The NBA MVP conversation has been dominating the sports world for the last week or so. It has been dominating the NBA world almost all season, too. MVP is always a very polarizing topic every year. Every fan thinks who they want to win MVP (usually their favorite player) should win it and if they don’t then the system is rigged. This year has been no different. It has been a wide-open race for the award that has seen a bunch of different players emerge as the favorite. Now, I’m not here to give you an analytical breakdown of the MVP candidates and tell you who should absolutely win the award, No, I am just here to talk about how crazy this MVP race has been and how it could possibly play out.
The craziest part about the MVP award this year is that no prohibitive favorite has emerged even though the season is over. Usually, by this point, the general public has narrowed it down to one player. But this year we have Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are still firmly in the race after 82 games. There are still compelling cases being made for each player, and the award could conceivably go to any one of them.
What makes this MVP conversation even wilder is the names that are not involved in it. Luka Doncic was the preseason favorite to win the award and although he could finish in the top five, he is not a realistic candidate at this point. Steph Curry looked like he was going to run away with the award at the start of the year but he and the Warriors slipped a little bit and he has drastically fallen down the ladder. DeMar DeRozan might be the most impressive story among any star player as he turned around the Bulls and had a career year but he won’t even sniff the top five for the award. Then there are Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, James Harden, and Damian Lillard who all entered the season with decent odds for the award but are nowhere near the conversation now.
It is not like the three actual contenders came out of nowhere though. Embiid was viewed as one of the favorites for the award, while Jokic and Antetokounmpo accounted for the last three MVPs. Jokic actually had the worst odds entering the season, so technically a repeat from him would be the most surprising. But all of these guys were legitimate superstars that were firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of the league. But even still, each player had some serious concerns hampering their MVP chances going into the season.
Jokic was attempting to not only be a multiple-time MVP winner but a back-to-back winner. Those odds were heavily stacked against him given that only 13 players have won multiple MVPs and only 11 of those players have won back-to-back awards. The reigning MVP also had to deal with the fact he was without his two best teammates virtually all year. Just trying to win games would be tough without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., let alone being the best player in basketball in the process.
Antetokounmpo was attempting to do something even more exclusive than Jokic. He was trying to become just the ninth player ever to win three or more MVP awards. It’s something only the best of the best in NBA history had been able to accomplish, so Antetokounmpo had a tough task ahead of him. He also would have to deal with the issue of voter fatigue, something that likely plagued him last year. It is human nature to want to avoid voting for the same player year after year for the MVP award. It is why players like Michael Jordan and Tom Brady haven’t won the MVP award every year they’ve played. Antetokounmpo won the award in 2019 and 2020 so it was possible that voters had gotten a little tired of writing his name down on top of their MVP ballots (or maybe they just didn’t want to try to figure out how to spell it again). The Greek Freak also was coming off an NBA Championship and Finals MVP it wouldn’t have been shocking if he didn’t play the same level of energy and drive after finally reaching the mountaintop.
Embiid has the most obvious of all the drawbacks: his health. Every single person who knows the NBA recognizes that Embiid is one of the best players of this generation, he just has trouble staying healthy enough to win the MVP. It is probably the biggest reason he didn’t win the award last year, despite having another typically dominant season. He also was in a weird spot on a Sixers team that would be without Ben Simmons all year in one of the oddest NBA storylines in recent memory. So even if he was on the court, he wouldn’t be flanked by his All-Star counterpart as he had been before.
All three of those guys overcame the obstacles set in front of them to get to where they are now. They will clearly be the three finalists for the award, but the winner is still up in the air. My pick would be Antetokounmpo. I think he is the best player in the sport right now and he just had the best scoring season of his career, averaging 29.9 points per game. My guess is that Jokic will actually win the award, though. I think the narrative of him elevating a mediocre supporting cast to the heights they’ve reached this season has been the most prominent recently and he is also having a historic season averaging 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game.