So after plenty of deliberation, here's how my ballot would
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Put simply, Nikola Jokic is in the process of authoring one of
the greatest statistical seasons the NBA has ever witnessed. He is
averaging a mind-boggling 26.3 points (on 57.6% shooting), 13.6
rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks in just 33.2
minutes per game. He leads the Nuggets in each of those statistical
categories, and is on pace to become just the fifth player in
league history to finish a season ranking in the top 10 in points,
boards and dimes. (The other four are Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin
Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.)
Despite playing without star guard Jamal Murray and forward
Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets are currently 14 games above .500.
The team's second-leading scorer is Will Barton. Monte Morris is
second on the team in assists. Aaron Gordon is Denver's second-best
rebounder. Yet, thanks to Jokic's all-around brilliance, the
Nuggets trail the Northwest Division's first-place Jazz by just a
When it comes to advanced metrics, Jokic's production is even
more prolific. He leads all players in RAPTOR, LEBRON and ESPN's
RPM this season. Oh, and he's on track to record the highest
single-season PER (32.68) and best Box Plus-Minus (13.83) in NBA
To help put Joker's 2021-22 stats in context, consider this:
- He is averaging more rebounds than Tim Duncan or Hakeem
Olajuwon in their MVP seasons.
- He is averaging more assists than Stephen Curry or Derrick Rose
in their MVP seasons.
- He is averaging more points than Charles Barkley or Julius
Erving in their MVP seasons.
- He is shooting a higher percentage from the floor than
Shaquille O'Neal or Moses Malone during their MVP seasons.
- He is shooting a higher percentage from three-point range than
LeBron James in either of his first two MVP seasons.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Make no mistake, Joel Embiid is worthy of winning the MVP Award.
The Sixers were seemingly skidding out of control in the weeks and
days leading up to the start of the 2021-22 campaign, all due to
the drama and uncertainty surrounding the Ben Simmons saga. But ,
Embiid put the team on his back and got them off to a good start,
and they haven't looked back.
The big man's overall numbers are jaw-dropping: 29.9 points,
11.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 made
three-pointers per game. He currently ranks second in the league in
scoring (just 0.2 points per game behind LeBron James), and Philly
is just a game behind the Heat for the best record in the Eastern
Conference. (Each of the last four players to lead the NBA in
scoring on a team that finished the year with the league's best
record went on to win MVP that season: Curry, James Harden, Shaq
and Michael Jordan.)
Like Jokic's Nuggets, the Sixers are wholly dependent on Embiid
to carry them each night, as evidenced by Philly's 6-11 record when
he sits or scores fewer than 18 points. The team averages 114.4
points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor, and that number
plummets all the way down to 106.8 when he is on the bench.
It's also crucial to note that Embiid has been at his best in
big moments. According to NBA.com, he leads the NBA in total points
(147) scored in the clutch this season (Jokic ranks second). In
crunch time, Embiid is shooting 48.9% from the floor and a
scorching 45.5% from downtown.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo has seemed to fly under the radar this
season. That may be because he is just a year removed from winning
back-to-back regular-season MVPs, and less than 10 months removed
from capturing NBA Finals MVP for his otherworldly performance that
led Milwaukee to its first title in 50 years. However, let's not
take for granted the fact that this man is averaging a career-high
29.7 points on 55.0% shooting to go along with 11.6 boards, 5.8
dimes 1.1 treys, 1.4 blocks and a steal per contest. He's on pace
to become the first player in over 30 years to average more than 29
points while shooting above 55% from the floor and 70% from the
And as we know, Giannis is also dominant on the defensive end.
In fact, he's currently ranked No.1 on NBA.com's latest ranking of
the league's top defenders. The only players to ever finish in the
top-three in scoring and win the Defensive Player of the Year in
the same season were Hakeem Olajuwon (during his MVP campaign in
1993-94) and Michael Jordan (during his MVP season in 1987-88). In
most other years, Giannis would be a heavy favorite to take home
4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
The Celtics were sitting at .500 in mid-January, but Jayson
Tatum has played at an MVP-caliber level in the three months since,
catapulting Boston up to the No. 1 seed in the East for a brief
moment this past weekend. During this 30-game stretch, he has
averaged 29.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.7 made
triples, while slashing .495/.394/.880.
On the season, the Celtics have outscored their opponents by 608
points with Tatum on the floor, which is the highest individual
plus/minus in the entire league. On Monday, he was named the East's
Player of the Week for the third time in March. The only other
player in NBA history to win the award three times in the same
month is LeBron James in January 2012.
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
After a slow start to the season for both Doncic and Dallas,
Luka has been a beast, and the Mavs have climbed up to fourth place
in the Western Conference standings. Dating back to late December,
Dallas has won 30 of its last 41 games, and is 17 games above .500.
Since New Years, Luka has averaged 29.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and
8.5 assists per contest.
He has led the Mavericks in points, rebounds and assists in the
same game 28 times in 2021-22. Although he'll likely finish outside
the top three in MVP voting this season, Doncic continues to
establish himself as one of the most prolific young players the
league has ever seen.
Just Missed the Top
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Good tidbit via StatMuse: Devin Booker is on pace to become just
the 10th player in NBA history to average 25/5/5 on a team that
finishes a season with a winning percentage above .800. Eight of
the previous nine players in the exclusive club went on to win the
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant has posted dazzling numbers whenever he's been on the
floor. The fact that he leads the NBA in points in the paint this
season is almost unimaginable. And the Grizz have been arguably
this season's most pleasant surprise. However, Morant has missed 20
games, and Memphis is 18-2 (!!) without him in the lineup.
Best of the Rest: Kevin Durant,
Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry, LeBron James,
Trae Young, Chris Paul