-36 and their ticket to the Draft lottery has just about been officially stamped. But don’t tell Bradley Beal that there’s nothing left to play for this season.

Beal lit the Milwaukee Bucks up for a career-high 55 points Monday night, becoming the first player since Kobe Bryant (in 2007) to score 50 or more points in back-to-back games. He blasted the Chicago Bulls for 53 points a day earlier.

On a day when Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others were honored in a memorial service at Staples Center, Beal unleashed his “Mamba Mentality” on the best team in the league.

Beal’s work, in losing efforts, highlights the enigmatic nature of his season. As good as he’s been, it’s tough for Beal to revel in his accomplishments while the Wizards struggle.

“I’m a winner,” Beal said, “so you can throw those 55 out with the last 53.”

It also makes it extremely difficult to appreciate the full scope of what it takes to score the way Beal has all season, hence his absence on the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder. Despite all his feats, Beal wasn’t an All-Star and will be hard-pressed to earn an All-NBA spot given the competition for those spots this season.

Bully ball from ‘The Process’: Joel Embiid’s talent is undeniable. And when he has a chance to impose his will against an opponent incapable of handling it, there’s an opportunity to view the Embiid that was on display Monday. He was at his efficient best against Atlanta (which, in its defense, was missing Clint Capela), bullying his way to a career-high 49 points (as well as 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block) to power a win. He did so without All-Star counterpart Ben Simmons (who missed the game with a back injury). Embiid expressed himself in ways both good and bad (see his late-game gesture directed at Kevin Huerter), before reiterating that he feels like he’s “the best player in the world.” It’s still hard to know what the Sixers will be come playoff time. But it’s clear that they’ll go as far as Embiid takes them.

The Real MVP: The Bryant memorial was an emotional ride for all involved, both in the sold-out, star-studded crowd at Staples Center as well as for the millions watching from afar. If you missed it, take time today and review the celebration yourself. Seeing Michael Jordan and so many others shed tears had to take you there. But to see Vanessa Bryant stand as strong as she did in articulating her thoughts and feelings about both her husband and their daughter was something to behold. She’s the real MVP.

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

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Which way for Trae?

From: Myrna Camar

Feb. 23, 2020 | 3:04 p.m.

In your latest rankings, Trae Young is in your cluster after the top 10 players. Why is this considering that his team is still near the bottom?

Is it because of his scoring and assist numbers? His individual record has not translated to team wins.

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My response: Trae has been relegated to the sidelines on the Ladder because of those things you mentioned. The Hawks’ inability to win games with their All-Star point guard doing all that he does is why Trae can’t play his way into the top 10. You seem surprised that he’s on the list at all, while others cannot understand why he isn’t mentioned in the top five like Luka Doncic. I say it all the time: the great separator on the Ladder is the impact a player has on his team’s bottom line. Winning matters.

Straight to the point

From: Can Dartan

Feb. 23, 2020 | 2:08 p.m.

I apologize if I am being too direct but I really don’t understand how you put LeBron on this list. He is not even the best player on his team. Anthony Davis leads the Lakers in points, rebounds, blocks and steals. Actually, he is the one who deserves to be on this list and putting Harden at No. 5 is just disrespectful. I think you are very biased. I am very very disappointed in you.

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My response: Can, I apologize for the direct response, but I cannot fathom how anyone could dismiss what LeBron is doing this season after watching five minutes of the Lakers. You cannot be serious trying to poke holes in his game 17 years in. You talk about being disappointed, some of the stuff I see on a regular basis like this is what’s really disappointing. Put aside your love for whoever your favorite player is and at least show a little respect for the other elite players in the MVP mix.

What about Westbrook?

From: StreetPrice President

Feb. 22, 2020 | 3:10 p.m.

You had Westbrook at No. 10 on your last MVP ranking before the break. I took a look at your ladder today and Russ is not even listed!

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My response: I wish I had a better response for you, because Russ has been outstanding. But it’s just an extremely tough list to make. And it’s even tougher when you have someone else on your team with just as strong of a case (or stronger) than you.

LeBron the chemist

From: Asher White

Feb. 21, 2020 | 9:44 p.m.

I just wanted to tell you that I think LeBron should be in first place over Giannis. I think that this would be correct because he is 35 and still putting up amazing numbers. He is averaging a career high in assists and he make everyone that he plays with better. LeBron is competing against players who are younger and have way more time left in their careers. He is doing so many great things and he is leading the Lakers to a great season. In the few months that he has played with this revamped Lakers team, he has created great chemistry with all the players especially AD.

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My response: Thank you, Asher. It’s always good to hear from the next generation hoops lovers. And you make great points about LeBron and the chemistry that’s been cultivated on this Lakers team. It’s a complete flip in that department from the dysfunction that ripped the Lakers’ season apart a year ago.

Making sense of it all

From: Hollis Pettway

Feb. 21, 2020 | 7:48 p.m.

The points you outlined are really helpful in understanding how the MVP winner is chosen. I was listening to the guys on TNT a few days ago when Shaq said “James Harden does not pass the ball” … in spite of his career assist average and his current average of 7.3 assists per game. Last night, after Harden got 10 assists in a rout of Golden State, the TNT crew was yammering that they would double team the guy, even if it meant letting him score 50. They go on and on complaining about the small-ball concept, even when it works.

What is it with these guys? Are they so obsessed with the way they used to play that they can’t conceive of nuance? For the record, I don’t generally watch their commentary, but I listened in last night and it only confirmed why I don’t watch them.

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My response: First things first, Hollis: be nice to my guys on “Inside The NBA.” They are the best in the business, by far. And I appreciate them telling us what they really think as opposed to any alternative. They don’t play the narrative game that many of us in the media tend to in regards to these things. You have every right to disagree with them. But don’t tune them out.

Race heating up down the stretch

From: Alex Radovanovich

Feb. 21, 2020 | 4:28 p.m.

All these players who show up on your list are putting up unbelievable numbers — its amazing what some of these guys do. I think that it wouldn’t be unfair to give the MVP trophy to any of your top 5 guys. So, I think it comes down to this: where will their teams finish in the standings?

To me it is almost obvious that Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to get another MVP. I don’t think LeBron James or James Harden will get it. Why? First off, I really don’t believe in Rockets. When it comes to LeBron, I think that he is going to save his energy for playoffs. It is possible for him to get it, but i just don’t think that either he is interested in it and I don’t think the Lakers are going to have better record than the Bucks at season’s end.

I give a chance to Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic if Leonard’s LA Clippers can finish first in the West or if Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks can get in a really good rhythm and finish top 3 in the West. Here’s my list based on how I think things are going to wind up at the end of the season:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not a lot to say about that.

2. Kawhi Leonard. If Clippers grab the No. 1 seed in the West, I think he’s the MVP

3. LeBron James. This is the lowest I can put LBJ. Things he does are amazing!

4. Luka Doncic. I believe if the Mavs get close to the West’s top spot, Luka’s chances are going up fast.

5. James Harden.

I hope things get heated up and we see an interesting fight for the MVP this year!

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My response: Things could definitely get more interesting down the stretch if the top five guys stay healthy and continue to blow us away with the way they’ve played. Sustaining an elite level of play is more difficult than people realize. Making that top five at the end of a season means you found the sweet spot that only the best of the very best could find.

New proposal: 1A and 1B

From: David Rosen

Feb. 21, 2020 | 12:55 p.m.

I have enjoyed your Kia MVP Ladder for the past couple of months since I was on the mailbag. I love where you have everyone on the ladder, but I think you should have a 1A and 1B when it comes to Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. They have been equally as valuable to their teams and the value is translating into wins. LeBron is leading the NBA in assists and I think he is having one of his best years of his career. Giannis’ team has more wins, but if I had an MVP vote, it would be too hard for me to make a decision right now.

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My response: You’ve got me thinking now, David. Could we see a split this season that would lend itself to a 1A and 1B scenario? Maybe. We’ve had close MVP finishes in the past, but I never considered it on my own ballot. I like making the hard choice when it’s all said and done.

Rating ’em just right

From: Rishi Roy

Feb. 20, 2020 | 4:13 p.m.

I think there are many players who deserve to win the MVP and many players that are underrated or overrated. So far this season, the Milwaukee Bucks are doing good and have an incredible record. The Celtics and Raptors are also doing good and have many MVP-worthy players. Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing well statistics-wise and he contributes to his team. Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are also doing good as well and so are Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam.

The West also brings exciting players to the table like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden Luka Doncic and more. LeBron brings style to basketball, but is doing the same thing he’s done the past 10 years so he isn’t as good as I thought. Harden is also doing well, even though he is struggling the past few weeks. Even though Harden is doing well some games and not the others, he is still MVP worthy and might get better next year.

Here’s my MVP list:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

2. James Harden

3. Luka Doncic

4. LeBron James

5. Kawhi Leonard

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My response: I don’t see any overrated players in your top five, Rishi. And they happen to be the same top five on the latest Kia Race to the MVP Ladder. When you get this deep into a season, the fraud candidates have been revealed. We’re in the stretch run of the race and the real ones are still in the mix. I think we all can agree on that. That next five (6-10) is where the real movement comes this time of year.

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Got thoughts on the Kia MVP chase? Hit me up via e-mail or send me a tweet and I’ll get back to you!

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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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