We have already seen the writing on the wall since we entered the second half of the regular season. The NBA MVP race in 2023 is down to three equally deserving superstars whose teams are primed for championship contention in the playoffs.

NBA MVP race 2023: Who deserves the award?

With Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum stationed at the 4th spot in most NBA MVP race 2023 polls, a close finish is brewing among Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.

If one of these players wins the hardware, there’s no way that the winner will be included in the list of least deserving MVPs in league history.

In fact, it’s the opposite. If you’re casting a vote, it’s a win-win situation to pick Giannis, and that also applies to choosing Embiid or Jokic. There’s no clear-cut favorite for MVP this season, so let’s make a case for each of the three frontrunners.

Jokic’s historic performance on offense

  • Season averages: 24.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 3.6 turnovers, 70.2% True Shooting

Having won the MVP trophy back-to-back in the last two seasons, Nikola Jokic was one of the early candidates for NBA MVP this season. There were some hesitations, especially with how the return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. could affect his production. But so far, the Nuggets big man is still playing at an elite level on offense.

 
 
 
 

According to Basketball Reference, the Nuggets are positioned at 4th in offensive rating (117.8), which isn’t at all surprising with Jokic around. There’s no doubt that he’s the best playmaking big man in NBA history, given his ability to manipulate any defensive scheme with his vision and savvy. When he’s on the floor, he raises the bar for the Nuggets (especially on offense) unlike any other player.

Of course, Jokic is still not a great defensive player and I doubt that he would ever reach that level. As a team, the Nuggets are only ranked 16th in defensive rating (114.4), which is the main reason why pundits are still iffy about this team’s chances to win it all.

Still, Jokic leads the league in net plus-minus per 100 possessions. It tells us that despite his inability to anchor the Nuggets’ defense (and he’s not a bad defender, either), it does not diminish the elite impact he has on offense. The fact that he’s averaging 9.8 assists and leading the league in True Shooting Percentage (70.2%) is a concrete example of how Jokic can generate scoring opportunities any time he wants to.

Again, the NBA MVP race in 2023 will be tight at the finish line but I see Jokic winning his third consecutive MVP hardware.

Embiid leading the league in scoring (again)

  • Season averages: 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.7 blocks, 3.4 turnovers, 65.5% True Shooting

Since Shaquille O’Neal won the scoring title during the 1999-00 season, only one other big man has led the league in scoring the years after. From 2000 to 2021, the players who won the scoring title were either guards or wings.

Oh, and that one other big man that led the league in scoring since 2000 is Joel Embiid. The Sixers star center averaged 30.6 points during the 2021-22 season, enough to be crowned the scoring champion that year. We thought that it would be the peak of Embiid’s scoring, at least in terms of average output during the regular season. How wrong were we?

This season, Embiid has upped his scoring to 33.1 points while producing a career-best 65.5% True Shooting. Although his three-point percentage has dipped to only 33%, Embiid is still getting to the free throw line at will (85.7% on 11.7 FTA).

Embiid is doing all this while anchoring the Sixers’ defense with 2.7 stocks, so it won’t be a surprise if he wins the MVP this season.

Giannis as the league’s best two-way star

  • Season averages: 33.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 3.9 turnovers, 60.5% True Shooting

In terms of two-way impact, there’s no better player than Giannis Antetokounmpo. On defense, he rebounds the ball at a high rate and he’s one of the best help defenders around. He can literally defend positions one through five, and it’s likely that his name will end up on an All-Defensive team for the fifth consecutive year.

On offense, he’s just a monster when he’s on a downhill attack. Giannis still doesn’t have a reliable three-point shot in his arsenal, but you have to remember that this is the same guy that dropped a 50-point performance in an NBA Finals clincher.

With the Bucks’ usual second-leading scorer Khris Middleton missing a significant number of games this season, Giannis is doing a yeoman’s work on offense.

It’s not difficult to imagine Giannis winning his third MVP award this year. He’s leading the Bucks to a league-best 58-22 record, and they have clinched homecourt advantage throughout the postseason. Milwaukee is one of the most balanced teams in the league, reflecting their star player’s tremendous body of work on both ends of the floor.

It may also be that the Greek Freak won’t be able to bag the MVP trophy this season, but his sights are surely set on winning 16 games in the playoffs.

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