In the 76-year history of the NBA, only Bill Russell (1960-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68), and Larry Bird (1983-86) have ever won three straight NBA Most Valuable Player awards.
Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets could potentially turn this legendary group of three into a quartet this season if he can win his third MVP. While voter fatigue could potentially derail Jokic’s quest for history, the case for him to win the award is as strong as it has ever been.
The 28-year-old center is now averaging a triple double through 58 appearances so far this year with 24.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, and a career-best 10 assists per game along with 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks.
Jokic’s scoring average may be lower than what he achieved during the previous two seasons, though that is more a function of the improved supporting cast around him rather than a decline in his abilities. This is backed up by his assist average which is the highest that it has been in his eight-year career.
Having more weapons around has also led to an increase in his already impressive efficiency. He is converting a career-best 63% of his field goal attempts and 39.8% of his three-pointers despite the high amount of attention that he draws from opposing defenses.
Furthermore, Denver is running away from the rest of the pack in the Western Conference standings. Their 46-21 win-loss record puts them six games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings who are currently tied for second place. With 15 games left on their schedule, it seems inevitable that the Nuggets will end the regular season as the West’s top seed–something that they have yet to achieve in Jokic’s last two MVP seasons which should only boost his cause.
However, one team in the East has outperformed Denver as of this writing. The Milwaukee Bucks own the best record in the league at the moment, 48-18, and have a two-time MVP of their own who is also eyeing his third trophy. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the winner of the two MVP awards prior to Jokic, is in the midst of the finest offensive season of his career.
The seven-time NBA All-Star Antetokounmpo is putting up 31.2 points on 53.9% shooting, 11.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game in 52 appearances this season. He is a major reason behind the Bucks’ league-best Defensive Rating (109.6) and is in contention for the Defensive Player of the Year plum too.
A strong close to the regular season from Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee could put him over the top in the head-to-head battle with Jokic, but another seven-footer looms as a worthy opponent in the MVP race.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid was the runner-up to Jokic these past two years and is entrenched in this year’s competition once again. After winning the scoring title last year, he is once more leading the NBA in scoring with 33.3 points per game this season, fueled largely by his career-high 53.7% field goal shooting and 11.8 free throw attempts a contest. Embiid is also averaging 10.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.6 blocks which highlight his two-way impact for the Sixers.
The six-time NBA All-Star has been in prime form since the midseason break, averaging 35.1 points, 65% field goal shooting, 40% three-point shooting, 11.6 made free throws, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, one steal, and 2.1 blocks. This has only bolstered his MVP case and if he can continue this pace over the next few weeks, there is a reasonable chance that he can finally get over the hump and win the award.
Philadelphia has won their last four games, improving their record to 44-22, and they are within striking distance of the Bucks for the top seed in the East. They face a challenging four-point lead, but if Embiid’s fine formy continues to translate into wins, anything is possible.
The leading contenders in this year’s MVP race are neck and neck with just a few games left on their respective schedules. While it is difficult to guarantee a winner at this point in time, what is certain is that this will be a highly entertaining battle for fans to watch. Embiid is certainly deserving of his first MVP win, though the impeccable play of Jokic and Antetokounmpo is hard to ignore.