2023 NBA MVP Candidates
With just a handful of games left in the NBA regular season, year-long debates as to who should be crowned the 2023 NBA MVP have reduced the field to three candidates, namely the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and reigning back-to-back MVP and Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokić. All three have had outstanding regular seasons with impressive statistical averages and performances - not to mention team success, with each of their teams standing top 3 in their respective conferences.
This year’s MVP race is of special significance as it is the first time in recent memory in which there have been three viable candidates this late in the season. Moreover, all three candidates play exclusively or partially the centre position and stand at least 7’0” tall - a fascinating development for a position in which there has been a severe lack of recognition since Stephen Curry’s three-point revolution changed the dynamics of the NBA in 2010. There is a justifiable case for all three candidates, however, come June - only one can be crowned NBA MVP.
Embiid is the only of the three candidates to never have been NBA MVP. This might just be the season that sees him crowned. The 28-year-old six-time all-star has put together a monster 2023 campaign. He’s leading the league in scoring with 33.0 points per game, in addition to 10.2 rebounds per game, 4.1 assists per game, 1.0 steals per game, and 1.7 blocks per game, all whilst shooting 54.4% from the field on a career-high 20 field goal attempts per game. He’s dominated on both ends of the floor and whilst his jump in offensive productivity has vaulted him into MVP consideration, his defensive impact will most likely land him his 4th career selection on an all-defensive team.
Thus far this season he’s played 63 games which for someone who missed the first two years of his career with foot injuries and battled back issues is a good output - but missing too many games has tanked his MVP chances in past seasons. Standings-wise, his Philadelphia 76ers’ seem to have a lock on the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 51-26 securing home stadium rights for the first playoff series. Unlike his peers - and perhaps because he’s never been an MVP before - Embiid is wholly embracing the MVP debate. He’s openly stated that he thinks he’s unquestionably the most dominant player in the NBA - and he might be right.
For the third consecutive season, Nikola Jokić is in the MVP discussion with the NBA regular season drawing to a close. The back-to-back reigning MVP has produced yet another statistically jaw-dropping season. He’s averaging 24.9 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game, and 9.9 assists per game. 1.2 steals per game, and 0.7 blocks per game. These raw numbers are impressive but are only enhanced by the sheer efficiency of his play. He is shooting 63.4% from the field, 39% from 3-point range and has an effective field goal percentage of 66.3% (the highest mark of his entire career.)
Over recent years, advanced statistics beyond points and assists have become widespread in analytical media as a means of assessing the value of players - Jokic is the statistical lovechild of the NBA. He leads the NBA in the following advanced statistics: Player Efficiency Rating (31.9), True Shooting Percentage (70.4%), Offensive Wins Shares (11.4), Win Shares (15.0), Win Shares per 48 minutes (.318), Box Plus/Minus (13.3), Offensive Box/Plus Minus (8.8), Defensive Box Plus/Minus (4.5) and Value Over Replacement Player (8.8).
It must be noted that this statistical dominance is somewhat enhanced by the below par play of the Denver Nuggets backups - who generate a large disparity between when Jokić enters and exits the game. Notwithstanding these arguments, this level of statistical dominance is staggering. Jokić performance this season have positioned him to yet again stand as a strong candidate for MVP. However voter fatigue for someone who has won the award the last two years in a row without substantial playoff success could be a factor in deciding the ultimate winner - there is a reason only 3 players have ever won 3 MVPs in a row before.
The 2-time MVP, finals MVP and 7-time all star has put together another stereotypically dominant Giannis season. Devastating perimeter and interior defence, 31.1 points per game, 11.8 rebounds per game, 5.6 assists per game, 0.8 steals per game and 0.8 blocks, combined with his team’s best record in the Eastern conference (55-22) - Antetokounmpo has been dominant yet again. He did miss a significant stretch of the season with knee and hand injuries and this limited his output to just 61 games - the lowest of all three candidates. Arguably, a fully healthy season would have seen Giannis run away with the MVP - he’s the best player on the best team with the best title odds. However, missing nearly a quarter of the games this season may just be a bridge too far despite dominant play making almost every time he steps onto the court. It is still possible that MVP voters will view him as the most important, dominant and valuable asset in the NBA. Should Antetokounmpo fall short, the limited number of games will be the principal reason that he doesn’t receive his 3rd MVP.
Regardless of who is the ultimate winner, this year’s MVP race has been underpinned by a major development - the return of the MVP centre. For a position once deemed “dead” it's significant that all three candidates for the regular season’s highest honour can play the 5. Whether Embiid claims his first or Jokic or Giannis secure their third - this year’s MVP will be memorably controversial, no doubt debated for years to come but ultimately perhaps validated by whoever’s team will ultimately prevail in the playoffs.
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11 months ago by [email protected]
Another fine article by this emerging talented sportswriter. Well done.!
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