2022-23 NBA MVP Race: Nikola Jokić in the driver’s seat

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We’re basically three-quarters of the way through the regular season, and the playoffs are less than two months away.

So what better time to start a weekly check-in in the MVP race?

Our FOX Sports NBA panel, Yaron Weitzman and Melissa Rohlin, are here to deliver their current favorites to win the NBA MVP award as the prized hardware moves closer to being handed out to one of the game’s brightest stars.

Let’s dive in.

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Stats: 24.8 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 10.0 APG
FOX Bet MVP Odds: -333

Only three players in NBA history have won three consecutive MVPs: Bill Russell (1960-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68) and Larry Bird (1983-86). As you can see, it’s something that hasn’t been done in 37 years.

If the season ended today, Jokić would end that streak.

Jokić has dominated the league all season. He’s now averaging a triple-double — he’s also recorded two since the All-Star break — and leads the league in most advanced catch-all stats. With him on the court, the Nuggets have outscored opponents in non-garbage time minutes by an absurd 14.1 points per 100 possessions. When Jokić sits, the Nuggets have actually been outscored by 12.7 seconds Glass cleaning. That translates into the difference between a 69-win team and a 14-win team. Put another way: He’s the pilot, engine and driver of a Nuggets team that currently leads the pack in the Western Conference.

But there’s more to Jokić’s game than 2K-like numbers. Spend a night watching him make mesmerizing passes, crush big men — who, when next to Jokić, seem insignificant — and go up with all kinds of floaters and jumpers from all over the floor, and what you see is a once in a while generational talent playing the best basketball of his career.

2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Stats: 33.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.1 APG
FOX Bet MVP Odds: +350

It’s fair to feel a little sorry for Embiid. If it weren’t for Jokić doing things we’ve never seen before, Embiid would be the favorite his second consecutive award. It’s gotten to the point where you no longer register when he puts together anything like the 41-point, 12-rebound, five-assist performance he delivered in a last-second loss over the weekend to the Boston Celtics.

That game against the Celtics was a master class. It’s not just what Embiid was able to do this against one of the best defenses in the league and arguably their best team. It’s the way he was able to use his mind to pick apart the Celtics. He manipulated the Celtics all night, getting away from incoming double teams, attacking quickly off the catch and targeting specific mismatches.

What Embiid has — and will always have — over Jokić is defense. You can make the argument that he’s the best rim protector in the league. But the Nuggets have a better record, and Jokić’s sheer offensive dominance knocks Embiid into second place here.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Stats: 31.3 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 5.4 APG
FOX Bet MVP Odds: +1000

This is purely an “if the season ended today” thing. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

The case for Giannis is simple: He remains a game-changing terror on both ends of the floor. In addition, the Bucks are on a 14-game winning streak (!), which propelled them past Boston and into first place in the East.

The problem is, Giannis suffered a knee injury Friday night, sidelining him for the Bucks’ next game. This came just days after he traveled to New York City to get his sprained wrist examined. The Bucks are one of those teams for whom the regular season is not crucial. They know who they are and what they’re capable of come playoff time. Don’t be surprised if we see Giannis get a few days off down the stretch.

4. Jayson TatumBoston Celtics
Stats: 30.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.6 APG
FOX Bet MVP Odds: +1700

He’s still the best player on possibly the best team. And he’s been sensational all season: 30+ points per game on efficient shooting (37.8% from deep, 45.7% overall) is ridiculous. That he does it all while playing suffocating defense makes it all the more impressive.

That said, we’re up against razor-thin margins when it comes to MVP, and Tatum has been a bit cold since the All-Star break. He was just 9-for-25 against the Pacers, 7-for-17 against the Sixers and 6-for-18 against the Knicks. Again, he did this against Philly:

5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Stats: 33.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 8.1 APG
FOX Bet MVP Odds: +1800

Another star with an absurd season that has hit a little cold. It’s worth noting that Luka is third in the NBA in win shares and second in value over replacement player. But the Mavericks have also lost four of five. It’s not Luka’s fault. The Kyrie Irving trade has destroyed the Mavericks’ depth (although it’s worth noting that lineups with Kyrie and Luka and opponents were outscored by 7.3 points per 100 non-garbage time possessions, per Glass cleaning). But considering the seasons the players on the roster are putting together, it’s hard to make a case for someone whose team is currently barely clinging to a playoff spot.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Closing in on the top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the boldest run in professional sports history. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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