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NBA MVP rankings: Nikola Jokic leads wide-open race; why DeMar DeRozan has slight edge over LeBron James

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We’re nearing the halfway point of the 2021-22 NBA season, and the MVP race is, at this moment, looking like it could come down to a photo finish. There’s a lot of context to this year’s discussion. 

Three of the top four candidates have been without an All-Star teammate for the entire season. Giannis Antetokounmpo has played just 18 games alongside Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. LeBron James is trying to keep a painfully flawed Lakers team afloat as Anthony Davis, who can’t hit a 3-pointer to save his life and hasn’t looked anything like the 2020 version that helped lift the Lakers to a title, nurses an MCL sprain. 

There’s still a long way to go. The trade deadline could shake some things up. But as of January 3, 2022, this is my MVP ranking. 

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I can’t deny it any longer. Jokic, at this point in time, is the MVP. I haven’t been willing to make that leap in my head because Denver is barely above .500, but the season this guy is having is ridiculous — even better than his MVP campaign from a year ago, which was also ridiculous. 

Right now, Jokic is the best player in the game. Close your eyes and throw a dart at an encompassing advanced metric — RAPTOR WAR, Total RAPTOR, VORP, BPM, OBPM, PER — and he’ll be leading it. He’s even leading Defensive RAPTOR and ranks second in Defensive Win Shares, and those aren’t statistical deceptions. He’s been legit awesome on the defensive end. 

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He has three game-winning blocked shots. 

All told, the Nuggets are 24.1 points per 100 possessions better when Jokic is on the court, per Cleaning the Glass. The Nets, by contrast, are 7.4 points per 100 better with Kevin Durant — who will show up on this list shortly — on the floor. He’s the only player averaging at least 25 points and 12 rebounds. Throw in his seven assists per game and nobody is in his galaxy across the board. 

And so, yes, the Nuggets are an 18-16 team entering play on Monday, but they are beating opponents by almost 10 points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor with what would rank as the league’s No. 2 overall offense and an 88th percentile defense, per CTG. There’s nothing he can do about the time he isn’t playing. 

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Giannis is well within range of his third MVP. The Bucks are 21-9 with him in the lineup and 4-0 since he returned from health and safety protocols on Christmas. Over that span, Giannis has averaged 33 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists on 58.5 percent shooting. He’s also gotten to the free-throw line over 10 times per game and knocked them down at just under a 75-percent clip. 

The Bucks, who’ve still only played 18 games with Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday all active, are 15.5 points per 100 possessions better with Giannis on the floor, per CTG, and beating opponents by 12 points per 100, a differential that trails only Curry and the Warriors on this list. 

Giannis, the league’s third-leading scorer and the only player averaging at least 25 points, 11 rebounds and one block per game, trails only Jokic in VORP, BPM and PER and Total RAPTOR. 

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3. Stephen Curry, Warriors

Curry was the frontrunner for a long time and for many people he still may be, but his shot has been off long enough — relatively speaking — for me to drop him in the rankings. 

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Curry was shooting under 40 percent from 3 until he went 6 for 12 in a win against Utah on Saturday. He made just 40 percent of his shots in the month of December. His 43.4 overall shooting percentage would go down as a career low. He has never been worse, by a wide margin, from the midrange. 

All this said, I’m admittedly holding Curry against his own historically high shooting standards. For anyone else in the universe, 40 percent from 3 on an NBA record 13.5 attempts per game would have our heads spinning. For Curry, we say he’s struggling. 

Ultimately, the Warriors have the best record in the league (27-6 with Curry playing) and are outscoring opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court. He’s the league’s fourth-leading scorer, continues to rank among the elite of the elite in all the advanced stats, and projects to get even better upon the imminent return of Klay Thompson, who should distract a few of those defenders that have been swarming to Curry in packs.

4. Kevin Durant, Nets

If Jokic has been the best player, Durant isn’t far off and the Nets are a top-two seed. I wouldn’t be surprised if voters put KD ahead of Curry and Antetokounmpo at this point in time. Frankly, he could be the leader right now and I wouldn’t argue too much. The top four really do feel like a tossup. 

Durant will get points for carrying Brooklyn to this point without Kyrie Irving and with James Harden looking like a shell of himself through the early going. 

Despite facing multiple defenders everywhere he turns, Durant continues to shoot a preposterous 58 percent on long midrange shots (between 14 feet and the 3-point line) and 53 percent on all midrange shots, per Cleaning the Glass, both of which would register as career highs. 

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Durant leads the league in scoring and has been held under 20 points just one time the entire season. 

5. DeMar DeRozan, Bulls

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After the pretty much indisputable top four, things get really interesting at the No. 5 spot. To me, with respect to Joel Embiid, who is carrying the Sixers and could be in the middle of this list by season’s end, the top two current candidates are DeRozan and LeBron James, the latter of whom is on a scoring tear trying to keep an otherwise bad Lakers team afloat in the Western Conference playoff race. 

LeBron scored 26 in a win over the Timberwolves on Sunday. Prior to that, he had scored 30-plus in seven straight games. On Friday, he became the oldest player in history to post 40 points and 14 rebounds, putting up 43 in a win over the Blazers. LeBron is second to Durant in scoring and his 15 30-point games leads the league. The Lakers are a disaster without him — 10th percentile offensively, per CTG. Forget the age qualifier: James has been awesome and is still clearly one of the very best players in the world. 

Still, I’m going with DeRozan for the No. 5 spot in a near coin flip. He’s been nothing short of sensational all season. He just became the first player in history to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater in two consecutive games, and he’s been magical in the clutch all year, his 67 total points — on 55 percent shooting — in the final five minutes of five-point games registering second only to Embiid, who is playing like a madman in the biggest moments. 

Truth be told, both LeBron and Embiid are better players than DeRozan, but the narrative matters here. DeRozan is at the center of a total Bulls turnaround. People clowned the contract Chicago game him and for years have dismissed him as an inefficient stat guy. We’ve grown somewhat numb to LeBron’s brilliance and the Sixers, for all of Embiid’s dominance, are easy to forget about down around the play-in cut line. 

The DeRozan story is fresh. It matters. Or at least I think it will to voters. All told, the Bulls are 15.7 points per 100 possessions worse with DeRozan off the court, per CTG, and they’re beating opponents by almost 10 points per 100 with him on, a number equal to that of Jokic’s impact on the Nuggets. Most importantly, the Bulls, a team most people picked to hover around the play-in line, have the best record in the East. That has to count for a lot. 

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Patriots’ Mac Jones made his preseason debut against the Panthers. Here’s how it went.

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The last time New England quarterback Mac Jones took the field for a game, the Patriots lost, 47-17, against the Buffalo Bills in the 2021 AFC wild card round. On Friday night, Jones got to see some playing time under the lights, as he started in the home game against the Carolina Panthers

Jones did not play in the team’s preseason premiere against the New York Giants, but he got his chance to kick off his sophomore year during Week 2 of the preseason.

From warmups to the team entrance, Jones was fired up to be in front of the Gillette Stadium crowd, and the home fans reciprocated the love.

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The Patriots offense got off to a slow start, going three-and-out on its first and second offensive drives. Its third drive was a different story, going 10 plays for a touchdown.

The highlight of the series was a beautiful 45-yard completion from Jones to receiver Nelson Agholor that set them up well for the eventual score. 

Jones, who changed his offseason workout routine and has been open about his diet, showed off his athletic ability by rushing in the red zone for seven yards. Then, a two-yard run from Ty Montgomery put the Patriots on the board to give them the lead. Jones was done for the night after that, finishing 4-for-8 for 61 yards.

The second season for a highly drafted quarterback, especially one who starts in his first year, is an integral one, and while Jones’ preseason debut was nothing crazy, he was able to shake the rust off.

Heading into a season where he knows the coaching staff and is familiar with the offense, Jones should improve from his rookie year. Training camp was not too impressive for the offense, which has no official coordinator and instead will be led by a combination of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia, two coaches with not much offensive experience.

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However, the connection between Jones and Agholor is what concerned fans can look at for hope as the preseason soon comes to a close.



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Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns finally clash on SmackDown! | WWE on FOX

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Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns finally stepped into the ring face-to-face, leaving The Universal Champion on the ground without his titles. 



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‘It’s everything’: Johnson leads Canada through semifinal for chance at gold – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — After an undefeated run through their first six tests at the 2022 World Junior Championship, Canada will meet its biggest on Saturday night, under the lights at Rogers Place. The red and white are going for gold.

“It’s everything,” Canadian standout Logan Stankoven said of the opportunity awaiting them, a wide grin spread across his face after his side took down Czechia 5-2 on Friday to advance. “There’s no place I’d rather be than playing for the gold tomorrow, on our home soil, in front of the fans.”

For the second straight game, it was Stankoven and his linemates who played a lead role in guiding Canada to the win column, he and wingers Kent Johnson and Tyler Foerster keeping their crown as the team’s most dominant line heading into the tournament’s finale.

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After Stankoven took his turn at a dominant performance to clinch Wednesday’s quarterfinal, Friday’s tilt was Johnson’s time to show the world what he can do.

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The Columbus Blue Jackets prospect was certainly due for a big night. Entering this semifinal with the most shots of any skater in the tournament, and only one goal to show for it — albeit a spectacular one that saw him pull off The Michigan — Johnson finally saw the floodgates creak open a little bit more on Friday.

It started as it has for his line the past few games — a dominant shift in the offensive zone in which he, Stankoven and Foerster whirled around the opposing defenders looking for the right moment to strike. Eventually, it came on the heels of a Stankoven-to-Foerster look, the chance leading to a rebound that found Johnson in the slot. After pouring on shot after shot every game for the past two weeks, the 19-year-old made no mistake.

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But it was as a setup man in the second period that Johnson truly flexed his offensive muscle. Ten minutes into the frame, he was dancing along the wall and drawing defenders towards him before flipping a beautiful backhand over to a streaking Stankoven, who put it away. Five minutes later, he was loading up a slapper at the top of the point on the power play, only to fake out the Czech defenders and instead dish it softly to a waiting Mason McTavish, who wired home the signature one-timer he’s burned many a goalie with during this tournament.

“It’s just incredible some of the passes he makes,” Stankoven said of Johnson post-game. “The things he does are crazy, and it just goes to show how great of a player he is. He’s pretty nifty.”

Added Connor Bedard, who added to Canada’s goal tally with a gorgeous snipe of his own in the first period: “He’s probably the smoothest player I’ve ever seen, just the way he can find seams and look guys off.”

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Key to Johnson’s standout performance over the course of the tournament has been the two players he’s been able to hop over the boards with, too. While the rest of Canada’s lineup has seemed in constant flux, with head coach Dave Cameron shuffling his lines in search of the right combination of skill-sets — even splitting up Bedard and McTavish for Friday’s semifinal — the trio of Johnson, Stankoven and Foerster has been a no-doubter game in and game out.

“I think [it’s] just our compete level, and being able to create chances off the forecheck,” Stankoven said of why his line has been able to emerge as the squad’s best. “I thought at the beginning of the tournament there wasn’t as much of that, but as the tournament’s gone on we’ve found our chemistry and know where each other are, so it’s been great.”

Even with the sterling night from the trio, putting away Czechia — who entered Friday’s game fresh off upsetting the similarly-undefeated Americans — was no easy assignment. Things got particularly dicey in the second period, as the Czechs picked up steam and started making a strong push, peppering Dylan Garand from all angles.

The netminder stayed calm and composed, looking as unflappable as he has each time he’s been in the cage over these past two weeks, holding the Czechs at bay.

In the third, though, Czechia finally made things interesting, sniping twice in a two-minute span to cut the host’s lead in half, before Joshua Roy tucked home Canada’s fifth to put his team’s minds at ease.

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“They’re a good team and they didn’t get away from their game at all. They pushed back, and they wanted to climb their way back into the game,” Stankoven said of that late chaos. “Obviously when they made it 4-2, we realized, ‘Hey, we’ve got to shut this thing down and make sure that we play well enough defensively.’ And that fifth goal sealed the game.”

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With Czechia dispatched, the page now turns to Saturday night, where months of preparation and weeks of toil out on the Rogers Place ice will culminate in one 60-minute chance at history.

“We’re going for the gold. That’s what we come for,” coach Cameron said of the task at hand. “It’s not going to be easy. I mean, the last couple of games showed the nitty gritty of it — it’s a grind. So, we’re excited about the challenge, but we also realize it’s going to be a battle.”

If there’s any solace to be taken, it’s that the red and white will march into the tournament’s finale with some experience under their belt, a number of this 2022 group’s leaders having claimed gold at last year’s U18 Championship in Texas.

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Bedard, Stankoven, and Brennan Othmann all put up goals in the gold-medal game during that championship run. That education is crucial, Cameron explained, because there’s simply no other way to get it.

“One of the things you can’t practice is pressure,” the coach said. “You can talk about it all you want, but the pressure of the game, the pressure of a shootout, and all that — you can practice it until hell freezes over, but you can’t duplicate that pressure.”

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On Saturday night, Canada will find out just how battle-tested they are, just how much they’ve learned on the paths that led them to this moment. For McTavish, the team’s captain, who’s dominated this tournament to the tune of eight goals and 15 points through six games, that final battle for gold can’t come soon enough.

“It’s something special,” he said Friday at Rogers Place, a maple leaf-adorned hat pulled low over his curls. “You know, it’s why you play the game. Every kid dreams about the gold-medal game.

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“Hopefully we can take advantage of the opportunity.”

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