Both Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic are having seasons worthy of an All-NBA First Team selection. But who is shading the MVP race?
The Blazers and the Mavericks are currently placed 6th and 7th in the Western Conference respectively. Neither of these positions has historically been a good indicator for a candidate in the MVP race.
However, we can expect a few more shakeups given the unpredictable, topsy-turvy nature of the season thus far. The Lakers will be in free fall for a few weeks in the absence of LeBron James.
Seeds 3-7 are essentially fair game in the Western Conference. Neither of the top two seeded teams in the West have a strong individual MVP case. This opens it up for the rest of the field, and that’s where Dame and Luka come in.
The case for Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard has been the franchise cornerstone for the Blazers since practically his rookie season. His teams have been counted out of the playoffs practically every year since 2014, and he’s beaten the odds and naysayers every time.
This particular year has possibly been his most impressive regular season campaign yet. Dame Dolla has had to cope with the injury-enforced absences of Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum for over 20 games, and he shepherded his team through it with the assuredness of a superstar who knows he can win games on his own.
Dame’s averages of 29.6 points and 7.7 assists and his 3-point percentage of 38.1% are right in line with the expectations placed on him. The Blazers star is second in the NBA in scoring and is a top assist provider as well.
Damian Lillard: 43 points, 16 assists, 4 rebounds and the gamewinner on the 2nd night of a back to back! Blazers are on a 6 game win streak pic.twitter.com/TMUbKPR3ow
— BATTLES NBA™ (@BattlesNBA) February 18, 2021
Lillard also leads the league in 30-point games this season – just another sign of how much weight is on his shoulders. He’s regarded as probably the clutchest player in the NBA today, and with good reason.
The case for Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic came into the NBA as the most qualified 19-year-old rookie of all time, though no one admitted it at the time. He’s improved by leaps and bounds ever since. His improvements this season are a sign of him rounding his game out and reaching close to his final form.
Doncic’s per-game averages of 28.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game are in line with last year. His most significant improvement has been from beyond the arc. Luka is averaging 37.1% from downtown, and he ranks at the top of the league in contested 3-point looks.
@luka7doncic is not playing games with ya’ll! 🔥 🔥 🔥#lukadoncic #dallasmavericks #buzzerbeater #game #gamewinner #NBA #Basketball #MiamiHeat #HeatNation #Lakers #Celtics #Lebron #sports #JimmyButler#Jordan #MJ #GOAT pic.twitter.com/UuUfZaGIGX
— MarcWes Sports (@MarcwesSports) February 24, 2021
The fact that he’s shooting so well despite taking the most absurdly tough shots makes it easier for others. Doncic’s gravity is more apparent than ever. He’s now able to navigate his route to the hoop better on his drives.
Luka is the only player in the NBA today who we can’t put a ceiling on, for one reason or the other. This is a guy with all the makings of an all-time great. He might end up in the top-15, even top-10 all time in a few people’s lists at this rate. But is this good enough for him to gain an edge in this year’s MVP race?
Who do we got?
The Blazers are practically back to full strength right now. This will stand them in good stead for the remainder of the season. They have the 3rd-toughest remaining schedule of all teams, so they’ll need their depth for now.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, are on the other end of the spectrum. They have the 3rd-easiest remaining schedule among all teams. They also have their full complement of players back.
It seems that Doncic will finish the season stronger than Lillard, given the upward trend of his 3-point shooting. Doncic averaged 43.4% on his 3-pointers in February and March. We expect him to finish as high as 3rd in the MVP race, if not higher.