The race to become the NBA’s regular season MVP has never been tighter. Giannis Antetoukoumpo of Milwaukee, Joel Embiid of Philadelphia and Nikola Jokic of Denver can all stake their claim for the league’s most prestigious individual award, with the latter in pole position to retain his title.
Unfortunately for ‘The Joker’, he has two less games to play than Giannis and Embiid, but he does currently sit at the top of the MVP ladder ranking, the NBA’s system of ranking individuals, with a panel of broadcasters and sportswriters in the US and Canada ranking them in the table throughout the season.
It seems to be a weekly occurrence for extraordinary performances to be had by these three players. Embiid has greatly benefited from the arrival of James Harden, finally getting a guard who can shoot to accompany him in the 76ers run to the Playoffs. Giannis recently decimated the Brooklyn Nets, the ambitious eastern side who decided to try and make their own super team but have been undone almost everytime by the ‘Greek Freak’. Jokic meanwhile is recovering from a loss to the Spurs, a game where he had 41 points and 17 rebounds, making it his third 40+ points scoring game of the season, and leaving the Nuggets a game away from confirming their space in the Playoffs.
The leader of the pack, Jokic has an incredible shout for retaining his award. As of today, he is 39 points away from becoming the first player to hit 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists, in a single season. With his average of 27 points per game, it’s only a matter of time until the Serbian hits that unprecedented milestone and makes history. He leads the league in triple-doubles with 19, the second most for a center in history behind Wilt Chamberlain. Every play runs through the 27-year-old and he’s kept Denver in the playoff spaces even without his support team of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. It’s incredibly difficult to look past the favourite, but his competition keeps pushing.
Second on the ladder is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Like Jokic, the European talent on show in the NBA is something special. Milwaukee won their first championship for 50 years last year, and things haven’t changed that much. A big guy who was miles better than everyone else in the league dominating in the famous Good Land Green colours.
A shoe-in for another Defensive Player of the Year award, the Greek Freak spent most of the season filling in between his usual power-forward and Brook Lopez’s center position after the Spaniard spent most of the season injured. Antetokounmpo was the driving force to guarantee the Bucks’ spot as the top seed in the Central Division despite various injuries to his teammates, and his recent incredible wins over their ‘local’ competitors in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, including the stunning step-back three-pointer to get an overtime win over the Nets, has more than shown his credentials to be the MVP for a third time.
Third and finally, is Joel Embiid. It’s finally time for the man to collect his flowers. After years of nearly making it at the top of the game, and providing the online trolls with enough ammunition to start a war (Thanks, Mountain Dew.), Joel Embiid is finally delivering on the promise he showed back in college.
It’s not all been a fault of Embiid’s. A stress fracture in his back, two rounds of surgery on a broken foot, a meniscus tear, an orbital fracture over his left eye and covid have all been obstacles for Joel have prevented him from ever building up enough momentum to be in with a shout of success. This season seems different, having only missed a few games over christmas for testing positive for COVID-19. He’s finally unlocked a team that works and Philly might finally have a team to get excited about, after years of sub-par playoff runs and embarrassing postseason defeats. He held the team together while Ben Simmons refused to train and play for the team and now he is set to return to the playoffs with renewed focus and a world-class point guard by his side.
It’s nearly time for the playoffs and the MVP will be announced towards the end of June, however that could change like last year, when Jokic received the award on June 8th. In terms of the league, only Denver and Minnesota have anything to play for, with Denver needing a win to find out if they’re in the playoffs or if they need to compete in the play-in. There’s some big names missing from the playoffs this year, with Lebron’s Lakers and Damian Lilliard’s Portland missing out.