Stephen Curry holds steady at No. 1, but Nikola Jokic is creeping up

We’ve arrived at another installment of our weekly NBA MVP Race series, where we rank the Top 5 players in the 2021-22 season.

This, as always, was a team vote, aggregated out and set up for your viewing pleasure.

Let’s jump right in.

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

2021-22 stats: 28.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.7 spg, 40.6 3PT%

Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket ahead of Cavaliers forward Dean Wade.

Our MVP from last week retains his top spot in the rankings this time around, and it’s impossible to argue against that, as – if anything – Stephen Curry’s play has gotten even more impressive since we last discussed him.

Curry currently leads the league in scoring at nearly 29 points per game and has the Golden State Warriors sitting pretty with the best record in the league (12-2) and with the NBA’s highest net rating (+13.1), to boot.

Curry’s highlight performance this week came on Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets, when the two-time league MVP dropped 37 points, nine three-pointers and five assists in a dominant 18-point road victory for Golden State.

Just two nights before that, Curry went off for 40 points and nine triples against the Chicago Bulls in another huge victory for the Warriors, this one by 26 points.

2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

2021-22 stats: 26.1 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 59.3 FG%

In some respects, Nikola Jokic (15) is having a better season than when he won the MVP award last year.

The reigning league MVP in real life, Nikola Jokic has continued his monstrous ways this campaign, posting a 26/14/6 stat line while helping carry a Denver Nuggets team missing two starters in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.

Even without two above-average starters in the lineup, the Nuggets rank seventh league-wide in net rating (+4.4) and sit tied for third in the West with a solid 9-5 record. Without Jokic, that would very obviously not be the case.

Jokic ranks first among all players in VORP, BPM and WS/48 PER, as well as third in our own Global Rating metric.

In all, Jokic has been spectacular, and it wouldn’t be surprising whatsoever to see him take home his second consecutive MVP award at year’s end if he keeps this up, which he more than likely will.

Story continues

3. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

2021-22 stats: 28.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.0 3PTM, 56.7 FG%

Nets forward Kevin Durant has had to carry the Nets in the absence of Kyrie Irving.

By his illustrious standards, Kevin Durant approaches the weekend in a slight rut in form, averaging just 21.0 points on 42.9 percent shooting over his last two games, a pair of outings that the Nets split, first getting humiliated at home by Curry and Co. before bouncing back with a 10-point victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Even so, there’s no denying how spectacular Durant has been on the campaign, it’s just difficult not to wonder right now if he has enough around him to challenge for a championship in 2021-22, with James Harden still rounding into form and Kyrie Irving nowhere to be found.

But if any lone player is at the level right now to carry a team to a championship, it’s Durant, so the Nets should not be counted out this early despite their up-and-down start to the campaign.

4. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

2021-22 stats: 24.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.9 spg, 53.0 FG%

Jimmy Butler is setting the pace that has the Heat sitting atop the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday night’s Miami Heat contest against the New Orleans Pelicans was a great way to see what kind of form Jimmy Butler would be in after missing the club’s prior three contests due to an injured ankle.

Well, it looks like the 32-year-old intends to keep up his borderline-MVP-level-of-play, as Butler was awesome on Wednesday night, leading Miami to a 15-point win over New Orleans despite the Heat being without Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and Markieff Morris, among others.

Butler exploded in the contest, playing nearly 37 minutes and putting up a 31/10/10 triple-double while shooting 10-of-18 from the floor.

Very few players league-wide can match Butler’s skill set, a swingman capable of locking up opposing wings on one end, dropping 30 on the other all while being able to play the role of lead playmaker for his team.

5. DeMar DeRozen, Chicago Bulls

2021-22 stats: 26.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 50.0 FG%

DeMar DeRozan thought he was heading to the Lakers during the offseason, but ended up with the Bulls. And Chicago could be happier.

From being panned by various critics as the worst signing of the offseason to ranking fifth in our MVP rankings weeks into the campaign, DeMar DeRozan has been fantastic thus far in 2021-22, and not just on the raw stat sheet.

DeRozan is smashing his preview career-high in swing rating this season, putting up an almost-unfathomable +23.5 in the statistic, which means the Chicago Bulls are outscoring opponents by that many points per 100 possessions with the four-time All-Star on the floor.

DeRozan’s previous career-high in swing rating? +3.9.

And besides those two seasons, DeRozan has never posted a positive mark in that metric, which goes to show that after this many years in the league, it’s still possible for a player to post a career-best campaign.

In fairness, however, few people in the world boast DeRozan’s overall skill level on a basketball court, so for most people, it would be impossible to post the best year of their career 13 seasons in.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stephen Curry holding steady lead in the early race for NBA’s MVP award


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