This is set to be a cracker of an NBA MVP race. While Giannis Antetokounmpo had the award all but wrapped up with time to spare last season, this one should go to the wire. Three players have put themselves clear of the chasing pack so far.
Such is the depth of top end talent, there’s a cluster of players who could bridge that gap. There will be twists and turns aplenty in this NBA MVP race before the season is up.
As of February 23rd, here’s our ranking of the top five candidates so far.
5. Steph Curry
Third in scoring and 10th in true shooting, Stephen Curry is doing it again. Teams are setting out with the lone aim of stopping Curry. He’s still scoring 30 per game on awesome efficiency.
The Warriors probably won’t finish with a strong enough record for Curry to have a real chance at a third MVP. In the most literal sense, though, he’s got to be right there. This Golden State roster would be languishing with the Timberwolves and Thunder without him.
Questions of Curry’s ability to take over without Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala have already been proved ridiculous.
4. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard isn’t as involved in the MVP conversation as he should be. The odds he’s getting right now suggest that the Blazers superstar is still an outsider to win the MVP, despite putting Portland on his back once again to keep them firmly in the Western Conference playoff picture.
Everything for Curry is true for Lillard. He’s playing through aggressive traps and double teams. He’s creating for others, and he’s draining typically outrageous shots.
Lillard is the best clutch player in the league this season. It isn’t all that close. The Blazers’ season could have easily crumbled when CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic went down. Not on Dame’s watch.
3. Nikola Jokic
It feels cruel to have Nikola Jokic down in third. His performances don’t warrant losing a place since our last NBA MVP rankings.
Denver remains underwhelming, however. That matters in MVP. The Nuggets are in the play-in spots at the time of writing – is it possible for Jokic to win the award if the Nuggets are outside the top six in the Western Conference?
Jokic needs a spectacular statistical season on offense to win MVP. He’s on that course right now, but the Nuggets still need to pull themselves towards the top four.
2. LeBron James
It’s four losses in five games for the Lakers. LeBron James still has narrative on his side. He’s still shooting the ball well and putting up great numbers, but the Lakers have been far from their best of late.
Even before this poor run, they were taken to overtime by Detroit and Oklahoma City. Many might think it’s LeBron’s MVP to lose, and perhaps that’s accurate, but if the Lakers struggle without Anthony Davis, how does that impact his candidacy?
LeBron has been awesome. He’s the best player in the league. That doesn’t mean he’s MVP as it stands.
1. Joel Embiid
Missing six games is all that stands in Joel Embiid’s way. He’s a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’s at over 65% true shooting, and he’s second in scoring. This version of Embiid is a true two-way juggernaut.
Despite recent losses, the Sixers are still atop the East. If Philly takes the one seed and Embiid plays 60+ games at this standard, it’s going to be very hard for anyone to vote against him.
This is the version of Embiid we’ve been waiting to see. His conditioning is better, he’s aggressive, and his inefficient mid-range game has transformed to a go-to for the Sixers.
Embiid would get my vote if the season ended today.