NBA MVP Rankings: 3-horse race enters stretch run

The MVP award has effectively dwindled down to a three-man race. But there are still just over a dozen games remaining so, while improbable, a late shake-up could still change the landscape. Here’s our latest assessment of the top 10 candidates.

10. Julius Randle, Knicks

Previous ranking: Unranked

Randle deserves some downballot MVP votes, especially with the New York Knicks’ recent surge up the standings. The ninth-year veteran is looking to become the 18th player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists in one season. His 18.4 assist percentage ranks in the 89th percentile among forwards, per Cleaning the Glass.

Randle has tallied the fourth-most points in isolation situations and has been a dependable option when the game is on the line. He’s eighth in the Association with 203 makes from downtown. Earlier this season, Randle became the first Knicks player to post at least 40 points and 15 rebounds in one game since Patrick Ewing did so in 1996.

9. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

Justin Ford / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Previous ranking: 6

With Morant away from the Memphis Grizzlies for the foreseeable future due to off-court issues, the point guard’s chances of being named MVP have fallen to zero. The 23-year-old missed the last four games, and his absence is slated to continue at least another two contests. Morant also missed nine games due to various smaller injuries – bringing his games played to 53 this season.

In Morant’s absence, the Grizzlies are 2-2 and fell into a tie for second in the Western Conference with the surging Sacramento Kings. Morant’s play had remained stellar before he left the team – he was one of three players in the league to rank in the top 10 in both points and assists.

8. Donovan Mitchell, Cavaliers

Previous ranking: Unranked

The most overlooked candidate for the award, Mitchell has paired his outstanding individual play with team success – the Cleveland Cavaliers are headed toward their first playoff appearance since LeBron James led them to the finals in 2018. The last time the Cavs clinched a playoff berth without James was 25 years ago.

Mitchell is shooting the ball at an efficient clip and ranks seventh in points per game league-wide. The 26-year-old has posted career highs in true shooting and field-goal percentage over 59 games this season. However, the Cavs’ record against teams over .500 hurts Mitchell’s case – their 16-20 mark ranks second-last out of the six Eastern Conference teams in playoff spots.

7. Kevin Durant, Suns

Jeff Haynes / National Basketball Association / Getty

Previous ranking: 9

No, neither Durant nor the Phoenix Suns are cursed, but you’d be forgiven for thinking they are. Durant’s stint in the desert got off to a roaring start. He graced his new squad with 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game with 53.8% 3-point shooting over his first three contests, which were all on the road. However, his home debut was scrapped at the last second after he suffered an incredibly unlucky ankle sprain during warmups.

With the 34-year-old at risk of missing the rest of the regular season, this is likely the highest Durant will rank this year. Still, the 13-time All-Star demonstrated that he continues to belong in the MVP conversation when healthy.

6. Domantas Sabonis, Kings

Previous ranking: 8

Sabonis’ sensational season is at the heart of the Kings’ feel-good year, which now has them neck-and-neck with the Grizzlies for the second seed in the Western Conference. The Lithuanian big man hit another gear in March, averaging 22.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 8.3 assists in four games. The Kings went 3-1, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, and the then-red-hot Knicks.

Sabonis is key to Sacramento’s electric offense, which falls off the most when he sits (among players with a minimum of 100 minutes played). With Sabonis helping the Kings outscore opponents at will, concerns over their defense can be put on the back burner.

5. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Glenn James / National Basketball Association / Getty

Previous ranking: 5

Doncic is in the midst of a career year for the Dallas Mavericks, but another injury is set to derail his campaign. The 24-year-old is averaging a career-high 33 points, along with 8.6 rebounds, eight assists, and 1.5 steals over 57 games.

However, he suffered a thigh injury last Wednesday, and his return has yet to be determined. This is set to be his second stretch of multi-game absences after he missed four contests due to a heel injury in February.

The Mavericks haven’t succeeded with Doncic and Kyrie Irving in the lineup together either, going 3-6.

4. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Previous ranking: 4

That Tatum isn’t generating more MVP buzz in the midst of a career year for the reigning Eastern Conference champions is an obvious testament to the quality of the top three players on this list. However, simply dismissing the Boston Celtics star’s case outright is a mistake.

Tatum, who’s averaging 30.3 points, has been integral to Boston’s season-long prominence near the top of the East under first-year coach Joe Mazzulla. When he scores 30 or more, the Celtics are 31-6 this season. When he doesn’t, Boston is a much more pedestrian 14-11. The four-time All-Star will likely get overlooked for the league award, but he’s undoubtedly been the Celtics’ MVP.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

John Fisher / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Previous ranking: 3

Thanks to a nagging hand injury he suffered in the Milwaukee Bucks’ final contest before the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo has slowed down slightly over the last month. In the nine games since the midseason break, the 28-year-old missed four and left another after just six minutes. However, he’s still putting up an MVP-caliber season.

In the four matchups he has played since the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo looked his usual dominant self. He averaged 30.3 points, 11 boards, 6.8 dimes, and even a 44.4% clip from deep on 2.3 attempts per game. If the hand ailment isn’t a significant concern and the Bucks maintain their grip atop the East, the Greek Freak will factor into the conversation right down to the end.

2. Joel Embiid, 76ers

Previous ranking: 2

Embiid could finish second in MVP voting for a third straight season despite putting up the best numbers of his career. The 7-foot center is in the hunt for his second consecutive scoring title, averaging an NBA-leading 33.4 points on 53.9% shooting – including a 35.4% clip from deep. Only Doncic has recorded more 30-point games this season. The Philadelphia 76ers score 5.6 more points per 100 possessions when Embiid is on the floor.

The 76ers may trail the Denver Nuggets and Bucks in the standings, but Embiid has got the better of Jokic and Antetokounmpo this season. Philadelphia is 3-1 against those clubs, with the big man averaging 31.3 points, 11.8 boards, 6.5 assists, 1.5 blocks, and one steal over the four meetings.

1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Nathaniel S. Butler / National Basketball Association / Getty

Previous ranking: 1

It’s going to take something pretty special to deny Jokic a three-peat. The Nuggets star is the focal point of the West’s top team and the NBA’s second-ranked offense. He’s the only player ranked in the top five in both rebounds and assists.

Jokic is on pace to join Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the only players in NBA history to average a triple-double over an entire campaign. Jokic isn’t stat padding either, as Denver is 25-1 this season when he records a triple-double. Additionally, his 69.9% true shooting percentage is currently the sixth-best single-season mark of all time.

Honorable mentions: Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)

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