In the latest edition of NBA.com’s “Kia Race to the MVP Ladder,” Senior Writer Michael C. Wright ranked Kawhi Leonard fifth in the MVP race, and slotted in Paul George at seventh.
The top four that beat out Leonard were (in descending order): LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Kevin Durant. Giannis Antetokounmpo was ranked between the two Clippers at sixth.
Wight noted Durant’s recent praise of Leonard, along Leonard’s career win percentage (the highest in regular-season history) and his prolific scoring, stating that his absence in the national-media MVP conversation “should stop.”
Though there was no analysis of George’s play in the article, the fact that he was just two spots behind Leonard might be a clue as to why The Claw has been largely omitted from the MVP discussion: George has been nearly as sensational as Leonard. In the previous “Race to the MVP” article (penned by the dearly departed Sekou Smith), written on January 8, George was ranked third, with Leonard being omitted from the list entirely. Obviously a lot has happened in the past month, but George has largely kept up his stellar play as Leonard has separated himself from some other candidates. He’s playmaking more than he ever has in his career, and is still on a 50/40/90 shooting pace.
Both players’ success is crucial to the Clippers’ dominance, and the team’s MVP can shift from game to game. It is quite the luxury to have two MVP-caliber players (both have had top-3 MVP finishes in their careers), but they can take votes away from each other. There’s a reason neither Stephen Curry nor Kevin Durant won an MVP award while both were in Golden State, despite the Warriors having a dominant record and essentially sweeping the league when they were healthy. It’s hard to give a player recognition when his teammate is nearly as important to the team’s greatness.
The obvious counter-argument to this logic is Wright’s current frontrunner, LeBron James. Anthony Davis did not appear on his list, but it’s no secret that Davis is a dominant defensive force who was essential to the Lakers’ championship run last season. Perhaps voters will take Davis’ contributions into account at the end of the season, and reward a candidate who doesn’t have a clear-cut superstar teammate, such as Embiid or Jokic.
There’s still a whole lot of basketball left to play before the media actually casts their votes for the award. With George currently sidelined with a sore right foot, perhaps Leonard will get some time to shine solo and climb his way up the MVP ladder (though the Clippers lost Friday night’s game to the Celtics without George). In any event, Clippers fans should take it as a positive that they have two ballot-worthy players on their team.