It is an UNREAL time to be a basketball fan. In a league where anyone can beat any team on any given night, the superstars of the hardwood are putting forth some offensive numbers that are usually only seen on 2K. Due to the ridiculous box scores we’re seeing and parity across the top of both conferences, it’s hard to get a clear picture of who deserves the pole position in the MVP rankings right now. It matters little because this race is far from done, as the league’s brightest stars start to show off their offensive supremacy.
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Honourable Mentions: Jaylen Brown, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Devin Booker, Kyrie Irving, Julius Randle
10. Ja Morant, Grizzlies (23-13)
Season Stats (31 games): 27.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 8.0 APG; 45.9 FG%, 31.1 3P%, 74.9 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
Any other year, Ja Morant would be a top-5 contender for this award, and there’s still a chance he can push himself up the ladder as the Grizz continue to roll. As it stands right now, Memphis has the 2nd best record in their conference and getting 27/6/8 from their superstar guard each night has been a driving force. It’s hard to justify why Ja isn’t higher than his fellow superstars on the ladder, but shooting 19.7% on three-point attempts in his last 10 games doesn’t help his cause. Morant might even go close to nudging 30 PPG if he fixes up his deep shooting woes, and doing so will surely vault him higher on the ladder.
9. Zion Williamson, Pelicans (23-14)
Season Stats (28 games): 26.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.5 APG; 60.2 FG%, 36.8 3P%, 71.3 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
We all expected a New Orleans surge after their success in the postseason last year, but there weren’t too many fans making the case for the Pelicans as a genuine threat to win it all. Amazingly, they’ve been without perhaps their best scorer Brandon Ingram during their recent run, with Zion Williamson instead doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Averaging a hair under 30 points in the month of December, Zion has broken through for his first ladder appearance of the season, although, it may be short-lived. A hamstring injury will sideline Williamson for ‘multiple weeks’, which is a shame because the bullocking Pelican had just started to get going.
8. Donovan Mitchell, Cavaliers (24-14)
Season Stats (33 games): 29.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.8 APG; 49.2 FG%, 41.3 3P%, 86.8 FT%
Last Rank: 8th
The last MVP check-in saw Donovan Mitchell take a dip in the ranks after his 8-point effort vs. the Raptors. This time around, things are quite different. In his first game of 2023, Mitchell produced one of the greatest scoring performances you will ever see, pouring in SEVENTY ONE points in a Cleveland comeback win! The Cavs needed every one of those 71 points to secure victory, with Donny scoring 55 in the second half + overtime to shatter the previous franchise record. He’s bound to hold down a ladder rung all season long, even if he doesn’t produce a historic scoring night every time out.
7. Steph Curry, Warriors (20-18)
Season Stats (26 games): 30.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 6.8 APG; 50.0 FG%, 43.4 3P%, 91.9 FT%
Last Rank: 4th ( 3)
A shoulder injury has halted the momentum Steph Curry was building in the MVP race, forcing him to adopt street clothes for Golden State’s last nine contests. Surprisingly, they’ve found a groove lately to claim five straight wins and keep their season afloat while Curry rests. It’s hard to envision the Warriors winning enough games to keep Steph in contention for the trophy, but if they can keep securing W’s while he gets healthy, and Curry looks like his usual heroic self when he’s back, you never ever know.
6. Joel Embiid, Sixers (22-14)
Season Stats (27 games): 33.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.6 APG; 52.8 FG%, 32.9 3P%, 84.8 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
A slower start to the season, in contrast with the other MVP contenders, has left Joel Embiid playing catch up after finishing 2nd in both of the previous two vote counts. Make no mistake, Embiid is well positioned again to stake a claim for MVP, scoring over 35 PPG in the last 12 contests, 10 of which have been Philadelphia wins. A lot of hoop heads locked in on the Sixers megastar during the preseason as their choice for the newly named Michael Jordan trophy, and despite the stacked field, I only expect him to keep climbing – providing he stays on the court…
5. Kevin Durant, Nets (25-12)
Season Stats (36 games): 29.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 5.5 APG; 56.4 FG%, 36.1 3P%, 93.1 FT%
Last Rank: 8th ( 3)
You may be surprised to learn that since Kyrie Irving returned to the court following his suspension, Brooklyn has reeled off an improbable 18-3 record. In that time, the Nets have resurrected their season and in turn, Kevin Durant’s chance of challenging for his 2nd MVP award. There’s still a lot of heavy lifting for KD to do if he wants to stay squarely in the mix, but consistent production to the tune of a 30/7/5 line every night is a great start. Like most, I’m unsure about Brooklyn’s ability to avoid distractions and stay on task, but a 12-game winning streak leaves them poised to matter in the title hunt, and Durant deserves credit for steering his ball club to success.
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4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (24-13)
Season Stats (31 games): 33.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 5.2 APG; 53.6 FG%, 24.5 3P%, 65.7 FT%
Last Rank: 1st ( 3)
Giannis didn’t do anything wrong to lose the No. 1 throne, instead, it’s more of an acknowledgment to Antetokounmpo’s rivals and their unbelievable stat lines. The Greek Freak will remain one of the favourites for the award, and a Bucks winning streak could shoot him straight back up to the podium. He has scored 40 or more in five of his last seven games, but it hasn’t translated to Milwaukee victories, with the team reeling off a 3-4 record in that span. It’s no coincidence that as the rest of the teams around the league catch up to and overtake the Bucks, the other All-NBA talent around the league is doing the same thing to Antetokounmpo in the MVP race.
3. Jayson Tatum, Celtics (26-12)
Season Stats (20 games): 30.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.6 APG; 47.4 FG%, 34.8 3P%, 85.8 FT%
Last Rank: 2nd ( 1)
Jayson Tatum is still the best player on the best team in the association and much like Giannis, it’s hard to penalise him and force him down the ladder while he continues to excel at an absurd level. Part of the reason Tatum has dipped is due to Boston’s 5-7 record over the last three weeks, with the All-Star forward doing his best to steer the Celtics to victories by maintaining his per-game averages. If the player that stole his spot wasn’t on a historic bucket binge, Tatum may have held onto the No. 2 ranking, and I still expect him to matter when voting ballots are submitted later this season.
2. Luka Dončić, Mavericks (22-16)
Season Stats (34 games): 34.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 8.9 APG; 51.1 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 73.5 FT%
Last Rank: 3rd ( 1)
I didn’t give in to recency bias and shoot Luka straight to the top rung of the MVP ladder, but his recent play and Dallas’ winning streak are making it hard for me to resist. Doncic is defying logic and compiling some eye-popping box scores while claiming seven consecutive victories – averaging video game like numbers in that span with 41.7 PPG, 11.0 RPG and 9.9 APG. Electing an annual MVP winner doesn’t revolve solely around individual statistics, but if it did, you’d be hard-pressed to ignore giving Luka your vote right now. The win total that the Mavericks end the season with will be the only thing that potentially holds him back, and it’s taking a herculean level of production from Doncic for his team to scrape by and get W’s right now. Just how long can he maintain this level of production for?
1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (24-13)
Season Stats (33 games): 25.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 9.5 APG; 62.0 FG%, 35.4 3P%, 81.3 FT%
Last Rank: 5th ( 4)
Let’s not become a victim of recency bias and ignore back-to-back winner Nikola Jokic. There are a bunch of absurd advanced statistics I could throw at you, all of which Jokic is leading, but his December averages speak for themselves. With Jamal Murray struggling and Michael Porter Jr sidelined for most of the month, Denver’s superstar reeled off 29.2 PPG, 12.3 RPG and 10.1 APG per game in 14 contests. Oh, and he shot 60.4% from the field, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double on 60% FG shooting in a calendar month. Just because he has won two in a row doesn’t mean Jokic should miss out on a third MVP trophy.
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