With NBA All-Star Weekend in the rear vision mirror, it’s time for things to get serious. Franchises are at the tipping point of their season where they are either A) fighting to hold onto their high seeding, B) fighting to squeeze into the playoff picture, or C) fighting for relevance before sending their stars in for early end of season surgeries. Amongst certain teams, you can find some of the league’s brightest stars duking it out for the coveted spot at the top of the MVP ladder. Buckle up, this race is going to go down to the wire!
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Honourable Mentions: Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell
10. Luka Doncic, Mavericks (35-24)
Season Stats (44 games): 27.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 9.2 APG; 44.9 FG%, 33.5 3P%, 73.1 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
As we reach the final stretch of games, MVP calibre Luka is starting to rear his head. A pair of games scoring 45+ in two of his final three games before the All-Star break indicates that the perennial award contender is finding form at the right time of the year for Dallas. Still, Doncic left his run too late this year and it would take something miraculous for him to legitimately enter the conversation for this year’s trophy.
9. LeBron James, Lakers (27-31)
Season Stats (41 games): 29.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.5 APG; 52.2 FG%, 35.3 3P%, 74.8 FT%
Last Rank: 10th ( 1)
Individually, LeBron couldn’t have done much more to contend for his 5th MVP award this season. King James is still riding an absurd streak scoring at least 25 points in 23 straight contests, with his last game under that threshold coming prior to Christmas! Sitting four games under .500, teams like Minnesota and Charlotte currently own a better record than the Lakers, and it’s too farfetched to assume any LBJ heroics will drag L.A.’s best player back into the award race.
8. Chris Paul, Suns (48-10)
Season Stats (58 games): 14.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 10.7 APG; 48.7 FG%, 33.0 3P%, 84.3 FT%
Last Rank: 7th ( 1)
Not only does Chris Paul’s thumb injury rule him out of contention for this trophy; it also casts some doubt over the Suns’ title legitimacy. Paul has battled multiple injury woes during his HOF career thus far, and this latest setback has even the most enthusiastic CP3 fans nervous. Hopefully, Phoenix’s floor general can come back with a clean bill of health once the real season commences and even though some didn’t view him as a serious threat for this award, his presence in a Suns uniform will be sorely missed over the next 20ish games.
7. Rudy Gobert, Jazz (36-22)
Season Stats (44 games): 15.7 PPG, 14.8 RPG, 2.3 BPG; 71.1 FG%, N/A 3P%, 68.9 FT%
Last Rank: 9th ( 2)
The Stifle Tower managed to climb up the rankings as his award peers fall around him. It doesn’t help his case to point out that the Jazz went on a 5-4 stretch while he was nursing a calf complaint, but Gobert’s presence in the paint makes him perhaps the most important defensive player in the league. It’s hard for a player only averaging 15 PPG to make a serious push for MVP honours though, meaning Utah’s man in the middle is destined to stay in the bottom half of the ladder.
6. Ja Morant, Grizzlies (41-19)
Season Stats (46 games): 26.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.9 APG; 49.5 FG%, 33.0 3P%, 75.5 FT%
Last Rank: 8th ( 2)
Make no mistake, Morant deserves his spot near the top of the rankings. While Memphis’ third-year phenom won’t likely win the award, he’s certainly taken the leap this season from up-and-coming star to a legitimate franchise player. Hurting his case is the fact that Ja is shooting just 25.3% from three-point land in 2022, but we can expect to see Morant in the MVP race for years to come.
5. Steph Curry, Warriors (42-17)
Season Stats (54 games): 25.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.3 APG; 42.7 FG%, 37.9 3P%, 91.9 FT%
Last Rank: 3rd ( 2)
One hot shooting stretch is all that likely separates Steph Curry from another rise up the ladder. The race leader after a dozen or so games, an uncharacteristically cold stretch shooting the ball has hurt Curry’s case for a 3rd Maurice Podoloff Trophy, but it hasn’t slowed down the Warriors in any capacity. With Chris Paul succumbing to injury, if Steph can go nuclear and Golden State emerges as the proud owner of the best record in the league, we might see Curry make a late push for MVP honours.
4. DeMar DeRozan, Bulls (38-21)
Season Stats (55 games): 28.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 5.1 APG; 51.7 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 86.6 FT%
Last Rank: 4th (level)
With roughly three-quarters of the season behind us, no one would’ve predicted that the Bulls are the proud owner of the best record in the East, and yet, here we are. While injuries pile up around him, a career-best season from DeMar DeRozan has been a large reason for their climb, with Chicago’s main option breaking a record set by Wilt Chamberlain for the most consecutive games (7) scoring 35+ points while shooting over 50%. Anytime you break a scoring record set by Wilt, you know you’re doing something right.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (36-24)
Season Stats (49 games): 29.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 6.0 APG; 54.7 FG%, 30.9 3P%, 72.1 FT%
Last Rank: 2nd ( 1)
A lot of us are expecting a double-digit winning streak from Milwaukee any week now, with such a streak sure to add fuel to Giannis’ MVP fire. The dual winner has once again put forth a special statistical season and yet the Bucks have still plodded along throughout the regular season without much fuss. Of course, the reigning champs will have their eyes on bigger prizes once the playoffs commence, but for Anteotokounmpo to move up on this ladder, he’ll need his supporting cast to keep up their end of the bargain. Or, he can simply put up monster numbers like these each night, whatever works.
2. Joel Embiid, 76ers (35-23)
Season Stats (46 games): 29.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 4.5 APG; 49.5 FG%, 36.9 3P%, 81.3 FT%
Last Rank: 6th ( 4)
The league’s leading scorer has SURGED up the MVP rankings through the middle portion of the season, with most casual hoop heads ranking Joel Embiid as the favourite for the award moving forward. The arrival of James Harden may have a slight impact on Embiid’s per-game numbers, but it will also likely boost their total number of W’s and improve Philly’s position in the East standings. It’s hardly his race to lose given the competitive field around him, but it appears as though Embiid is in pole position for his first major career accolade.
1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (33-25)
Season Stats (52 games): 26.0 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 7.8 APG; 57.0 FG%, 37.2 3P%, 80.8 FT%
Last Rank: 1st (level)
Earlier this week, as Steph Curry went nuclear and LeBron James tried to recapture the hearts of his hometown crowd, Nikola Jokic went about his business in idiosyncratic fashion without even trying. In just 21 minutes the distinguished Denver Nugget totalled 10 points (on just 5 shots), 9 rebounds and 8 assists, once again showing off his versatility and play-making chops while surrounded by his superstar peers. Of course, it was only an All-Star Game, but the ease at which Jokic amassed these numbers highlights why he has a chance of going back-to-back as the league’s MVP.
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