The NBA season is essentially halfway through. The Boston Celtics currently rule the East, while the Minnesota Timberwolves lead the pack in the West. With the All-Star break drawing near, it’s time to examine the cases for the most likely NBA MVP Candidates.
Making the Midseason Case for 3 2024 NBA MVP Candidates
NBA MVP Award Tracker, via @bball_ref;
1.) Joel Embiid
2.) Nikola Jokic
3.) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
4.) Giannis Antetokounmpo
5.) Luka Doncic
6.) Tyrese Haliburton
7.) Jayson Tatum
8.) Domantas Sabonis
9.) Tyrese Maxey
10.) Donovan Mitchell
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 18, 2024
Each of these stars has a compelling case for MVP, with Embiid leading the pack at the moment. Let’s examine each player’s case for MVP.
Joel Embiid: Center; Philadelphia 76ers
Stats: 35.1 PPG; 11.4 RPG; 5.9 APG; 1.9 BPG; 1.2 SPG; 53.8%/36.4%/88.5%
Joel Embiid is the reigning NBA MVP, and his numbers have jumped across the board in 2024. He’s leading the NBA in scoring, up to 35.1 points per game from 33.1 last year. His 76ers are currently sitting at 27-13, third in the East. He has led Philadelphia through the James Harden saga. Though distractions ran rampant in Philly early this season, Embiid has buckled down and raised his offensive impact on the team, which felt impossible after his performance last season. He’s averaging almost two assists per game more than he did last year and has been incredible at beating double teams.
Embiid is an impossible cover, getting to the free throw line at the highest clip of anyone in the NBA, and converting at almost a 90 percent clip. He is as dominant of a scoring force at center as the NBA has seen since Shaquille O’Neal, and he has shown zero signs of slowing down. He’s also been dominant on the defensive end, blocking almost two shots per game and acting as the 76ers’ anchor on that end. His MVP case grew stronger when he and the 76ers defeated Jokic’s Nuggets on January 16, putting on an absolute show in the fourth quarter.
The one concern for the Cameroonian center’s MVP case is reaching the games played threshold. The league instituted a rule this season which states players must meet a 65 game threshold to be considered an NBA MVP candidate. Embiid has missed 10 games already this season, meaning if he misses eight more, he’ll be ineligible for the award or for All-NBA consideration. If he is able to meet the benchmark, it’s tough to imagine anyone else stealing this award.
Nikola Jokic: Center; Denver Nuggets
Stats: 25.7 PPG; 11.9 RPG; 9.1 APG; 0.9 BPG; 1.1 SPG; 58.3%/35%/82.1%
Nikola Jokic is already a two-time MVP. He won the award in back-to-back seasons, only losing his three-peat to the aforementioned Embiid. He and his Denver Nuggets are coming off the first NBA championship in franchise history, after a dominant run through the West, and a six-game affair against the Miami Heat. The Serbian center won his first Finals MVP award to go with his two regular season MVP trophies. The Nuggets currently sit at 29-14, third in the West.
The 28-year-old’s MVP case is mostly predicated on him being the best uplifter of the talent surrounding him. He is the greatest passing center of all time, and his assist numbers reflect this. He is also an extremely efficient scorer, converting 63.1 percent of his two-point attempts this season. The lumbering big man is a threat to register a triple-double on a nightly basis. He also made, to this point, the best shot anyone in the NBA has made yet this season. On January 4, Jokic made this near half-court prayer to beat the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco.
A knock against Jokic’s NBA case would be that Embiid recently outplayed him head to head, with the 76ers beating Denver 126-121 on January 16. However, the two teams play again Jan 27, in Denver this time. A victory for the Nuggets and a stellar Jokic performance could get him a lot closer in the MVP race as the season passes its halfway point.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Guard; Oklahoma City Thunder
Stats: 31 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 6.3 APG; 0.8 BPG; 2.2 SPG; 55.2%/32.4%/89.1%
Gilgeous-Alexander is the youngest player on this list, still only 25 years old. He was first-team All-NBA last season and is well on his way to repeat that feat in 2024. He is a bonafide superstar guard, and his Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the most electric teams in the league. They are 28-13, second in the West, and Gilgeous-Alexander is the essential driving force for their success. His MVP case is buoyed by the Thunder being ahead of schedule on their path to the playoffs.
The Canadian guard is fourth in the NBA in scoring and third in free throw attempts per game. He has a relatively unorthodox game, offensively. He isn’t the most athletic guard, but he is deceptively quick and confuses defenders with an array of pivots, pump fakes, and a deep layup package. His herky-jerky play style often gets defenders off balance, allowing him to get to his spot with ease.
Though he is not an overwhelming defender, Gilgeous-Alexander is underrated on that end. He plays the passing lanes very well, leading the NBA in steals this season. His 6 foot 11 inch wingspan helps him get to passes that most guards simply don’t have the ability to reach. His length also helps him finish at the rim around opposing big men. He’s shooting 55.2 percent at the rim this season, second among guards in the entire NBA. He’s also beginning to compile some impressive clutch moments this season, most notably, a game-winner to defeat the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets and perennial MVP candidate, Nikola Jokic.
If Gilgeous-Alexander pushes the Thunder over the top and steals the one seed, his MVP case gets stronger. If not, he’s going to be around a long time, and will have more chances to win the award.