Mar 10, 2022 - Sports

An MVP race for the ages

Data: Basketball Reference; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios
Data: Basketball Reference; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

This season's NBA MVP race is one for the ages, and you can watch two of the favorites play back-to-back tonight on TNT.

State of play: Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo — three bigs with three very different games — are having historically great seasons.

  • Embiid's Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a catch-all measure of a player's impact, is the 11th-best mark ever (31.55) — and the worst of the three.
  • Entering Wednesday, Jokić (32.43) and Antetokounmpo (32.35) held the top two spots all-time. Update: Jokić went for 38-18-7 last night, while Giannis put up 43-12-5 and reclaimed the PER lead.

What they're saying: The Athletic's John Hollinger, who developed PER, is convinced we "may never see three simultaneous supernova seasons quite like this again."

"[A]ll three are [having] runaway MVP seasons, the type of campaigns that normally result in a player hoisting the trophy with hardly a dissenting vote. I have absolutely no earthly idea how we're supposed to pat somebody on the head with a 'third place' among this trio."

By the numbers: Perhaps no stat illustrates this trio's value better than the fact that their teams are all roughly 10 points worse when they're off the floor than when they're on. Of course, traditional stats tell the same story.

  • Jokić has 75 triple-doubles in 511 career games. Only Oscar Robertson reached 75 faster (182 games). He's carrying Denver with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. sidelined.
  • Embiid has put up 40+ points and 10+ rebounds in 10 games. The only players with more in a season since the merger, Russell Westbrook and Moses Malone, both won MVP that year.
  • Antetokounmpo has been unstoppable in his last two games, averaging 41 points while shooting 68% from the field for the defending champions.

The big picture: All three stars were born within a year of one another in foreign countries, evidence of the NBA's international growth. Jokić is Serbian, Embiid is Cameroonian and Antetokounmpo is Greek.

Zoom out: Jokić, Embiid and Antetokounmpo, all 27 years old, headline an MVP race heavy on young talent. No other player has a real shot, but here are our top 10 candidates anyway:

  1. Jokić, 27 (Nuggets)
  2. Embiid, 27 (76ers)
  3. Antetokounmpo, 27 (Bucks)
  4. Ja Morant, 22 (Grizzlies)
  5. DeMar DeRozan, 32 (Bulls)
  6. Luka Dončić, 23 (Mavericks)
  7. Devin Booker, 25 (Suns)
  8. Jayson Tatum, 24 (Celtics)
  9. Stephen Curry, 33 (Warriors)
  10. LeBron James, 37 (Lakers)
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