NBA MVP rankings: Embiid's injury opens up race

Joel Embiid’s potential season-ending injury ended his chances of becoming the latest back-to-back MVP winner. With the Philadelphia 76ers star sidelined, the Michael Jordan Trophy is truly up for grabs entering the final two months of the regular season.

10. Kevin Durant, Suns

Previous: 9

48 53.8 44.3 87.1 6.6 5.7 28.2

It was fair to wonder if Durant would recapture his form after suffering a devastating Achilles injury in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals. He has since responded with four straight All-Star selections, a second 50-40-90 campaign, and an All-NBA nod.

Durant remains a walking bucket at age 35, ranking fifth in the scoring race, eighth in 3-point percentage, and 17th in free-throw attempts (302). Even with co-star Devin Booker on the roster, Durant remains the Phoenix Suns’ go-to option in crunch time. The two-time Finals MVP is fifth in the Association in fourth-quarter points (346) and tied for 10th in clutch points (81).

With Bradley Beal sidelined once again, Durant’s MVP case could get a boost. The last player to win the award in their 30s was Steve Nash in 2006.

9. Jalen Brunson, Knicks

Previous: N/A

52 48.3 41.1 83.5 3.8 6.5 27.6

Jalen Brunson finds himself on the MVP rankings for the first time this season. The diminutive point guard has taken New York by storm since he joined the Knicks last season. The 27-year-old is averaging career highs in both points (27.6) and assists (6.5) for the Knicks, who sit fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 33-22 record despite Julius Randle and OG Anunoby missing time due to injury.

The Villanova product has mastered the art of the pick-and-roll. Only two players in the league are averaging over a point per possession as the pick-and-roll ball-hander with at least 11 attempts per game: Brunson and Luka Doncic.

For his stellar play, Brunson was rewarded with a first All-Star Game nomination.

8. Donovan Mitchell, Cavaliers

Justin Casterline / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Previous: N/A

44 47.3 36.1 86.4 5.4 6.3 28.4

Mitchell is also making his first appearance on the MVP rankings. The Cleveland Cavaliers are second in the East and have been on a tear over the past two months, going 18-3 since the calendar flipped to 2024. Mitchell has carried the load for large portions of the season with Darius Garland and Evan Mobley missing 24 and 23 games, respectively.

Although Mitchell is averaging a career-high 28.4 points per game, his improved passing is what catapulted him onto this list. The 27-year-old is averaging a career-best 6.3 assists with an assist rate of 29%, also a personal best. While he has refined his playmaking, Mitchell managed to keep his turnover rate at 10.5%, the second-best mark of his career.

7. Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves

Previous: 7

52 47.1 38.6 84.1 5.2 5.3 26.3

In the last decade, only Durant, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, and Nikola Jokic averaged 25 points, five assists, and five rebounds while hitting over 38% of their threes. Edwards is on his way to joining them. He may not get the same recognition as the other names on that list, but there’s no doubting his status as one of the league’s true stars.

We may even be selling Edwards short by placing him so low in our rankings while he’s putting up such gaudy numbers on the West’s No. 1 seed. But with so many premier performers on the league’s best squads, the 22-year-old may have to wait a couple of years before he can truly compete for the prestigious award.

6. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Previous: 6

52 47.5 36.3 82.4 8.6 4.8 27.1

Tatum was among the NBA’s elite at such a young age that it has become easy to take for granted his talent and value to the NBA’s top team. After finishing in the top six of MVP voting in each of the last two seasons, Tatum is scoring more efficiently than ever as a lead option and averaging a career high in assists.

Playing alongside an All-Star ensemble in Boston will ultimately prevent Tatum from putting up the gaudy stats of his peers. But the continued lack of an MVP trophy won’t matter to Tatum if the Celtics finally win the NBA title in June.

5. Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

Andrew D. Bernstein / National Basketball Association / Getty

Previous: 8

48 52.7 45.3 89.1 6.2 3.7 24.1

Leonard is reminding everyone how dominant he can be at both ends when healthy. The Los Angeles Clippers star is looking to become just the 10th player in NBA history to join the elusive 50-40-90 club. He’s also first in loose balls recovered (58), third in 3-point percentage, fourth in steals (1.7 per contest), and seventh in deflections (144).

L.A. has gone a scorching 28-7 since dropping two games below .500 on Nov. 30. Leonard has elevated his play during that span, averaging 25.4 points on 55.9% shooting – including a 49.3% clip from distance – to bring the Clippers within two games of the West’s top seed heading into the All-Star break.

4. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Previous: 4

47 49.2 37.5 77.7 8.8 9.5 34.2

Doncic is putting together one of the more impressive statistical seasons of recent memory and would probably be higher on this list if the Mavericks managed to earn a few more wins. The Slovenian is second in scoring (34.2), third in assists (9.5), and 23rd in rebounding (8.8). Since Embiid won’t reach the 65-game threshold for award eligibility, Doncic is virtually a lock to win the scoring title with the highest points-per-game average since James Harden in 2019-20.

The addition of Daniel Gafford from the Washington Wizards at the trade deadline will likely boost Luka’s numbers. Doncic was already the best pick-and-roll ball-handler in the NBA – pairing him with an elite rim-runner who leads the league in field-goal percentage is going to be a scary prospect for opposing defenses.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Previous: 5

54 61.6 25.5 65.3 11.2 6.4 30.8

Barring a cold finish to the season, Antetokounmpo will become the first player in NBA history to average 30 points while shooting over 60% from the floor. Add that to his 11.2 boards, 6.4 assists, and 2.5 combined steals and blocks, and you have an absurdly eye-popping stat line.

The downside is that Antetokounmpo is still struggling mightily as a shooter. He’s hitting just 25.5% of his threes, his lowest mark since 2014-15, and he’s making less than 70% of his free throws for the fourth time in five years. That, plus the Milwaukee Bucks’ failure to live up to the extremely lofty expectations set when Damian Lillard joined the fold, will likely keep the “Greek Freak” from winning his third career MVP trophy.

2. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Bart Young / National Basketball Association / Getty

Previous: 3

53 57.7 35.2 81.3 12.0 8.9 26.1

Year after year, Jokic finds a way to put himself in the mix for the MVP award. The 28-year-old is presenting another compelling case for a third Michael Jordan Trophy. He’s the only player in the Association ranked in the top five in both rebounds and assists. Only Domantas Sabonis has tallied more triple-doubles this season.

Denver’s bench isn’t as deep as it was a year ago, leading to a near 3% increase in usage rate for Jokic. With their superstar center on the floor, the Nuggets are scoring 16.9 more points per 100 possessions. Jokic has been particularly dominant posting up, tallying an NBA-leading 359 points and converting 60.4% of those opportunities. While his scoring and facilitating skills take most of the shine, he’s more than willing to do the dirty work; Jokic sits third in the league in screen assists (251) and fifth in deflections (151).

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder

Previous: 2

53 54.6 37.1 88.3 5.5 6.5 31.1

Gilgeous-Alexander’s game almost feels mythical at this point. He’s one of the highest-usage guards in the NBA but takes just 3.3 3-pointers per contest. He’s second in the league in points and first in made free throws yet still paces the Association in steals. His two-way ability has been the clear driving force in the Thunder’s ascension from bottom-feeders to playoff spoilers to championship contenders in just three seasons.

There are no holes in Gilgeous-Alexander’s game. His calm demeanor and cerebral playstyle are unique in the NBA, and his stat line is among those of some of the league’s all-time legends. Michael Jordan (five times), and Steph Curry (in his unanimous MVP season) are the only players to combine 30 points per game with 50% shooting and at least two steals. If Gilgeous-Alexander maintains his averages and the Thunder remain at the top of the West standings, this award should be his.