NBA MVP rankings, Nikola Jokic has the award in the bag, even though Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves more credit

There is still a month left of the 2022-23 season, and the MVP race is still wide open (or at least it should be). The last player to win three consecutive titles was Larry Bird in the mid-1980s, but Nikola Jokic is the overwhelming favorite at Caesars to do so. My guess is that he will prevail. This, however, is by no means a sure thing.

Here are my top five MVP picks for Wednesday, March 8th, the first day of the season.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Jokic is a -400 favorite to win the NBA Finals at Caesars. At the moment, Joel Embiid is in second place, with a score of +425. That kind of separation indicates a runaway race, and while I agree that Jokic is the clear frontrunner, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.


Having said that, Jokic is having a phenomenal season. This is ridiculous, and I will keep bringing it up: he has a field goal percentage of at least 50% in all but one game this season. Ponder that for a moment. And this isn’t some mellow scorer who just sits back and catches lobs. He only passes up a good opportunity if he can get someone else an even better one.

As far as broad, cutting-edge metrics go, Jokic continues to dominate. Despite being 27 points worse off per 100 possessions when Jokic is not on the floor, the Nuggets have tied for the most wins in the NBA and have all but secured the top seed in the West. The man is averaging a triple-double despite shooting only 40% from 3-point range and 70% from the field. The fact that no one in history has ever managed such a feat should come as no surprise.

Don’t be fooled by this, as the Nuggets have many talented players who, when healthy, are All-Star caliber but failed to make the cut (Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon). Jokic’s performance without an All-Star partner is as good an indicator of his worth as any in a league that revolves around a pair of superstars.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Even without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Jokic kept Denver competitive last year, leading to the team’s 48 wins and a No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.

With Khris Middleton playing just 22 games at a significantly reduced level, Giannis has Milwaukee sitting atop the league with the best record.

The question is why he isn’t getting the same coverage as Jokic did last year when he was in a similar position. There are two main justifications. One, All-Star Jrue Holiday has better on-off numbers than Giannis, which points to the other reason Giannis doesn’t get Jokic-level love: Giannis isn’t as clutch as Jokic. Although the Nuggets’ offense drops by 25 points per 100 possessions when Jokic leaves the game, the Bucks’ declines are much smaller, at 6.9 points per 100 possessions.

Despite Jokic’s efforts to help the Nuggets reach the playoffs (he helped them earn a No. 6 seed), Giannis’ Bucks currently hold the best record in the NBA. That’s a substantial disparity even with a second All-Star.

As the All-Star break approaches, Giannis has scored 30 or more points in three of his four games. Against the Nets, he scored 33 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, making it the eighth time this season that he has done so. He has hit 81 percent of his free throws over his last three games, going 35 for 43.

In his current pace, Giannis would join an elite group of just five players in NBA history who have averaged at least 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. Moreover, he is a first-rate defender for a first-rate defense.

Despite the fact that their second-best player has been relatively ineffective this season, the Bucks still have the best record in the league. A major factor in Jokic’s rise to the top of the MVP crop last season was his ability to do more with less, and the same sentiment should be an equally powerful feather in Giannis’ cap this season.

Joel Embiid, 76ers

While Caesar’s odds have Embiid (+425) ahead of Giannis (+600) for MVP, it’s important to keep in mind that the odds board isn’t always synonymous with a ranking of candidates. The odds are a reflection of past wagering patterns and the potential benefits or drawbacks to the betting houses.

Indeed, despite the slim odds gap, I have Embiid ranked just below Antetokounmpo. This debate is nitpicking at the very least. Embiid is the league’s leading scorer (tied with Luka Doncic) and a defensive anchor for a top-eight unit that performs at a top-five rate with Embiid on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. This has helped the Sixers overcome a number of injuries, especially with the help of James Harden.

According to CTG, the Sixers have a 7.8-point scoring advantage for every 100 possessions when Embiid is on the court. They drop 9.2 percentage points for every 100 he fires. When Giannis is not on the court, the Bucks’ offensive output drops by 6.9 points per 100 possessions, according to CTG.

Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Look at any of the more advanced statistics like RAPTORS, VORP, PER, WS, or BPM, and you’ll find Jokic, Embiid, and Doncic near the top. That wasn’t done by chance. Doncic is currently tied with Embiid for the league lead in scoring despite having a worse supporting cast than any other leading MVP candidate.

The Mavericks have been struggling and are now right on the cusp of the play-in position. The addition of Kyrie Irving has not resulted in a dramatic change in their win-loss record. It all points to Doncic’s run as MVP fading.

No, Doncic will not be the winner. He has, however, been fantastic this year. Before Kyrie Irving’s arrival and even with Irving on the bench, Dallas’s offensive efficiency is the highest in the NBA when Dirk is on the court by himself, as reported by CTG. Before Irving’s arrival, the Mavericks’ offense was on par with the league’s worst when Doncic was on the bench.

Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Tatum has been able to use the “best player on the best team” argument for the majority of this year. Since the Celtics have regressed and the Bucks are closing in on the best record in the NBA, Antetokounmpo’s case has improved over Tatum’s.

You have to fairly weigh advanced metrics, but in a race for MVP with players of this caliber, it’s not nothing that Tatum isn’t near the top of any of them. Should it count against him that he has, if not the best, then certainly the deepest supporting cast of any of the leading candidates? What the voters think about that varies. However, I believe Tatum hasn’t been quite great enough, especially in light of the stellar competition and the substantial support he has received. Check out our Basketball Betting Guide for more insights and tips.

Despite Tatum’s great play and impressive season, I must admit that he doesn’t impress me as much as the other players on this list. Much like voting for All-Stars and All-NBA teams, the bar has been raised for MVP voting. It’s hard to find a single weak link in the vast depths of the talent pool. Global output has skyrocketed in recent years.