The Real MVP: Is Luka Doncic Overlooked?

Superstar Luka Doncic drives to the basket against MVP candidate Nikola Jokic
Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Nikola Jokic

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.

Joel Embiid

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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

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.

Luka Doncic

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.

2022 NBA Playoffs First Round Preview

Boston Head Coach Ime Udoka talks in the team huddle

The first round of 2022 NBA playoffs is officially underway. With key injuries to some teams, the first round could get very interesting. Some teams are being undervalued, while some are overvalued. The only thing we know is that history will be made. Every series has a story, so let’s take a look at the match-ups of the first round and who could be potentially upset.

Eastern Conference

The Eastern Conference has many young teams battling to make their mark. With players like Jayson Tatum, Trae Young, and Tyler Herro, the East looks like it could become the conference to beat in a few years. In the 2022 NBA Playoffs First Round anything can happen. Here is a breakdown of each match-up:

(1) Miami Heat vs (8) Atlanta Hawks

Starting off the first round of 2022 NBA playoffs are the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat. The Hawks are not a normal eight seed. They have won nine out of their last eleven games and have essentially the same roster as last year’s team that went to the Eastern Conference Finals.

On the other side, you have a Miami Heat team that is two years removed from the NBA Finals in the bubble. Since then, they have added Kyle Lowry. This match-up includes one of the best defensive teams in Miami going up against one of the best shooting teams in Atlanta. However, the Miami Heat were on pace to win 58 games with Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and Bam Adebayo. Add Tyler Herro to that mix and factor in Atlanta being 26th in defensive rating, this could be a quick series.

Prediction: Heat in 5

(2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Brooklyn Nets

Prior to the season, many people had the Nets going to the finals. With Kyrie Irving missing over half of the home games this year, the Nets dropped to the seven seed after winning their play-in game.

On the other side, you have the Celtics who had a slow start to the season, starting 23-24 before finishing 51-31 while beating Brooklyn in three of their four meetings. They were one of the hottest teams in the NBA after the All-Star break and they are hoping to keep the momentum going against the Brooklyn Nets. However, they will start the series with a key injury in Robert Williams III (torn meniscus). This has proven to be key as the Celtics are 7-7 without Williams and 40-21 with him.

Prediction: Celtics in 7

(3) Milwaukee Bucks vs (6) Chicago Bulls

Even though both teams have an MVP candidate — Giannis Antetokounmpo and DeMar DeRozan — the Bucks have won all four games against the Bulls this season. The reigning champs have looked just as strong this season. While the Bulls have had an up and down season, battling some injuries as well as having some players with down seasons.

This could be one of the more lopsided match-ups, with the Bucks seeming to have Chicago’s number. They have won 15 out of the last 16 against the Bulls, including all 12 in which Giannis has played. It is an understatement to say the Bulls will have their hands full against the reigning champs.

Prediction: Bucks in 4

(4) Philadelphia 76ers vs (5) Toronto Raptors

Another match-up that could go either way in the East with the Raptors and 76ers. It involves two very different teams. On one side, you have the 76ers who rely heavily on their stars, Joel Embiid and James Harden. While on the other side you have the Raptors, a team that likes to share the ball. This results in any player being able to lead the Raptors on any given night.

All four of the games this season have been decided by six points or less, with the Raptors winning three of the four games. It is one of the most anticipated series of the first round.

Prediction: Raptors in 6

Western Conference

The Western Conference has been looked at as the best conference in NBA for years. After all, they have four teams in the top five in wins in the NBA. The West side of the 2022 NBA Playoffs First Round will involve close games across the board. Here is what to expect in each match-up:

(1) Phoenix Suns vs (8) New Orleans Pelicans

Last year, the Suns lost in a heartbreaker to the Bucks, and this year they are proving why they got there. They have looked even better this year, winning 64 games, even with injuries to Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton. On the other side we have the Pelicans who have been missing Zion Williamson this whole season. After squeaking by the Clippers without Paul George, they now face the powerhouse Phoenix Suns.

The Suns won three of the four meetings against the Pelicans. Even with the potential return of Zion Williamson, this has the potential be one of the most lopsided series of the first round.

Prediction: Suns in 4

(2) Memphis Grizzlies vs (7) Minnesota Timberwolves

Memphis shocked many people this year with explosive performances from Ja Morant, finishing 2nd in the West with 56 wins. However, Morant has consistently struggled this year against the Wolves with the presence of Patrick Beverly. These two teams split the season series.

With inconsistent performances lately by Karl Anthony Towns, the Wolves will need key players to step up. Anthony Edwards is one of those players to watch. The young Grizzlies are looking to become the fourth youngest championship team.

Prediction: Grizzlies in 6

(3) Golden State Warriors vs (6) Denver Nuggets

Denver and Golden State had some amazing games during the regular season as they split the four games. With Steph Curry expected to return, the Warriors are set for a championship run. The emergence of Jordan Poole and having two of the greatest shooters ever makes them a dangerous team.

On the other side, we have an MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets have key injuries with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, which will make it tougher for Jokic to carry them past a team that has championship experience. This could be the best series in the first round.

Prediction: Warriors in 6

(4) Dallas Mavericks vs (5) Utah Jazz

With the unknown status of MVP candidate Luka Doncic, the Mavericks will have their hands full. When he comes back, he is looking to prove how valuable he is.

With Donovan Mitchell being capable of taking over games, the Jazz are looking to make a run to silence the critics. Many believe that Utah will never win it all with Gobert and Mitchell. It will be a series to watch closely as both teams have players looking to make their mark in the league.

Prediction: Jazz in 6