Every NBA team has played between 16 and 20 games so far this fall, meaning we’re nearly at the one-quarter mark of the 2022/23 season. While it’s too early to draw any sweeping conclusions about how the rest of the season will play out, enough time has passed for a handful of stars to emerge as early frontrunners for this season’s MVP award.
In his weekly look at the MVP race, Michael C. Wright of NBA.com highlights Nuggets center and reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who has moved into his top three this week after returning in style from a stint in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. In his two games since coming back, Jokic has racked up 70 points, 19 rebounds, and 19 assists with a scorching .742 FG%, increasing his full-season averages to 22.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG, and 9.0 APG with a .627 FG %.
While Jokic isn’t scoring or rebounding at quite the same rate that he did in his past two MVP seasons, his field goal percentage and assists per game would be career highs, and it seems like he’s just hitting his stride for a Denver team making a push for a top spot in the Western Conference standings — at 11-7, the Nuggets are just a half-game behind the No. 1 Suns.
Still, Jokic ranks behind two players that remain atop Wright’s list for a second consecutive week. At No. 1, it’s Mavericks guard Luka Doncicwho leads the NBA with an astonishing 34.0 points per game on a career-best 50.3% from the floor.
As usual, Doncic is filling up the box score, with 9.0 RPG, 8.1 APG, and a career-best 1.8 SPG. He hasn’t gotten a ton of help from his teammates so far, so Dallas is just 9-8 on the season, but the team’s No. 10 seed is somewhat misleading. The West’s top 10 teams are separated by just two games.
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, the No. 2 player on Wright’s list, has his team’s performance working in his favor. At 14-4, Boston comfortably holds the NBA’s best record in the early going, and Tatum has clearly been the player most responsible for that success. He’s posting a career-best 30.6 PPG to go along with 7.9 RPG, 4.7 APG (a career high), 1.3 BPG (also a career high), and a rock-solid .472/.353/.868 shooting line.
Interestingly, none of these three players are the betting favorite at BetOnline.ag. The site has Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo as the frontrunner at +270, just ahead of Doncic (+275) and Tatum (+280), with Jokic all the way down at +2800 (potential voter fatigue is likely factored into those odds).
Antetokounmpo, the No. 4 player on Wright’s list, certainly has as strong a case as ever. He has missed a little time, but in 14 games, he’s putting up a career-high 30.5 PPG on 52.3% shooting, plus 11.6 RPG and 5.5 APG. He also might be the best defender of the top MVP candidates, with one Defensive Player of the Year award already on his résumé.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Wright’s No. 5 choice and the fourth betting favorite on BetOnline, should become a serious contender if Golden State starts winning a few more games. The Warriors are below .500 for now (9-10), but Curry has been as good as ever, with 31.6 PPG on a career-high .524 FG%. He’s also contributing 7.2 APG and 6.6 RPG (a career high) while making an eye-popping 5.2 threes per game at a 44.4% clip.
Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, Sixers center Joel Embiidand nets forward Kevin Durant are among the stars capable of making an MVP push, and dark-horse candidates like Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell and suns guard Devin Booker will force their way into the conversation if they continue playing like they have and their teams keep winning.
We want to know what you think. Who would your MVP pick be if the season ended today? Who do you expect to strengthen their case as the season progresses? Who would you put your money on as the year-end winner at this point?
Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!