Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder mailbag: Do Lakers' stars deserve more praise?

Fielding your questions on LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden and more

Narratives help win Kia MVPs … that’s an established fact.

Early on, this season is filled with them. Giannis Antetokounmpo is giving us an encore of his Kia MVP-winning 2018-19 season. LeBron James is turning back the clock and reminding us that age truly is nothing but a number where he’s concerned.

In Texas, Luka Doncic is raising eyebrows nightly in trying to fill the shoes LeBron will vacate someday as the NBA’s most versatile jumbo point-forward. And there’s also an old hand at work.

James Harden is flirting with Wilt Chamberlain-like territory thanks to his 39.2 points per game. If he can keep this up, he has a realistic shot at averaging 40 ppg – something Chamberlain was the last player to do (in 1961-62 and ’62-63).

Neither Michael Jordan nor Kobe Bryant, whose scoring feats Harden’s are most compared to, did that. Four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, the greatest pure scorer of this generation (before Harden), never did it either.

Harden has scored 35-plus points in every game during the Rockets’ eight-game win streak and shows no signs of slowing down.

He said Antetokounmpo’s narrative secured him the MVP last season. If Harden keeps his scoring streak up, it’ll be hard for anyone to top the tale he’s weaving.

His name is Luka: Before you hit send on that email or @ me on Twitter, let me save you the trouble. Yes, his name is Luka and, yes, he’s a bad man!

November is Sabonis Awareness Month: The Pacers leaned in hard on Domantas Sabonis as a foundational player for them and he’s rewarding that gesture with some career-best play. He’s 8-for-8 on double-doubles this month and had a career-high 18 boards in Monday’s win vs. Brooklyn. He’s third in the league in rebounds (13.8 rpg), ranking among the likes of Andre Drummond (17.0 rpg), Antetokounmpo (14.0), Rudy Gobert (13.6) and Clint Capela (13.1).

Player of the week(end): Welcome back, Paul George! The Clippers’ other summer prize has softened the blow of not having Kawhi Leonard around after a monster (delayed) start to his season. His 70 points over the weekend was impressive on its own. That he’s shown no signs of rust after missing all this time is perhaps most impressive. The Clippers at full strength with the reigning Finals MVP (Leonard) and last season’s No. 3 Kia MVP finisher (George) as their anchors could be scary for the NBA’s other teams.

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

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Why isn’t LeBron at No. 1?

From: Mariano Pierri

Nov. 18, 2019 | 7:08 p.m.

Hello Mr. Smith, my name is Mariano and I’m a die-hard NBA fan from Argentina.

I’ve been watching NBA on a daily basis for years and I’ve always been interested in the “MVP Ladder” column that you write for

I just read your last article there and I wanted to take the time to tell you that I found it much more accurate than the previous one, so good job!

However, I found myself surprised for seeing LeBron as No. 2. I was pretty sure he would be at the top of the Ladder this week. So I would like to ask you how do you exactly determine who deserves each spot, meaning what’s the criteria for this? Numbers? Wins? “Narrative”?

I would appreciate an expert to explain this to me.

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My response: Expert, huh? I like that Mariano … I think. But I’m not sure why you assumed LeBron would be No. 1. The committee takes it down to the wire on the order each week, trying to consider the latest information on all of the candidates. There are strong cases to be made for players up and down the top 10 of the Ladder each week. LeBron at No. 2 is lofty territory, especially when you consider the competition. He’s behind a player who is having a monster season of his own, and ahead of a few players who plenty of folks think belong in that No. 2 spot as well.

Time to rethink Mitchell’s place?

From: Anders Rasmusson

Nov. 15, 2019 | 2:34 p.m.


I was just wondering why you have Donovan Mitchell as tied for 7th in the rankings. I’m a huge Jazz fan, and he’s doing great this season. I don’t think he’s over Luka Doncic or arguably even Damian Lillard.

However, I don’t mind him being ranked there … I was just wondering why.

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My response: With fans like this, Mitchell can’t even win the popular vote.

It’s a better list, but …

From: Landon Bangerter

Nov. 15, 2019 | 12:28 p.m.

Really like the new list, Sekou. I’m glad to see that you’ve given Kemba Walker the love he deserves. I actually think Harden is the MVP so far this season. He’s been lighting it up, but I won’t argue with you thinking Giannis is still the winner. I do really think you’re underrating Anthony Davis quite a bit though. He’s been terrific for the Lakers and deserves a lot more than just an honorable mention.

With that being said, here’s my MVP Ladder:

1. James Harden (Houston Rockets)

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

3. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)

4. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)

5. Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)

6. Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors)

7. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)

8. Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)

9. Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

10. Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)

And six more: Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), Malcolm Brogdon (Indiana Pacers), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves)

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My response: You might be on to something Landon, maybe once a month I’ll cede the controls to the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder to a keen observer such as yourself. Don’t take the feedback personal.

Not enough Luka love!

From: Michael Roberts

Nov. 17, 2019 | 8:23 p.m.

Hi Sekou,

I enjoy and thank you for your work as a journalist. However, I don’t understand how you can put Pascal Siakam over Luka in the MVP ladder. The stats tell a different story and so did their game last night. I am not sure of Kemba, either, being above him, but I will concede on him since he’s been so clutch for the Celtics and has helped them go back to being that well-oiled and balanced team that turned heads in the 2018 postseason.

Is it because Luka is a just a sophomore? Or does it have to do with the Mavs’ record? I look forward to hearing from you. Keep up the good work!

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My response: Michael, it is a combination of things that led me to rank Siakam above Doncic, but mostly it’s about each players impact on his team’s bottom line. All the triple-doubles in the world don’t necessarily impact winning (ask Russell Westbrook). Siakam has been the catalyst for the defending champs. A one-game snapshot is probably not a fair measure for any of these guys.

But the consistency of that contribution over a 10-game stretch is much more appropriate, in my opinion. Doncic is on my list, so it’s not like he’s nowhere to be found. The difference between places on the list are not all equal, if you follow me. (The distance between, say, No. 4 and No. 9 might not be as great as some think.) These are hard choices to make every week and it’s more complex than just raw numbers. The goal is for these spots to reflect the performances these players deliver within the context of their respective seasons. Nothing more and nothing less.

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That’s a unique hashtag …


Nov. 15, 2019 | 2:28 p.m.

How do you write an article like this and not mention Andre Drummond??? #NoRespect

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My response: Check back Friday and you might see it again.

Thanks for the compliment

From: Vatsal Trivedi

Nov. 15, 2019 | 11:40 a.m.

Ok, I see you’ve fixed this today … Now #5!

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My response: I’m a man of my word, Vatsal. As pointed out in last week’s mailbag, Siakam’s omission from the first Ladder of the season was a mistake. I try not to make the same once twice if I can help it.

Some love for the Lakers, please

From: Roberto Aleman

Nov. 12, 2019 | 3:04 p.m.

Seriously? Luca and Pascal behind LeBron James when they have their teams in the first places with teams inferior to those of LeBron James. Is anyone surprised at the position of the Lakers when he was one of the favorites from the beginning?

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My response: LeBron and the Lakers living up to the hype seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation for him being higher than either Luka or Siakam on the Ladder. This isn’t the most surprising Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

Rockets have extra fuel now

From: NjieGaindeh

Nov. 16, 2019 | 3:06 a.m.

Disagree!! Harden should be behind Giannis, Sekou. Harden is pretty much one man show and on a roll plus his team is winning . You can’t have Bron over Harden.

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My response: On behalf of Russell Westbrook and a solid supporting cast in Houston, I’d like to disagree with your assessment that Harden is “pretty much a one-man show.” In fact, last I checked, Harden’s the one playing with another Kia MVP this season.

… And another thing about Davis

From: Roberto Aleman

Nov. 17, 2019 | 1:40 a.m.

Seriously now being a passer in a team where you have Davis carrying him on offense and on the defensive side. What a change from last year to this. Brother Davis’s entrance that impacts on both sides. Brother Davis leads in points, rebounds and blockin

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My response: Robert, my man. How quickly you forget. LeBron made it clear when the Lakers acquired AD that he wanted things to run through the big fella. That’s the same thing he said about Kevin Love in Cleveland (wink). While I appreciate the sentiment and certainly acknowledge how good AD has been this season, I don’t think anyone can honestly say that someone else on that Lakers roster is more deserving of MVP mention than LeBron.

It’s not personal

From: Anthony Duckett

Nov. 17, 2019 | 12:40 a.m.

Disrespect to Harden yet again … Sekou, you’re better than this …

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My response: There was no disrespect intended Anthony. A top-three slot for Harden seemed more than appropriate last week. And there’s no doubt he could be on the rise given his most recent exploits. (And I hope you are right, about me being better.)

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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.

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