NBA MVP Rankings: Joel Embiid climbs into the top 2 and a Nikola Jokic stat you need to see to believe

With the trade deadline approaching, the NBA’s MVP race is still wide open, and the task of finding a split between so many high-ranking candidates remains a formidable challenge. Nonetheless, Nikola Jokic becomes the fairly universally acknowledged favorite to win this third installment, which hasn’t happened since Larry Bird in the mid 80’s.

Below is my MVP ranking, which comes into play on Monday, January 23rd.

1. Nikola Jokic

What I’m about to tell you could qualify as the craziest stat you’ve heard this season, which was full of insane stats: Nikola Jokic shot at least 50 percent from the field in all but one game of the season. In his last two MVP seasons, the most consecutive games he’s shuffled without an under-50 shot performance have been nine. Now he’s up to 36 in a row after a 3-for-10 performance in late October. Absolutely awesome. And yet, this was the story of what is currently the most efficient shooting season in NBA history.

Embiid is rising fast in this race, alongside the Sixers, who are moving east in 2nd place. Since December 1, he’s been averaging 35 points per game on over 42 percent 3-point shooting. During that span, the Sixers outscored opponents by 8.7 points per game in his minutes. That’s the best point difference from anyone on this list whose name isn’t Jokic. He’s back to a mid-range machine while still increasing his at-rim frequency, and he’s the best defensive player on this list, as evidenced by Philly’s No. 7 overall defense, which is up over seven points per 100 per 100 possessions Possession falls, the glass per cleaning.

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The Mavericks lost seven of 10 and I think Doncic is at least seeded in the top four to have a realistic shot at MVP given the strength of the field. He’s easily the worst defensive player on this list, which again is a real factor in a tiebreak situation. Or at least it should be. However, no team needs its star more than Dallas needs Doncic, who, not to twist it, has been incredible all season: 33 points a game. Has his 3-point percentage above 38 since December 1st. Only Giannis and Embiid get more to the free throw line. Off-chart usage. Definition of an MVP.

Over the last seven weeks, among the players realistically considered for MVP, only Jokic has recorded a more positive points difference per game during his minutes than Durant’s plus 8.3. According to Unpredictable, Durant has hit 58 clutch shots this season — defined as having an “increased impact” on the outcome of a game — and he’s rocking just under 60 eFG on those shots.

Alongside Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo (who fell out of the top 5 in the MVP race in my opinion), Durant has a case as the league’s most impactful superstar defender while in the middle of a historically efficient midrange shooting season and is considered one of the most effective pick and roll players in the league. If anything, Durant’s recent absence only strengthens his MVP case, as the Nets lost their first four to poor teams without him.

Tatum followed a 51-point jewel against Charlotte with a 19-rebound against Golden State, both Boston wins. It’s a fine example of Tatum’s ability to lead his team to the best record in the league in all sorts of ways. He is as complete a player as we are in the league.

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Boston is still a positive team when Tatum sits (up-9.1 on; up-2.2 off), which can’t be said for any of the other guys on this list when they sit. Denver, for example, goes into the tank when Jokic sits. The Sixers are a virtual point-differentiated replica of the Celtics when Tatum plays, but go to minus 2.5 and fall off a cliff defensively when Embiid sits. Tatum, who has great teammates, shouldn’t penalize him in the MVP race, but it could potentially be a tiebreaker for some voters in a close conversation.

Still in the running

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