NBA MVP race - Giannis, Jokic and Embiid lead the field
With many other issues (sporting and not) dominating eyeballs over the last couple of months, you might have missed what has been playing out as the race to the NBA playoffs gathers steam.
With all due respect to Luka Doncic, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Ja Morant, Stephen Curry and Jayson Tatum who are all having very good seasons that normally would see them feature in the MVP debate, there are three players who are playing at all-time great levels.
The stars in question are Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets. The body of work this season from all three has been incredible, each has a PER above 31 according to ESPN, which would sit in the top 10 all-time for all players.
Giannis, Embiid and Jokic were all born within a year of each other, as they enter their peak years at 27 years-old they are re-establishing the dominant big man as the face and future of the NBA.
Last season's MVP, Nikola Jokic, is (remarkably) showcasing better career numbers this year than ever before. He is essentially putting up 26-14-8 on 57% shooting, with 18 triple-doubles! His defense has improved too. The Joker has been doing all this for a Denver Nuggets team that has been without the second and third best players all season. If you were to look at fivethirtyeight’s advanced RAPTOR player statistics you would conclude that he is the runaway MVP favorite, leading the rest of the field by nearly double the total RAPTOR.
Jokic and the Nuggets faced off against Curry and the Warriors on Monday night, winning 131-124 and highlighting his unique case to win his second award. The Joker finished the night with 32 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists.
“We played against the reigning MVP, who probably should win it again,” Kerr told reporters after the game. “I don’t have a vote, but Jokic is just an unbelievable player and was spectacular tonight. He makes all his teammates better. He makes defense so difficult because no matter what you do, he’s got a counter for it. He’s playing the game at such an easy pace and things look so smooth for him out there. With our defense already coming into this game struggling, he’s a tough guy to face when you’re not well-connected at that end of the floor.”
Joel Embiid is in the honeymoon period with new signing James Harden, who has so far - over 5 games - elevated the 76ers overall play. As the only one of the big 3 yet to win an MVP, he is not facing any voter fatigue that might impact Giannis and Jokic.
Embiid leads the league in scoring with ten 40+ scoring games whilst operating on a less talented team all year long, keeping them in contention in the competitive Eastern conference. The 76ers survived half a season of drama with Simmons and are looking at a top-2 seed in the playoffs. Should he finish the regular season as the scoring champion it will be the first time since 2000 and Shaquille O’Neal that a center lead the league in scoring, the year the Hall of Famer won his only MVP award.
On the same day that Nikola Jokic dropped his gaudy stat line for the Nuggets victory over the Warriors, Embiid went toe-to-toe with him (43 points and 14 rebounds) as the 76ers handled the Chicago Bulls, 121-106. With James Harden here to shoulder some of the load, MVP-frontrunner Embiid just needs to close the rest of the season as he started.
The list of players who have averaged 29-11-6? Oscar Robertson (1961-62) and Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. That’s it. Now this shouldn’t come as a surprise, Giannis is simply a basketball unicorn and the most accomplished of the Big 3, having won two MVPs, a Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and a NBA Championship already in his career. His unstoppable nature has drawn comparisons (even by the man himself) to Shaquille O’Neal.
Giannis and the reigning champion Bucks are rounding into form at the perfect time, over the last 15 games, Antetokoumpo is averaging 31.7 points on 57.8% shooting, 12.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists. For much of the season Giannis has carried the load for Milwaukee, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton’s return to health will help the Bucks gain championship momentum for the final 20 or so games. If this happens, It wouldn’t surprise me to see Giannis swoop in for his third MVP.
With a month of basketball left the differences between all three are close enough that arguments can be made for each one. How all three superstar big men navigate the final stretch could well be the deciding factor.
2022 Regular Season Winner Odds
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers) -120
Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) +140
Giannis Antetokoumpo (Milwaukee Bucks) +850
DeMar DeRozen (Chicago Bulls) +1800
Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies) +2000
Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) +4000