Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: 25 names to watch in 2022-23 season

There's no shortage of Kia MVP contenders looking to knock Nikola Jokic off his throne.

Luka Doncic (left) and Joel Embiid are 2 of the clear favorites in the 2022-23 Kia MVP chase.

Expect bouts with déjà vu this season watching one of the latest refinements to the game of Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic.

The famous silhouette emblazoned on the floor at American Airlines Center provides at least some of the inspiration for Doncic’s one-legged midrange fadeaway that Dirk Nowitzki first made famous during a 21-year Hall of Fame run in Dallas. Consider it just the latest in an already absurdly deep bag that continues to propel the 23-year-old to the forefront of the Kia MVP conversation.

“It’s another shot that is tough to guard,” Doncic said a little more than a week before scoring the first four of his game-high 35 points from it in Wednesday’s 107-105 season-opening loss to the Phoenix Suns. “Dirk always did it. It’s a fadeaway that’s tough to block, tough to defend. It just adds another shot to my isolation.”

Which player has the inside track to the Kia MVP in 2022-23?

For the third consecutive season, Las Vegas oddsmakers propelled Doncic into pole position as the early favorite among the field of candidates to capture his first MVP. Rightfully so, given the tremendous damage the guard inflicted during the 2022 postseason (31.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game) as Dallas reached the Western Conference finals.

Not everybody can say there were MVP in the best league in basketball, but you’ve got to get there. You can have your name mentioned, but you’ve got to get to there.”

— Mavs star Luka Doncic

The DraftKings Sportsbook on Oct. 17 listed Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid as the favorites to win the MVP, while reigning MVP Nikola Jokic ranked No. 5 behind Kevin Durant.

The league’s decision-makers predicted the same top three in the NBA App GM Survey this season.

“He’s going to be in the MVP conversation, and I think he will be in that conversation the whole year this year,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said.

That’s fine by Doncic, who considers winning the MVP one of his goals this season — along with taking home an NBA title.

“Not everybody can say they were MVP in the best league in basketball, but you’ve got to get there,” Doncic said. “You can have your name mentioned, but you’ve got to get to there. Obviously, it wouldn’t be bad to be an MVP.”

Interestingly, international players took first, second and third in last season’s MVP voting, marking the first time the top three hailed from outside the United States.

Doncic, Antetokounmpo, Embiid, and Jokic figure prominently in this first edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder along with some of the NBA’s youngsters staking claims to superstardom. Including Doncic, five players aged 25 or younger (Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant and Trae Young) made the 2021-22 All-NBA Team, and they all rank among the favorites in our initial list of 25 MVP contenders. We also mention some of the top veterans (Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson) that you haven’t seen in a while after they missed all or most of last season due to injury.

(Editor’s note: All MVP candidates are listed alphabetically.)

International favorites

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: The former two-time MVP spent the summer competing with the Greek national team at EuroBasket, and gradually ramped up his workload during the preseason. In 2021-22,  Antetokounmpo became the first player in league history to average 25 points or more, 10-plus rebounds and five assists or more in four separate seasons.

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks: Like last season, Doncic enters this campaign as the betting favorite to win his first Kia MVP award. A summer spent playing EuroBasket with the Slovenian national team likely ensures the 23-year-old gets off to a faster start than he did in 2021-22.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: Embiid finished second in last year’s MVP voting after averaging 30.6 ppg to become the first international player to win the NBA scoring title and the first center since 1981-82 to average at least 30 points. The five-time NBA All-Star will also likely be in the hunt to capture what would be his first Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: Odds appear long, but the reigning two-time MVP could become the fourth player in NBA history to capture three consecutive MVP awards. The eighth-year veteran is coming off a 2021-22 campaign in which he became the first player to post at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.

Veteran superstars

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: Two-time former MVP and winner of the 2022 NBA Finals MVP, Curry looks to lead the Warriors to their fifth title in nine seasons with the starting lineup and sixth man from last season’s championship team all in the fold. The longest-tenured Warrior is the all-time leader in 3-pointers made (3,117) and opened the season strong with 33 points.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers: Earned All-Star recognition for eight consecutive seasons before playing in just 40 games in 2021-22. Injuries have limited Davis to 76 games over the last two seasons, but the 10th-year pro is full-go for 2022-23 and likely poised for the type of season he put together during the Lakers’ 2020 NBA title run. We caught a sneak peek in Tuesday’s opener.

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets: The 34-year-old currently ranks No. 21 in career points (25,526), opening the season 88 points behind Alex English for 20th. He could move into the top 10 as he needed 1,884 points at the start of 2022-23 to surpass Moses Malone (27,409). Durant and the Nets are moving past a somewhat tumultuous offseason and should be more cohesive in 2022-23 with the addition of Ben Simmons.

James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers: We’re approaching the 10th anniversary (Oct. 27) of Harden joining the Houston Rockets via a trade with Oklahoma City. A slimmed-down version of the 2018 MVP should improve his scoring and playmaking, which in turn will likely boost Embiid’s numbers for a 76ers squad with serious championship aspirations.

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers: Still in his prime in Year 20, James needs 1,275 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader. No. 5 in career triple-doubles (105), James will also become the ninth player in NBA history (Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Kobe Bryant, and Jamal Crawford) to have played 20 or more NBA seasons.

Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers: A two-time Finals MVP, two-time champion, and member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, Leonard missed last season with a torn ACL and played in the Clippers’ season opener (his first game since June of 2021). Leonard spent the time away building on his already explosive game, and although the Clippers will ease the wing into 2022-23, you can expect the 30-year-old to lead what should be a legit title chase.

Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns: Deservedly, teammate Devin Booker receives most of the accolades, but we too often underestimate Paul’s significant contribution to the team’s overall cohesion. The 37-year-old ranks third in career assists (10,977) and needs just 23 more dimes to become the third player to notch 11,000 assists, joining the company of John Stockton (15,806) and Jason Kidd (12,091).

25-and-under candidates

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Signed a four-year supermax extension worth a reported $224 million in July after three-straight All-Star nods. The eighth-year pro turns 26 on Oct. 30, and last season became the fourth youngest player (25 years, 144 days) behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant to reach 11,000 career points (11,217 total) while finishing fourth in MVP voting.

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics: When Jayson Tatum struggled in the 2022 NBA Finals, Brown often picked up the slack, showing he’s plenty capable of excelling in a starring role provided he becomes more consistent. Brown turns 26 on Oct. 24 and has already played in 85 playoff games.

Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves: The 21-year-old averaged 21.3 points in 72 games last season and enters Year 3 with high expectations after the team’s 2021-22 postseason run and offseason trade for Rudy Gobert. The top pick of the 2020 NBA Draft led all second-year players in scoring last season and put together three 40-point outings to go with nine 30-point games.

Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies: The 23-year-old leads one of the league’s most exciting young teams that advanced to the conference semifinals last season and showed the world that Memphis is on a serious come-up. Morant finished seventh last season in MVP voting, and averaged 28.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 9.2 apg in 14 career playoff appearances.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: Struggled last season in his first NBA Finals appearance, but the 24-year-old put together a brilliant regular season, tying or leading Boston in scoring on 45 occasions. Given the Celtics’ stormy offseason, Tatum and Brown need to embrace their status as young leaders for a squad poised for another strong playoff run.

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans: It’s been a while, but the last time we saw Williamson on a regular basis (the 2021-22 season), he averaged 27 ppg and was an All-Star. Entering his third season, Williamson could shine if his health holds up.

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks: By himself, Young is an elite NBA offense, but the offseason addition of backcourt mate Dejounte Murray should give the 24-year-old All-Star more opportunities to make an impact off the ball. We didn’t really see that dynamic play out in the preseason but give it some time as these two young guards work out the kinks.

Dark-horse candidates to monitor

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: The pairing of Beal, a three-time All-Star, with former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis could prove highly beneficial for both parties.

Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat: The 33-year-old six-time All-Star is in his 12th season and embodies Heat culture.

DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls: Five-time All-Star put together a resurgent 2021-22 campaign and needs just 94 more points to reach 20,000 for his career.

Paul George, LA Clippers: Return of Leonard and the addition of John Wall could mean more open looks for this seven-time All-Star, who remains one of the league’s best two-way wings.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: Front office made quality additions to help Lillard and the Blazers return to the playoffs after missing for the first time last season on the heels of eight-straight postseason appearances.

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers: According to the 2022-23 GM Survey, the league’s top decision-makers believe Cleveland made the best overall moves this offseason in trading for Mitchell, who is also anticipated to make the most significant impact among offseason acquisitions.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Offseason addition of Rudy Gobert should open the versatile big’s game, but the chemistry could take some time to develop because the duo hasn’t spent much time together on the floor.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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