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African Blogtable: Top picks for this season’s NBA MVP race

Every month the African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent to answer some of the most pressing questions related to the 2020-21 NBA season.

This month we ask our team “Who is your top MVP (most valuable player) candidate this season? As the race to the play-in tournament heats up, are we going to see any surprises when the final playoffs berths get set?”

Refiloe Seiboko, Mail & Guardian (South Africa): Honestly, I don’t have a concrete singular vote for this season yet — so much could still happen! Also, conversations need to be had about what “most valuable” really means, because by that standard, I’d go with Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard as frontrunners. Otherwise, if you factor in team standings, Nikola Jokic definitely deserves top votes as well as Joel Embiid.

I really enjoyed the upsets in the bubble last season, so I’m hoping that there will be some. With it being such a strange season and so many teams not having been able to play to their full potential, I expect some surprise performances from lower-seeded teams around the play-in tournament.

Amine El Amri, Le Matin (Morocco): I think it’s fair to say it’s Nikola Jokic. The Joker has not missed a game this season and his importance to the Denver Nuggets is just overwhelming. For any other franchise, losing a point guard star like Jamal Murray would eventually mean the end of any ambition. And yes, Murray’s injury is a huge blow, but with the Joker in charge, Denver fans shouldn’t be worried. That’s an MVP for you. Too bad for our Joel Embiid whose candidacy was clearly set back by an injury.

With such a level of competition and in a very unique context (limited number of fans, some games postponed or canceled), I think there will be more than one surprise in the playoff starting blocks. In the East, the Pacers, Raptors or Wizards are all serious contenders for the play-in tournament, at the very least. Anything can happen from there. In the West, the surprise factor is even more important with teams like the Mavs, Warriors, Spurs or Pelicans likely to participate in the play-in. 

Mohamed Youssef, Filgoal.com (Egypt): I think Joel Embiid deserves an MVP because he has taken the Sixers to another level in the competition this season, defensively and offensively, and his numbers are just amazing. 

I am expecting some surprises in the playoffs and look forward to perhaps seeing different teams in the finals this year, like Philadelphia or Brooklyn in the East, and maybe the Nuggets or Clippers in the West.

Nafy Amar Fall, Wiwsport (Senegal): Joel Embiid remains my favorite for the MVP title this season. It is true that he has missed a good number of games (18) and was a little slowed down by his knee injury, but he made a good comeback, especially against the Mavericks, and still has time to showcase himself even more. 

As for the race for the playoffs, I think Golden State and Dallas will make a strong push in the Western Conference. In the East, Miami or Indiana could bring some surprises.

Stuart Hess, IOL (South Africa): He may have missed a few games, but it is still Joel Embiid. He’s averaging almost 30 points per game, grabs 11 rebounds per game, and has the 76ers battling with star-studded Brooklyn for the top seed in the East.

Are the Knicks a “surprise?”  Given that no one gave them a chance at the start of the season, maybe they do fit in that category. But Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have them in the mix for a playoff spot in the East, and that is a sign of progress for a team that has been a laughing stock for far too long. 

Woury Diallo, Le Quotidien (Senegal): I vote James Harden. There are plenty of contenders for the MVP of the season and for once, the race for the league title promises to be very uncertain. 

Between LeBron James, Anthony Davis or Joel Embiid’s recent injuries, others may get a chance to get into that inner circle. This is the case with James Harden. Having got off to a good start with the Nets, he can claim the title this year.

As can Nikola Jokic … With his incredible stats, he keeps Denver in the contention. However, Jamal Murray’s injury puts a question mark on the Nuggets’ title aspirations and on Jokic’s MVP chances. The season is still not finished though …

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Refiloe Seiboko
Subeditor at Mail & Guardian

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