The NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award is rich with history in the basketball world with the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and LeBron James among the many greats to have been recognized for their individual achievements throughout a season.
This year, the race to become the league’s regular season MVP has reached a boiling point and is set to heat up even further with games running out for those vying to take home the prize.
The debate surrounding the accolade has taken over the NBA discourse with multiple players still having valid cases to win the newly renamed Michael Jordan Trophy.
How is the MVP decided?
The award is decided by a panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters across the US and Canada. Each panelist will vote for their top five players from the regular season.
A first-place vote is worth 10 points, second place is worth seven, third is worth five, fourth is worth three and a fifth-placed vote is worth one point.
These votes are then added up and the winner is the person with the most combined points.
What’s the latest?
As we approach the end of the regular season, there are three players well ahead of the rest of the field.
While the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Dončić and the Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum have previously topped the NBA’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, the pair’s performances have tailed off towards the back end of the season – leaving three players to battle it out.
Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo have pulled away from the rest of the pack and have less than a week to reaffirm their credentials.
If ESPN’s final MVP straw poll is anything to go by, the race between Embiid and Nikola Jokić could be the closest race in history. Embiid is currently leading Jokić by a mere two points.
With fans, analysts, and players all weighing in on the discussion, what’s the latest in the MVP race?
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
At the time of writing, Embiid of the 76ers is currently the slight favorite for the prize after an incredible run of form in Philadelphia – a reward many will feel is deserved after his dominance in the NBA over the last three years.
Embiid’s position as favorite was arguably solidified by his latest monster performance which could go a long way in helping decide who takes home the MVP trophy.
The Sixers’ star dropped a huge 52 points, on 20-25 shooting from the floor, to partner 13 rebounds and six dimes in an imperious display against the Boston Celtics.
Through no fault of his own, Embiid has missed out on the MVP trophy and a spot in the All-NBA First Team for the past two seasons – thanks to Jokić’s supremacy and NBA voting stipulations – but could finally land a huge accolade this year.
The Cameroonian currently leads the NBA in scoring with an extraordinary 33.3 points per game (PPG).
This comes after the center topped the charts last year, becoming the first player at the position since four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal to win the scoring title and the first center to average over 30 PPG in 40 years – Embiid averaged 30.6.
Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry believes that this jump is the reason why Embiid should be crowned MVP.
Asked by Bleacher Report about his pick for the award, the two-time former MVP said: “I would say Joel [Embiid].”
“Joel took a leap that I think a lot of people didn’t expect because he was dominant already,” Curry continued. “That leap turned heads and put [the Sixers] in a great position. If I had to pick, it would be him.”
Like Curry, the seven-footer possesses the delicate touch of a refined guard in the paint, almost unheard of for a player of his stature, but he is more than happy to turn on the bully-ball when needed – using his 280-pound frame to go at defenders.
As well as his dominance close to the basket, the Sixers star is shooting a very respectable 32.8% on his 3.1 three-point attempts per game. Again, not to be confused with a player a foot smaller than him, Embiid has scored multiple ridiculous step-back threes this season – leaving fans and defenders questioning what they have seen from a player of his size.
Not only is Embiid shooting more than he ever has before, the six-time All-Star is shooting a career best 54.7% from the field.
However, scoring is just one layer of Embiid’s multifaceted game.
The 29-year-old is a monster on defense and currently ranks fifth among the NBA’s stocks per game (steals plus blocks) leaders. Embiid averages 1.7 blocks per game with one steal per game.
Embiid has also been developing his playmaking throughout the season. As a result of constant double-teams being sent his way, the center has become more than capable of finding an open man in recent times.
This combination has made him a generational two-way player and his peers tend to agree.
After a recent match-up where Embiid dropped 46 points, Warriors forward Draymond Green said that “Joel is the hardest person to guard” in the league, after previously saying on his podcast that the MVP award is now “Joel’s to lose.”
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard also believes Embiid should be awarded the MVP.
Lillard said on the Dan Patrick Show: “I think because he’s been the most dominant player, you can’t continue to give it to a guy who’s won it twice in a row.”
Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets
Jokić is going for a historic three-peat of MVPs and you would be hard pressed to bet against the Serbian winning the trophy for a third successive year.
At the time of writing, Jokić has just overtaken Embiid on the NBA’s MVP ladder which leaves him in a very good position to retain the prize.
The 28-year-old has somehow maintained, or even improved, his levels from his MVP seasons – which could go a long way to help beat the famous voter fatigue which has plagued repeat winners.
Jokić is currently as close as he could possibly be to averaging a triple-double for the season.
The Nuggets star is averaging 24.9 PPG, 11.9 RPG (rebounds per game) and an agonizing 9.9 APG (assists per game) – demonstrating Jokić’s incredible all-around ability.
This is showcased further by Jokić becoming just the third player in NBA history to have 10+ games with 20-15-10 in a season – joining legendary hoopers Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson.
For this reason, Jokić is the frontrunner for many hoops fans.
Speaking to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum concurred: “I would give it [MVP award] to Joker.”
McCollum continued: “The way Jokić controls the game, it’s just – it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”
Just how Embiid moves like a guard, Jokić facilitates like no man his size has ever done before.
The 6-foot-11-inch big leaves defenders bamboozled with his ability to find gaps and spaces that nobody else in the arena can see, which combined with his ability to score, makes him almost impossible to keep under control.
Jokić has also led his Nuggets side to the top of the standings in the Western Conference, which will have some bearing on the MVP vote.
In the topsy-turvy conference where nothing can be taken for granted, the five-time All Star has helped his side maintain stability at the top of the table.
However, Jokić’s ability on the defensive end of the court has been questioned and could prove to be a stumbling block for voters who prefer Embiid or Antetokounmpo for what they do against the opposition’s offense.
Nevertheless, Jokić’s coach Michael Malone is among those backing his guy and said: “He’s the MVP, you know what I mean?”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The other frontrunner for the award, albeit some distance behind Embiid and Jokić, is Antetokounmpo.
Similarly to Jokić, Giannis has already been crowned MVP twice in back-to-back seasons – in 2019 and 2020 – and a third trophy would further cement his place among legends of the game.
‘The Greek Freak’ has had another brilliant year on both ends of the floor for the Bucks and if it wasn’t for the other leading candidates’ performances, Antetokounmpo could easily be walking away with the prize.
The seven-time All-Star has stuffed the stat sheet all season long, and it has arguably gone under the radar just how well Antetokounmpo has scored this campaign.
Antetokounmpo is averaging a career-high in points this season with 31.1 PPG. Incredibly, this is only good enough for fifth-best in the NBA but shows how he has developed his offensive game again this season.
Also like Jokić, the 28-year-old has led his team to the top of their respective conference.
The Bucks are set to finish the regular season in pole position, and as the leader of the side – especially without Khris Middleton – Antetokounmpo deserves a lot of plaudits for this.
As a result of Antetokounmpo’s impact on his position, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer believes his star forward should win the award.
When asked about the MVP race by reporters, coach Bud said: “Yeah, I mean, we certainly feel like Giannis is the MVP.
“I think what our team has been able to do – and we’ve still got some more work, you know, to have the best record in the league. But best player, best record, what he does and both ends of the court, the rebounding, the blocked shots, the defense, the guarding on the perimeter.”
While Antetokounmpo may not win MVP this season, his votes will have a huge impact on which player takes home the trophy as he could force either Embiid or Jokić into some voters’ third place.
Whatever happens and whoever takes home the prize, the recipient will be a worthy winner of the 2023 MVP award.