Every NBA franchise has less than 30 games to go in their season and a clear line has been drawn in the MVP race. There isn’t a lot separating the mainstream stars vying for the award, but Nikola Jokic is still the clear favourite to go back-to-back-to-back. Averaging a 25-11-10 line on a formidable Nuggets squad has him atop the pack, and with a third of the season left someone had better make their push to challenge him now.
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Honourable Mentions: Kawhi Leonard, Domantas Sabonis, Jaylen Brown, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, James Harden
10. Kevin Durant, Nets (32-20)
Season Stats (39 games): 29.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 5.3 APG; 55.9 FG%, 37.6 3P%, 93.4 FT%
Last Rank: 5th ( 5)
Sidelined since the 8th of January, KD’s slide down the ladder isn’t really his own fault. He still sits 8th in the league for scoring average (29.7 PPG), and now that he’s lost his sidekick Kyrie Irving, Durant will have to once again shoulder a heavy offensive workload when he returns to the court in the near future. It’s tough to see the path for Brooklyn’s megastar to vault himself back into the MVP mix, but there’s no doubt he’ll rise up the rungs when he’s healthy.
9. Damian Lillard, Trailblazers (26-28)
Season Stats (42 games): 30.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 7.2 APG; 46.5 FG%, 37.0 3P%, 91.5 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
Since the calendar flipped to 2023 no one has scored more points than Damian Lillard. Portland hasn’t been able to translate that to victories though, producing an 8-11 record in that stretch, although it’s through no fault of Lillard’s. Dame has scored 60, 50, and 40+ on five other occasions so far this year. Lillard will be justly rewarded for his individual brilliance by making his 7th All-Star appearance shortly, but he’s left his run too late to enter serious consideration for this year’s MVP.
8. Steph Curry, Warriors (27-26)
Season Stats (38 games): 29.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 6.4 APG; 49.5 FG%, 42.7 3P%, 92.2 FT%
Last Rank: 7th ( 1)
Another injury concern will see Steph Curry miss multiple weeks, all but ruling him out of making a push for the Michael Jordan trophy. Steph is still having one of the best individual seasons of his career, on pace to average 29/6/6 for the first time ever. The surge of Warriors W’s that we are all waiting for hasn’t eventuated, and while one half of the Splash Brothers would love to add another accolade to his extensive resume, his and the team’s focus will now shift to making sure Curry is at full fitness when the regular season comes to a close.
7. Ja Morant, Grizzlies (32-21)
Season Stats (44 games): 27.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 8.3 APG; 46.5 FG%, 32.0 3P%, 75.3 FT%
Last Rank: 10th ( 3)
I was on Ja’s case about his three-point shooting in the last MVP check-in and while he still has his struggles, there’s no doubt Morant is getting better. Knocking down nearly 35% of his long-distance attempts in January, Memphis’ lead guard is still the catalyst for their success and the Grizz still own the 7th best win-loss ledger in the entire NBA. Steven Adams’ absence has hurt their on court production in recent times, chalking up just one win from their last nine games and unless Morant goes on an absurd tear, he’ll probably reside in the second-tier of MVP contenders.
6. LeBron James, Lakers (25-29)
Season Stats (43 games): 30.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 7.1 APG; 50.5 FG%, 30.8 3P%, 76.3 FT%
Last Rank: N/A
Have you heard that LeBron James is 38 years old? People his age shouldn’t be able to average 33.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG & 8.1 APG since blowing out 38 candles, but as James continues to narrow the gap between him and Kareem, all we can do is sit back and marvel at his individual brilliance. Lakers fans would hate to imagine where their season would be without LeBron in uniform and he deserves his spot on the cusp of a top-5 ladder rung. However, when you take his entire body of work this season into account coupled with a sub .500 record, King James will remain on the outer in this award race.
5. Luka Dončić, Mavericks (29-26)
Season Stats (47 games): 33.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 8.2 APG; 50.4 FG%, 35.3 3P%, 72.8 FT%
Last Rank: 2nd ( 3)
Luka now has the second star he coveted as a teammate and if he wants to win this award, it needs to translate to some wins. No matter what his per-game averages look like at the end of the season, it will be hard to give Doncic votes if the Mavs only win 45ish games. Of course, vying for a championship and working through the necessary growing pains of having Kyrie Irving as a teammate will be his and Dallas’ primary goal for the rest of the regular season. If they can click and finish as one of the top teams out West though, Luka will be presenting a rational case to be 2023’s best individual player.
4. Jayson Tatum, Celtics (37-16)
Season Stats (51 games): 30.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.4 APG; 46.3 FG%, 35.5 3P%, 87.1 FT%
Last Rank: 3rd ( 1)
From the start of the season to now, Jayson Tatum has been producing at an elite, consistent level on the best team in the league. He scores 30+ more often than not and there’s no reason why Tatum and the Celtics shouldn’t be considered the favourites in the Eastern Conference. And yet, he still finds himself sliding slightly on the ladder as big men around the NBA stake their claim for this award. Tatum’s poor shooting over the last two weeks (under 42 FG% in his last seven games) is hurting his MVP campaign, but he still deserves to be a finalist for this trophy thanks to his superior level of play from day one.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (37-17)
Season Stats (41 games): 32.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 5.1 APG; 53.6 FG%, 27.3 3P%, 64.6 FT%
Last Rank: 4th ( 1)
Here comes Giannis and the Bucks. Currently riding an 8-game winning streak, Milwaukee is looking like the team we expected them to be at the start of the season, with a healthy Khris Middleton slowly starting to find his feet. As he reintegrates himself into the lineup, Giannis has been performing at the peak of his powers, dropping 37.5 PPG on 60.8% shooting and a league-best 14.5 rebounds a night during their undefeated run. Maintaining those averages over the rest of the season isn’t probable, or wise for Giannis and the Bucks, with their sole focus on winning a 2nd title in three seasons. If Milwaukee keeps winning and goes close to owning the best record in the league, I can see why people will be swayed to select him as the Most Valuable Player.
2. Joel Embiid, Sixers (34-18)
Season Stats (40 games): 33.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 4.1 APG; 53.1 FG%, 35.9 3P%, 85.8 FT%
Last Rank: 6th (4)
Since a double-overtime loss to the Rockets back in early December, Philadelphia has been absolutely rolling. Getting James Harden and then a healthy Tyrese Maxey back into the lineup certainly helped, but Joel Embiid has been the driving force. The Sixers offensive colossus is averaging an NBA best 34.5 PPG in the games he has played since the Houston clash, with Philly reeling off a 22-6 streak. Obviously, this group won’t be judged until we reach the playoffs, although after back-to-back years finishing runner-up, Embiid is gunning for Jokic’s crown.
1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (37-17)
Season Stats (46 games): 24.8 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 10.1 APG; 63.2 FG%, 38.5 3P%, 82.5 FT%
Last Rank: 1st
In the latest edition of ‘absurd Nikola Jokic stats’ the Denver center is now leading the entire league for total assists. He has also chalked up the most triple-doubles (18), sits second for double-doubles (36) and has the highest plus/minus (+9.7) we’ve seen from any player since 2021. His team is going alright as well, joining the OKC Thunder as the only squad with a top-10 offence and defence since the start of Jan. With the Nuggets holding a comfortable 4.5 game lead at the top of the conference, Jokic has put one hand on the trophy with roughly a third of the season to go.
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