Updated 2020 NBA Playoff MVP Rankings

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterSeptember 12, 2020

Updated 2020 NBA Playoff MVP Rankings

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    As the 2020 NBA playoffs transition into the conference finals, it's time to update the postseason MVP rankings once again.

    The first batch of B/R rankings had Donovan Mitchell and Luka Doncic ranked first and second, respectively. Their teams' eliminations from the playoffs meant a bump to the honorable mention list, a spot where last week's fourth-placed player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, now finds himself following a second-round loss to the Miami Heat.

    In this version, there is a first-time inclusion and plenty of movement.

    Taking into account individual play, team play and quality of opponent, these have been the most valuable players in the bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.

(Eliminated) Honorable Mentions

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks

    Doncic had one of the best playoff debuts in league history, much less for a player still just 21 years old.

    Averages of 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and 1.2 steals helped push Doncic into the best-players-in-the-NBA conversation, and his scoring average is still the second-highest among all players in the postseason bubble.

    Winning two games against the Los Angeles Clippers, the team with the best title odds on FanDuel, was extremely impressive. It won't be long until Doncic becomes the hunted, and not simply the hunter, in the playoffs.


    Donovan Mitchell, SG, Utah Jazz

    Mitchell was the best player in the 16-team first round, an inspiring sign for next season for Utah Jazz fans.

    No player during or since has come close to matching his 36.3-point-per-game average, and the 23-year-old shooting guard showed off his developing overall game with 5.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.0 steals.

    Blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets stung, but Mitchell looking like a true No. 1 postseason option was ultimately more important to Utah's future.


    Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    It was a tale of two rounds for Antetokounmpo in the playoffs, single-handedly destroying the Orlando Magic before showing his vulnerability against the Miami Heat.

    Antetokounmpo lit up Orlando for 30.6 points, 16.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists on 59.0 percent shooting and a very respectable 38.5 percent from three in five games, but the Heat held him to 22.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists on 45.1 percent shooting overall and a dismal 15.4 percent from deep in his three full games.

    The early playoff exit dropped Antetokounmpo to the honorable mention list.

No. 7: James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Per-Game Stats: 29.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, .466/.339/.839 shooting, plus-5.5

    Previous Ranking: 7 ↔

    FanDuel Title Odds: +8000

    After a strong start to the first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden went just 4-of-15 from the floor in Game 7. The 2017-18 MVP is following a similar path in Houston's series against the Los Angeles Lakers now.

    Harden led the Rockets to an impressive Game 1 win, dropping 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the floor. His efficiency has dropped in every game since, however, culminating in a 2-of-11 performance in a Game 4 loss. The two field goals were Harden's fewest since the opening night of the 2019-20 season, nearly 11 months ago.

    Still, Harden has had to carry an incredible load this postseason with Russell Westbrook looking lost at times, and making it past a really good Thunder team deserves some praise as well. While Harden still belongs on the playoff MVP list, he hasn't done enough to warrant moving up.

    Now down 3-1 to the Lakers, Harden's playoff run is likely to come to another premature end.

No. 6: Jamal Murray, SG, Denver Nuggets

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Per-Game Stats: 26.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, .484/.495/.923 shooting, minus-0.4

    Previous Ranking: 3 ↓

    FanDuel Title Odds: +6500

    After looking like he'd made the jump to superstar in Round 1 against the Utah Jazz, playing against a better Los Angeles Clippers team has brought Murray back down to Earth.

    He is averaging 19.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists and shooting 37.6 percent against L.A., down from 31.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists and a field-goal percentage of 55.0 in seven games vs. the Jazz.

    Still, the Nuggets have done well to push the Clippers to at least a six-game series, especially since they had just one day of rest and preparation from Rounds 1 to 2.

    Nikola Jokic has nearly closed the MVP gap between him and Murray on the Nuggets, especially with the 23-year-old shooting guard struggling with his efficiency this series.

    Murray going for 50-plus points in Round 1 and digging the Nuggets out of a 3-1 hole to win the series against Utah means he still has a place on this list, even if he's the only player with a negative plus-minus rating.

No. 5: Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Per-Game Stats: 29.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.6 blocks, .594/.391/.744 shooting, plus-8.8

    Previous Ranking: N/A ↑

    FanDuel Title Odds: +190

    Making his debut in the playoff MVP rankings, Davis can no longer be ignored even if he's not the most valuable player on his own team.

    Davis has been brilliant all postseason, displaying his dominant two-way play while demonstrating an improved outside shot. He's sixth in playoff points per game, eighth in rebound average and fourth in blocked shots per game.

    The Houston Rockets' small-ball style of play would have forced a lot of big men off the court by now, but Davis has been able to use his athleticism to not only stay on the floor but dominate with his post play and mid-range game. In four games against the Rockets, Davis is averaging 28.5 points, 12.8 points, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.5 blocks and is shooting 62.0 percent overall.

    Though he got great contributions from Chris Bosh and Kevin Love in previous playoff runs, Davis has finally given James a big man who can even carry him at times.

No. 4: Jayson Tatum, F, Boston Celtics

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Per-Game Stats: 25.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.2 blocks, .447/.419/.772 shooting, plus-7.5

    Previous Ranking: 6 ↑

    FanDuel Title Odds: +380

    After carving up the Philadelphia 76ers in a first-round sweep, Tatum was once again lethal in a series win over the Toronto Raptors.

    He became the youngest player since Kobe Bryant in 2002 to record at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a Game 7, and his 29 points led all scorers to lift Boston past Toronto and into the conference finals.

    While scoring was Tatum's bread and butter during his first playoff run as a rookie in 2018, he's become a very good all-around player with his defense, playmaking and rebounding.

    His 9.9 net rating is the third-highest among players on this list (LeBron James, Anthony Davis), and Boston has outscored opponents by 83 points in his 438 minutes.

    While Tatum has also received plenty of help in carrying the Celtics, from Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, he's been Boston's most valuable all-around player now heading into the East Finals against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat.

No. 3: Jimmy Butler, G/F, Miami Heat

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, .477/.500/.844 shooting, plus-6.4

    Previous Ranking: 5 ↑

    FanDuel Title Odds: +440

    Butler is the best player on a Miami Heat team that's sported an NBA-best 8-1 playoff record, most recently knocking out the No. 1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

    Ignoring the stats for a moment, the Heat have seemingly taken on the attitude of Butler. Miami plays extremely hard, isn't afraid of anyone and has the confidence of a championship team already. After eliminating the best regular-season team in the league and making Giannis Antetokounmpo look human, why should Butler and the Heat fear anyone?

    Now back to the numbers. Although Miami has been the best team this postseason, Butler still ranks below some of the MVP candidates because he simply hasn't had to do as much. Teammate Goran Dragic has a higher usage rating (26.1 to 25.5 percent) and similar scoring numbers (21.1 to 21.8 points), and Bam Adebayo leads Miami in rebounds (11.7) and assists (4.8).

    The Heat are 4-1 in games Butler scores 18 or fewer points, and Miami defeated the Indiana Pacers in Game 4 by 12 points with Butler dropping just six.

    Butler is the heart and soul of Miami, but he hasn't needed to take over games as often as other stars on this list.

No. 2: LeBron James, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Per-Game Stats: 26.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, .559/.370/.712 shooting, plus-9.1

    Previous Ranking: 2 ↔

    FanDuel Title Odds: +190

    Despite Anthony Davis leading the Lakers in scoring, everything L.A. does revolves around James.

    The 35-year-old has the highest usage rate on the team at 29.9 percent, a mark that ranks third among all players remaining in the playoff bubble. His sparkling 13.6 net rating is the second-highest in the playoffs (minimum two games), and the Lakers are outscoring opponents by 82 points in James' 311 total minutes.

    L.A. is 7-2 overall this postseason, and James' MVP candidacy is only slightly blemished by the play of Davis, who's made quite the case for himself as well.

    With the Milwaukee Bucks now eliminated and the Lakers holding a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets, James' path to a fourth NBA title gets closer by the day. A meeting with the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals seems inevitable, as the Lakers' in-town rival possesses the only player more valuable than James thus far in the postseason.

No. 1: Kawhi Leonard, SF, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Per-Game Stats: 29.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.8 blocks, .513/.311/.862 shooting, plus-4.3

    Previous Ranking:

    FanDuel Title Odds: +180

    Leonard stays in the No. 1 spot for the second straight week, and his Clippers are just one win away from the Western Conference Finals.

    While other players have thrived in one round and struggled in another, Leonard has been the model for consistently and excellence, continuing to prove he's one of the greatest playoff performers of this generation.

    Leonard is second in total playoff steals with 26, and his 29.8 points-per-game average ranks first among all playoff scorers still in the bubble. Paul George has bounced between looking like an MVP candidate and borderline rotation player, making Leonard's consistent play all the more valuable.

    The Clippers still have the best title odds of any NBA team even with the Los Angeles Lakers going up 3-1 over the Houston Rockets in their second-round series, a testament to the play of Leonard.

    While Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and others have also been brilliant, Leonard remains the playoff MVP thus far.


    NBA championship odds courtesy of FanDuel. Stats via NBA.com unless otherwise noted.


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