The MVP award candidates have been announced: Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. When I look at that list, I can’t help but notice a player missing. All year he has been overlooked as a real MVP award candidate. Now, he is left off the finalist list: Luka Doncic, the young superstar. He shouldn’t just be on the finalist list; I believe he should win the award. Doncic is the real MVP of the league this season.
This is not a discredit to the great seasons Jokic, Embiid, and Giannis had. The combination of individual and team stats show that Doncic should be leading the MVP conversation. Each finalist showed why they belong in this conversation and Doncic deserves to be in that conversation as well. Their statistics and team stories give us a better look at their MVP resume.
The reigning MVP came back this year looking just as good — if not better — than last year. Per game, Jokic averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists. He added almost a block and over a steal per game on the defensive side. Those numbers led the Nuggets in each category. The flashy passes and triple-doubles have made Jokic a fan favorite.
Denver’s big man is cementing himself as the best passing center of all-time. He has broken records with his ability to do it all, notching the highest PER in history. He does everything on the court, all while having a 66% true shooting percentage. This season showed that he will be in the MVP conversation for years to come.
The Nuggets as a team had a difficult season. After losing Jamal Murray to a torn ACL last season, they knew it would already be a tough season. On top of losing Murray, Michael Porter Jr. left a game on November 6th with back tightness. He has not returned since and they are hoping he can return for this current playoff run. This left the Nuggets without two key players.
Without those two, Denver finished the regular season with five other double-digit scorers. Jokic led them to a 48-24 record, finishing sixth in the Western Conference.
The Process is still proving why he deserves that nickname, and this year Joel Embiid was trying to prove he is the real MVP. After leading the league this season in points per game with 30.6, he showed how dominant of a center he really is. While shooting 50% from the field and 37% from three, defenses have struggled all year to contain Embiid. Being able to take anyone in the paint and step back for three was key for his MVP candidacy.
On the boards, he averaged 11.7 rebounds per game. Embiid showed his complete skill set by taking the ball away once a game and sending 1.5 shots back. Embiid improved as a passer this year with a career-high 4.2 assists per game. It was a career year for Embiid, and his individual numbers are putting him in the MVP spotlight.
Philadelphia has been put on a rollercoaster this year. The Ben Simmons saga continued into this year. After Simmons’ struggles in the playoffs, he didn’t report to training camp, got kicked out of practice, and didn’t play the regular season, for reported mental health reasons.
On February 10th 2022, Simmons was traded to the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden. While others were in the trade, those were the two main stars involved. James Harden came to Philly, and they finished the season fourth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 51-31, tied with Boston and Milwaukee. Behind Harden and Embiid, there are three other double-digit scorers: Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry.
Last year’s Finals MVP continued to cement his legacy by averaging 29.9 points, 5.8 assists, and 11.6 rebounds per game. His length helped him average just over a block and steal per game. Giannis shot 55% from the field and 29% from three. He added eight points from the line each night, as defenses struggled to keep him off the line this year. The Greek Freak made his sixth All-Star game this season, while also being named to the NBA 75th anniversary team. He is looking to add to his trophy case with a second MVP, to further his case as a legend.
The 2021 NBA champs are looking to repeat this year after finishing third in the Eastern Conference at 51-31. They have six double-digit scorers, if you count Pat Connaughton (9.9), and the capability of going back-to-back. The trio of Giannis, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton hasn’t been as efficient this year, as all of their shooting percentages have taken a dip. Yet, the Bucks still rank tied for third in offensive efficiency.
On the defensive side, they rank 14th in efficiency and tied for fifth in rebound rate. They are the champs until they are dethroned, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The 23-year-old superstar lit the league on fire again in his fourth season, averaging 28.4 points, 8.7 assists, and 8.3 rebounds (career-high) per game. With the ability to score in just about every way, he shot 46% from the field and 53% from three. On a per game basis, Doncic led all guards in points and rebounds, ranking fifth in assists. His play-making ability has forced him into the “next young superstar” conversation with Ja Morant. Doncic can take over games in a heartbeat.
On the defensive end, Luka has taken a huge leap. He set career highs in steals and blocks per game. While it might not look like big improvement on paper, he has become a very good on-ball defender, helping Dallas finish 6th in defensive efficiency.
Dallas got off to a slow start this season. So, they made a move before the trade deadline to move center Kristaps Porzingis and a 2022 protected 2nd round pick to Washington. In return, they received guard Spencer Dinwiddie and small forward Davis Bertans.
Many people were critical of the move, including myself, thinking they could have gotten more from Porzingis. However, the Mavericks finished fourth in the Western Conference with 52 wins and 30 losses, one game behind the Golden State Warriors. This team has been one of the more surprising and underrated teams in the NBA. The teams success is heavily credited to Luka Doncic, with only three other teammates averaging double digits, if you don’t count Tim Hardaway Jr. who has been hurt since January.
When you break it down, it becomes clear that Luka Doncic absolutely deserves to be in the NBA MVP discussion. Doncic may not be the front-runner for the award, but to leave him out of the MVP race all-together was a mistake.