NBA Awards Rankings: MVP race heats up with Joel Embiid DQ'd

Joel Embiid won't repeat as league MVP, which leaves the door wide open for new arrivals and familiar faces.

Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander / Richard Rodriguez/GettyImages
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5. Clippers. Kawhi Leonard. 5. F. 77. player. . . Kawhi Leonard

24.2 PPG | 6.2 RPG | 3.8 APG | .528 FG% | .455 3P% | .891 FT%

The Los Angeles Clippers have been the best team in the Western Conference since James Harden achieved homeostasis. It has become borderline impossible to slow down the Clippers' three-headed monster. Harden is the NBA's most polished pick-and-roll operator. Kawhi Leonard is the NBA's premier isolation maestro, with all due respect to Jayson Tatum. And, Paul George as the No. 3 option? Well, there ain't a better No. 3 in the NBA.

It's Leonard who should be getting the MVP love, of course. Injuries have ravaged the 32-year-old's career of late, but he has been healthy and productive from the jump in 2023-24. That can always change — there isn't a single greater concern hanging over the Clippers franchise — but right now, Leonard is reminding the basketball world that the list of superior players is short. A healthy Leonard is probably the closest the NBA will get to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, at least stylistically, and the Clippers are prepared to ride him all the way to Finals contention.

Leonard has been supremely efficient at all three levels for the Clippers. He's too strong to bump off his spot as a driver. In the mid-range, he's flat-out robotic — with picturesque mechanics and a straight-line jumper that always seems to find the back of the rim. He's shooting 45.5 percent from 3-point range. All that, and Leonard remains a premier wing stopper on defense, even as the Clippers preserve him for the postseason.

His numbers don't quite stack up to the MVP field on paper, largely because of how balanced the Clippers' offense is, but Leonard has been virtually perfect in his role. We know he can crank it up one notch or several once the games start to really count. For now, he should still get MVP votes for the well-roundedness of his contributions, even if his PPG number pales in comparison to others on this list.