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Predicting the 2021 NBA MVP

Michael Holley and Mike Smith stress the importance of appreciating how LeBron James undoubtedly remains the No. 1 ranked NBA player entering his 18th season.

Kurt Helin: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

This year’s MVP race feels more wide open than we have seen in years. Giannis Antetokounmpo will be in the mix but it’s incredibly rare for a player to win three in a row (the last one to do it was Larry Bird). How James Harden is handling his trade demands in Houston will not help his narrative. LeBron James is the best player on the planet, but he’s more focused on the playoffs than the regular season.

That opens the door for a lot of young stars. Luka Doncic could walk away with it, Anthony Davis will be in the mix, but I’ll place my bet on Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets’ talent and continuity will have them at or near the top of the West, and if Jokic is again putting up an efficient 20 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists a game, he’s going to get a lot of votes. Jokic’s defense used to hold him back, but he’s become a quality defender that fits well in Denver’s system.

Dan Feldman: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

I’d take the field over any single player. Heck, I’d take the field over any two players. But I’m trying not to overthink the most likely selection.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the NBA’s best regular-season player each of the last two years and is just 26. He should be favored to win his third straight MVP. Voter fatigue will hurt him, both because he has won the last two years and because he has underwhelmed in the playoffs. Voters won’t want to keep rewarding someone who doesn’t look like the best player in the world, even if he has the best regular season. Declining his super-max extension could also cast a cloud over him and the Bucks this season. But Antetokounmpo consistently plays hard, and Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer always maximizes his teams in the regular season. At very minimum, Antetokounmpo should make a compelling case.

That’s more than I can say about Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, who’s a fresher candidate but not yet in shape. Voters will look for reasons to pick LeBron James, but he could take it easy this regular season after a short turnaround from the bubble. Ditto Lakers co-star Anthony Davis. Stephen Curry will have to carry a huge load for the Warriors, and he’s darned good in that role. But I’m hesitant after getting burned picking him last year. I also wouldn’t rule out the Nets’ Kevin Durant… or several other players. This field looks wide open – unless Antetokounmpo is again undeniable.