Nikola Jokić? Jayson Tatum? Luka Doncic? Who leads the NBA MVP race?

Nikola Jokić has an opportunity to do one thing that even Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan by no means achieved. Jokić can have an opportunity to win his third consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player award. Only three gamers in league historical past have received three straight MVPs: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.

The NBA MVP award would carry intrigue even when we low cost Jokić’s try at a three-peat. No particular person league honor carries as a lot weight.

So how is that this season’s MVP race shaping up?

To reply that query, we turned to a few members of The Athletic‘s NBA employees who voted for the award final 12 months: Zach Harper, Josh Robbins and Anthony Slater.

What are your standards for choosing the NBA’s MVP? Do you choose the greatest participant on the greatest crew? Do you select the one who posts the greatest stats?

Zach Harper: I’ve a variety of issues I keep in mind. There is not any set standards throughout the board for me as a result of each season is totally different. I strive to not examine one season to a earlier one for any participant or commonplace for why the MVP was chosen that 12 months. While I do suppose historic precedent issues, every particular person season is ideally contained inside itself.

I’m in search of fairly a bit. Player manufacturing issues. Are these historic numbers? Are these numbers few others are doing? What influence do these numbers have? Team success issues. Is a crew acting at an elite degree? Is a crew fully propped up due to this participant? Would it’s considerably worse if this participant received harm or was eliminated? Player influence. This performs into some crew success, however can this crew survive with out the participant on the flooring?

Other elements matter to me too. What’s their perceived worth, as subjective as that may be? Is the participant clutch and coming by to drag video games out when everyone is aware of he is getting the ball? What’s the narrative of the league that season, and the way does the participant’s narrative match into that?

Josh Robbins: Here’s how I distill my thought course of for this award: Which participant made the most indispensable contribution to successful for his crew? Here’s one other method of placing it: If you subtract that participant from his crew (perhaps due to damage), how a lot would his absence influence the crew’s report?

Stats matter — however they don’t seem to be the be-all, end-all. I imply, Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring throughout the 2012-13 season at 28.7 factors per recreation and led the New York Knicks to the league’s seventh-best report, however he would not have obtained my MVP vote.

The standings matter. Durability issues. And protection issues; somebody who hurts his crew on protection can be much less prone to seem atop my poll.

Anthony Slater: It’s by no means so simple as the greatest participant on the greatest crew. The Boston Celtics have the league’s greatest report. Jayson Tatum would not be in my prime three. The Phoenix Suns sprinted away from everybody with 64 wins final season. Devin Booker is nice. He did not have a practical MVP case over the higher tier of candidates. But crew wins do matter. The greater your seed, the stronger you examine that field. If you end in the Play-In or lottery, you are unofficially disqualified.

As for stats: Raw numbers matter. You’re by no means going to search out an MVP who is not amongst the league leaders in key classes. Games performed matter loads. I like candidates to log at the very least 65 to 70 video games. If you get in the 80 vary, that full quantity can actually strengthen a case. Jokić solely missed one and eight video games the final two seasons. That was an element. Beyond that, I’m not large into the deeper analytical formulation, however on/off metrics catch my eye. If you so clearly carry an inferior supporting solid, that screams worth.

Nikola Jokić has received the final two MVP awards. How a lot do you suppose voter fatigue or the want to range the winner will issue into voters’ selections this season?

Harper: While I do not are likely to imagine in voter fatigue, I can not fake it does not occur. An ideal instance of that is Giannis Antetokounmpo. He received MVP awards in 2018-19 and 2019-20. However, the Milwaukee Bucks had very disappointing or notorious flameouts in the 2019 and 2020 postseasons.

I requested sure voters (who will stay nameless right here) in the event that they had been going to think about Giannis once more for a 3rd straight MVP if he had related seasons. Almost all of them (roughly a dozen) mentioned they would not possible vote for him due to the earlier postseason shortcomings. I lump that into voter fatigue, and it makes me surprise if Jokić (who hasn’t had a ton of crew success in the postseason) may get hit with the identical factor.

Perhaps the precedent of the first back-to-back-to-back MVP since Larry Bird in the ’80s does not sit properly with some voters? All of that feels like voter fatigue components. It would not issue into my voting, however I imagine it is actual.

Robbins: I believe the want to range the winner — to be even-handed, which is a laudable objective — will issue into some voters’ selections, however not as a lot as whether or not Jokić is perceived to have had a greater season this 12 months than he had in 2021-22 and, extra importantly, whether or not the Denver Nuggets have a greater common season than they’d in 2021-22.

What Zach mentioned about how the Bucks’ postseason flameouts in 2019 and 2020 impacted the 2020-21 is worrisome to me. The outcomes of earlier postseasons, destructive or optimistic, should not have any influence on the MVP award, which is a regular-season honor.

Slater: Oh, I’m certain it’s going to matter some. It felt like Giannis took that hit a pair years in the past after he’d received two straight however nonetheless hadn’t damaged by in the playoffs. He had a stronger case that season than he was finally given credit score for. Maybe it would be a tiebreaker for sure voters. I’ll admit that I got here into the season with a bit extra of a skeptical eye on Jokić’s season from an MVP perspective. But you may’t ignore actuality. Jokić is clearly a top-three candidate up to now — the front-runner, in some eyes — and I believe the present pulse of voters would mirror that.

Can Nikola Jokić three-peat as MVP? (Bart Young/NBAE through Getty Images)

How crowded is that this 12 months’s area? In different phrases, how tough would it not be so that you can decide given what’s occurred to this point in the season?

Harper: Because of accidents round the league, I do not imagine it is as crowded as others may suppose. Booker, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis and Joel Embiid would all be up there for me with out a vital variety of video games missed. Unfortunately they’ve precisely that. Curry missed nearly a month. Booker has barely performed in three video games since Dec. 10. Embiid has already missed a dozen video games. Giannis has missed roughly a dozen video games.

Durant has solely missed seven contests, however that knee damage may take much more time from him. Jokić has missed a handful of video games, and Tatum has solely missed just a few video games. That’s not the be-all, end-all issue for this award, however after we’re sifting by a crowded area of performances, video games missed issues. Depending on how lengthy Durant’s knee takes to get him again on the court docket, I believe this can be a two-horse race with Jokić and Tatum. Luka Dončić is on my poll, however I believe he is a tier beneath these two presently.

Robbins: For now, this can be a crowded area. This is the place the variety of video games performed has a powerful affect on this award. Good Jan 7, when Durant had performed in 38 of the Brooklyn Nets’ 39 video games, Durant would have been in my prime two due to his capturing effectivity and, above all else, how he stored the Nets afloat throughout Kyrie Irving’s suspension and Ben Simmons’ early season rust. But Durant suffered a knee damage on Jan. 8, and it is tough to ascertain him enjoying sufficient video games by the finish of the season to work his method again into the combine.

Slater: Crowded, however the attrition of each common season begins to skinny it out. Curry and Durant had been very a lot in the combine a month in the past. But Curry missed just a few weeks, and Durant could miss a month together with his present knee damage. Curry’s max video games proper now’s 67, and that’ll solely drop. Durant can be someplace equally. They aren’t fully out of the image, nevertheless it’s tough to win at that lowered quantity. Zion Williamson had a second however then strained a hamstring.

The NBA asks voters to choose first-, second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place for MVP. Considering solely by video games of Jan. 23 — roughly a little bit greater than midway by the season — how would you vote right now?

Harper: This is extraordinarily powerful. I swap between Jokić and Tatum just about each different day. Right now, Tatum could be first, Jokić second, Durant third, Dončić fourth and Embiid fifth. But I’m not even certain how a lot of that holds up by the finish of this sentence.

Robbins: This is how I’d vote by video games performed to this point: Jokić first, adopted so as by Tatum, Antetokounmpo, Embiid and Durant. It’s painful to go away Dončić out of my prime 5, however his Mavericks have not been as dominant as the groups of the gamers in my prime 5. Dončić will decide up floor towards Durant if Dončić stays wholesome.

Slater: I’m greater on what Dončić has executed. I’d place Jokić first and Dončić second. Antetokounmpo third. Embiid fourth. Then I’d truly nonetheless have Durant fifth, understanding he can miss many extra video games (and can) to qualify. That leaves Tatum quickly off my poll, most likely an unpopular opinion amongst voters. But I simply suppose he is in the subsequent tier of gamers, a nudge beneath the league’s true elite. Boston is loaded. Jaylen Brown is a high-level co-star. Tatum is terrific, however the crew’s success is extra collective. I simply do not suppose he fairly makes the kind of nightly influence as the 5 positioned above him.

What separated your selection for the winner out of your selection for runner-up?

Harper: For me proper now, it is enjoying each side of the flooring. Jokić’s numbers are simply silly. They do not even make sense most nights, however I do not need to be dazzled by a numbers explosion in right now’s recreation. It does not discredit what he is doing they usually’re good in the video games he will get triple-doubles. However, Tatum is an elite defender most nights to go along with the unstoppable scoring. Teams cannot take something away from him. Jokić was truly a reasonably strong defensive participant final season, and that has regressed with them being more healthy. Calling this race razor skinny does not even do it justice, although.

Robbins: Fans of the Celtics could think about my selection of Tatum as runner-up as an indication of disrespect. Not so! It’s simply that Jokić has been even higher, having performed in additional video games and on the cusp of averaging a triple-double for a whole season. Jokić is Denver’s dominant playmaker, the one who makes the offense work. Denver is 30-11 this season in video games that Jokić has performed and 3-3 in video games he is missed. Jokić is also having a historic season statistically, particularly for an enormous, averaging 25.1 factors, 11.0 rebounds and 9.9 assists per recreation. He’s additionally capturing 62.6 % from the area and 37.2 % from past the arc.

Slater: The standings. Denver has separated from the center of the convention in latest weeks. The Nuggets are 33-14, the No. 1 seed in the West, 8 1/2 video games forward of the Mavericks, in the No. 5 spots at 25-23. That’s a large enough hole to separate Jokić and Dončić, despite the fact that Denver’s supporting solid is healthier than Dallas’. Both of their on/off metrics are insane. Their groups fall off the cliff when both leaves the flooring. But Jokić’s is much more eye-popping. They are plus-388 when he is on the flooring and minus-183 when he is on the bench.



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(Photo illustration: Samuel Richardson / The Athletic; photographs: Dustin Satloff / Jacob Kupferman / Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

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