The halfway point of the 2023-24 NBA regular season has arrived, offering the perfect opportunity to analyze this year's Most-Valuable-Player race.
The favorites include Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The OKC superstar is the lone player in the group who has not received the accolade, making him the most exciting to discuss.
Gilgeous-Alexander is leading the Thunder to one of their most impressive seasons in recent memory. The 25-year-old has Oklahoma City sitting as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a 27-13 record. He is having his best statistical season yet, averaging 31 points, 6.3 assists and 2.3 steals on 55.2% shooting from the field and 32.6% from beyond the arc.
His ability to score at all three levels at 6-foot-6 is what separates him from the superstar big men. While Embiid and Jokic can knock down a three-pointer on a consistent basis, they lack the ability to create their own shot from beyond the arc. Gilgeous-Alexander uses his speed to create for himself inside the paint, which leads to opportunities away from the rim due to expectations of an attack.
NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal believes that SGA has surpassed Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic.
“I’m gonna have to take [SGA]. Luka is a fabulous player, but this kid? He plays the right way [and] gets his teammates involved,” O’Neal said on TNT. “I’m taking him right now. He’s a hell of a player right now.”
Shaq says he'd take SGA over Luka right now 👀— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 17, 2024
“I’m gonna have to take [SGA]. Luka is a fabulous player but this kid? He plays the right way [and] gets his teammates involved. … I’m taking him right now. He’s a hell of a player right now.” pic.twitter.com/apYBmLT5Am
There’s no denying that SGA is leading his team to a more successful year on paper. It remains to be seen if Gilgeous-Alexander can emerge as the MVP frontrunner over his 7-foot competitors.
Embiid’s downfall may be the newly implemented 65-game rule, where a player must take part in a minimum of 65 games to be eligible for major awards. He has missed 10 of Philadelphia’s 39 games this season. Not to mention, the six-time All-Star may have to deal with voter fatigue.
Expectations for Jokic are higher due to the fact that he consistently posts phenomenal box scores. Not to mention, he’s already a two-time winner of the award (so voter fatigue is also a factor with him). His situation is similar to that of LeBron James. The 19-time All-Star has received MVP four times in his career, but the Los Angeles Lakers superstar has arguably been the NBA's top player for more than a decade throughout his career.
The second half of the season will act as the determining factor, but right now, SGA is performing on par with the other MVP favorites.