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NBA MVP race 2022-23: Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid giving fans a show

In a rare feat, Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokić has won the NBA MVP award in back-to-back seasons. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird are the only players to have won three years in a row. Is Jokic on that same level?

The Joker faces a long list of proven and unproven talent looking to steal his trophy in the 2022-23 season, including Luka Dončić, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and several others.

With the regular season winding down, we dive into our NBA MVP rankings down below. There’s even an extra incentive to win the award this season, as it’s the first year of ‘The Michael Jordan Trophy.’

Related: Top 50 NBA players of 2023

10. Julius Randle, New York Knicks

NBA: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
  • Julius Randle stats: 25.2 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.1 APG, 45% FG, 34% 3PT, 20.5 PER

Last year when the New York Knicks struggled, proving they lacked star power, Julius Randle stumbled too. But adding another scoring threat with Jalen Brunson has completely changed the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden. Randle is back to averaging a double-double while also chipping in a new career-high in points per game. Not bad, but far off from being in the actual MVP conversation.

Related: Updated NBA power rankings

9. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Sacramento Kings
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stats: 31.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1 BPG, 27.3 PER

By far the best player on what’s been a tanking team for each of the past two seasons, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is doing his best to will the Oklahoma City Thunder into a competitor. Not only is SGA proving to be a top-scoring threat, but he’s become much more efficient, having made the most free throws in the NBA. The blocks and steals are simply a bonus.

8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
  • Damian Lillard stats: 32.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 7.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, 46% FG, 37% 3PT, 26.9 PER

Despite the Portland Trail Blazers trying to find a second star next to Damian Lillard, aside from drafting CJ McCollum, who they later traded, it’s been a failed effort. So Dame Time has taken it upon himself to put the team on his back, and it’s led to a career-high scoring average in 2023, but the Blazers aren’t any better for it. Still, we’re enjoying the fun along the way, such as when he dropped a new career-high 71 points. He has no shot at winning MVP this season, but Lillard has still been one of the best players in basketball.

Related: NBA games today

7. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings

NBA: Sacramento Kings at San Antonio Spurs
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
  • Domantas Sabonis stats: 19.2 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 7.2 APG, 61% FG, 35% 3PT, 23.6 PER

When the Sacramento Kings made the surprising decision to trade Tyrese Haliburton, many fans were upset seeing a top talent head out the door. But they got a three-time All-Star in Domantas Sabonis, who’s now developed into an outside MVP candidate. He leads the NBA in rebounding and has the Kings positioning for a playoff spot for the first time since 2006. Averaging career highs in rebounds and assists, Sabonis is putting together an incredible season. De’Aaron Fox’s excellence prevents Sabonis from being a top MVP candidate.

6. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Indiana Pacers
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
  • James Harden stats: 21.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 10.8 APG, 44% FG, 39% 3PT, 22.7 PER

The Beard is back. With Joel Embiid vying for the scoring lead, leave it up to Moses to part the NBA seas. James Harden leads the league in assists while shooting a career-high 39% from the perimeter, helping the 76ers become a legit threat to compete for an NBA title, showing he’s far from being washed up.

Related: Updated 2022-23 NBA Playoff and championship predictions

5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

nba mvp candidates: jayson tatum
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Jayson Tatum stats: 30 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 4.7 APG, 45% FG, 34% 3PT, 23.2 PER

Jayson Tatum already held a reputation as one of the best all-around players in the NBA. But he’s somehow taken his game to new heights in his sixth season with the Celtics, pushing above 30 PPG for the first time in his career. While Tatum has missed a few games, he’s still been the most durable of the current MVP candidates, giving him a chance to climb the ranks, but time is running out. Jaylen Brown’s presence likely prevents Tatum from sniffing the MVP trophy this season.

Related: NBA standings

4. Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
  • Luka Dončić stats: 33 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 8 APG, 50% FG, 34% 3PT, 29.5 PER

After becoming the first player ever to post a 60-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist game, Dončić’s numbers have remained among the best in the NBA. Perhaps the addition of Kyrie Irving is just what the doctor ordered, as long as it keeps Dončić effective and explosive all season long. The early returns have been mixed, but it’s not hard to envision these two getting in sync with more experience down the stretch. Just don’t expect Dončić to make up enough ground to catch the others in the MVP race.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

nba mvp candidates: giannis antetokounmpo
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo stats: 31.3 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 5.6 APG, 54% FG, 28% 3PT, 28.7 PER

Leading the Bucks to the best record in the Eastern Conference, Antetokounmpo is averaging a new career high in scoring while being one of just two players to average 30 points and 10 rebounds per game. These stats would typically be good enough to take home The Michael Jordan Trophy, but they may not be good enough this year. No one is slowing the Greek Freak down when he gets a full head of steam, especially if a third MVP trophy is within his grasp, but he has some ground to make up in our eyes.

2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
  • Joel Embiid stats: 33.5 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 54% FG, 1.7 BPG, 31.6 PER

Embiid has accomplished nearly everything on the basketball court since becoming the third overall pick in 2014. Yet, he’s yet to reach two of his biggest goals, which are winning the NBA Finals and adding an MVP trophy to his career accolades. He continues to battle Doncic for the NBA scoring title while providing excellent defense for the 76ers. Embiid’s a good bet to become a stronger MVP candidate as the year goes on, but missing more time could ultimately cost him the trophy, as he’s never played more than 68 games in a season.

1. Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Denver Nuggets
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
  • Nikola Jokić stats: 24.7 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 9.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 63% FG, 39% 3PT, 31.6 PER

Typically, when a player puts up numbers as Nikola Jokić is, they would be the runaway frontrunner to win NBA MVP, but we’re seeing dominant play out of many others, with Embiid proving to be a strong contender. The Joker is nearly averaging a triple-double, which has been done just five times before. As long as he can stay healthy down the stretch, chances are Jokic will be adding a third trophy to his showcase at the end of the season.

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