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Houston Rockets

NBA MVP Power Rankings: Has James Harden done enough to surpass Giannis Antetokounmpo?

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NBA MVP Ladder (NBA Getty Images)

In a season filled with extraordinary individual performances from all across the NBA, Kawhi Leonard has worked his way back into the top 5 after dropping out last week.

Every week here on NBA.com, we poll a group of our NBA writers to submit their top 5 in the MVP rankings. What you see below is a reflection of our collective ballots as of this moment.

Here's how absurd the MVP race is up to this point.

Kevin Durant is averaging 28.4 PPG and a career-high 6.1 APG while shooting 50% from the field.

Joel Embiid is a wrecking ball, scoring and rebounding like nobody has since prime Shaq.

Anthony Davis leads the league in PER and doing so at a level matched only by Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

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None of them ranked inside the top five this week.

Needless to say: it's a crowded field.

All stats through games of Thursday, Jan. 10.

5. LeBron James

James hasn't played since Christmas and has now missed eight games, tied for the most consecutive games he has ever missed in his entire career. That he's still inside of our top five is a testament to how well he's played this season and how the Los Angeles Lakers have played in his absence.

He's once again averaging over 27 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds per game while shooting 50% from the field. It would be the third time in his career he's done it. All other players in NBA history have combined to do it three times.

And yet we're getting perilously close to the point where he's simply missed too much time to seriously warrant MVP consideration. He's likely going to miss three more games in this stretch, which means if he returns on Jan. 17 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and plays in every single game moving forward, he'd have 11 missed games on the season.

Only two of the 63 MVP winners in NBA history missed more than 10 games: Allen Iverson in 2000-01 (played 71 of 82 games) and Bill Walton in 1977-78 (played 58 of 82 games).

4. Kawhi Leonard

Welcome back to the MVP ladder!

Let's get this out of the way first: Leonard is in the same boat as LeBron when it comes to missing games. He's already missed 10 and given how likely it is that he sits out several more for rest and general maintenance throughout the course of the season, it's highly unlikely Leonard seriously contends for the MVP.

The Toronto Raptors would have to go ballistic and run away with the East for him to truly have a real shot. It's certainly possible, just not likely.

That shouldn't distract from well he's played when available.

He's upped his scoring average to a career-high 27.3 points per game and is getting to the line more than ever before. As a result, he's threatening to post the best true shooting percentage of his career (taking into account 3s and free throws).

Dating back to the win over the Golden State Warriors way back on Nov. 29 in which he scored 37 points in an overtime thriller, he's averaging 33.5 points per game in wins which trails only James Harden.

3. Nikola Jokic

As long as the Denver Nuggets have the best record in the Western Conference, it's almost impossible to leave Jokic outside of the MVP discussion.

There's some serious precedent working in Jokic's favour.

If you look through the last 20 years at the teams to finish with the best record in the West, you'll find that 14 of them featured a player that finished inside the top three in MVP voting, including three of the last four MVP winners.

Where this argument helps in Jokic's case is taking a closer look at the six times it didn't happen.

  • 2016-17 Warriors: Stephen Curry finished sixth, but split votes with Kevin Durant who finished 9th
  • 2013-14 Spurs: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker tied for 12th
  • 2011-12 Spurs: Tony Parker finished fifth with Duncan coming in 14th
  • 2010-11 Spurs: Manu Ginobili finished eighth in his final season as a starter with Parker finishing 12th
  • 2005-06 Spurs: Duncan came in eighth, one spot ahead of Parker
  • 2001-02 Kings: Chris Webber finished sixth with Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby finishing 16th

In each of those instances, there was serious help in the form of another All-Star or All-NBA calibre player. In the case of the San Antonio Spurs, well ... they're the Spurs.

Jokic has Jamal Murray. I love Murray, but he's 21 and not exactly a second banana on par with these here, at least not yet.

2. James Harden

I voted James Harden first on my ballot, the first time this season I gave it to anybody other than Giannis Antetokounmpo. Their head-to-head matchup this week is everything we want to see from a pair of MVP frontrunners with both players delivering the goods.

Milwaukee actually deployed a good strategy against Harden, forcing him right nearly every time and into spots he's not typically accustomed to. If you watched that game and never looked at a box score, I'd be willing to bet you'd come away thinking they played great defense on him.

That Harden still finished with 42 points, 11 rebounds and six assists is a testament to the kind of roll he's on right now.

Even when Chris Paul returns to the lineup, I'm not sure Harden's going to slow down anytime soon.

The only two players over the last 50 years to average 35 points per game are Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. He's not there yet, but I wouldn't put it past Harden to get there.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak is impacting the game on both ends in ways that are unprecedented.

Simply put: nobody has ever done what he's doing on the level that he's doing it.

Milwaukee's win on the road against the Houston Rockets on a night when Harden went off is a testament to Antetokounmpo's ability to consistently rise to the occasion.

While the 27 points, 21 rebounds and five assists against the Rockets in an MVP showdown garnered most of the attention (and rightfully so), it may not even have been the most important development of the week for the MVP leader.

In the loss to the Raptors, Antetokounmpo calmly sank 3-5 from beyond the 3-point line, the first time this season he hit more than two as he entered that game shooting just 15% from the perimeter.

If he starts hitting those on a regular basis, we're all in big, BIG trouble.

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

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