Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Jayson Tatum seizes top spot in latest rankings

The order of the Kia MVP rankings remains in flux, but the main characters should be familiar.

Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry waged an epic showdown of Kia MVP contenders this week.

Stephen Curry understands how Kia MVP voting goes, the same way he knows where to find shots: All over the place.

So, naturally when asked at practice Monday about the chatter concerning MVP, Curry grinned, knowing full well why the inquiry was lobbed in the first place.

“Usually, you get asked about it when you’re [a part of the chatter]. So, I appreciate you asking about it,” he said. “Obviously, [it’s] still early in the year. From when I won the first one, when you’re a top 4 seed, you usually get circulated with who’s the best player on the best team types of conversations. Then, the other narratives are the individual, usually offensive numbers, that get people’s attention if your team is kind of down in the standings. Been everywhere in between.

“So, I guess I kind of got to the point where you don’t really control any of it. The narratives take a life of their own throughout the season. At the end of the year, you figure out what it looks like. So, yeah, I guess people stopped asking me about it because our team wasn’t at the top of the standings until the beginning of last year. Then, I sucked for two months and then I kind of went away. It’s all over the place.”

Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson discuss Stephen Curry's stellar play and his MVP chances this season.

Golden State (11-11) is eighth in the Western Conference standings entering Friday night’s home game against the Chicago Bulls (8:30 ET, ESPN), as the Warriors embark on a difficult 15-game slate in December that features four back-to-back sets. So, after falling to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday in a clash between two of the NBA’s top three scorers, Curry is acutely aware of the ‘narratives’ surrounding his own current MVP candidacy.

The only unanimous MVP (2015-16) in league history, Curry is putting up numbers now that rival that magical campaign, shooting 51.8% from the field through 20 games, while knocking down 43.6% from deep and 90.7% from the free-throw line, averaging 30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game. During a 2015-16 season in which the Warriors finished with the NBA’s best regular-season record ever (73-9), Curry averaged 30.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 6.7 apg while shooting 50.4% overall, 45.4% from deep and 90.8% on free throws.

Interestingly, Curry feels no similarities “at all, which is weird,” between 2022-23 and his last MVP season.

“There’s been so many other things we’ve had to worry about in terms of getting our team where we want it to be that some of the games, it’s been necessary to score a crazy amount,” the two-time MVP explained. “Some games, it’s just because I’ve been hot or whatever the case is. But I haven’t really thought too much about the comparison at all because this season has challenges that need to be focused on more than anything else. What I do on the court is just a product of just trying to play great basketball.”

The narratives take a life of their own throughout the season. At the end of the year, you figure out what it looks like.”

— Stephen Curry, on the Kia MVP chase

Curry falls out of the top five in this week’s edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, while Boston’s Jayson Tatum seizes the top spot and Doncic and Nikola Jokic find themselves deadlocked in a tie at No. 2.

At 34, Curry still relishes the idea of remaining a part of the MVP conversation, as the world awaits the eventual changing of the guard and takeover of the league by the younger players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tatum and Doncic, who reeled off a 41-point triple-double Tuesday in Dallas’ 116-113 win over the Warriors.

Keep in mind, though, Curry hasn’t gone anywhere just yet.

“Whatever the conversation is on who’s time it is or who’s turn it is and all that, it’s just part of the nature of what we do,” the 2022 NBA Finals MVP said. “And when you play at a high level, you just want to be in those conversations of best at your position, best team trying to chase championships. Wash, rinse, repeat. [Doncic] is an unbelievable talent that’s gonna be around for a very long time. Who knows how high he can climb? But we’re still doing it, too.”

And now, the Top 5 in the 2022-23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

1. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 31.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.5 apg

Tatum showed he was king of the court as the Prince and Princess of Wales sat courtside Wednesday to watch him drill eight 3-pointers as part of a season-high 49 points in a win against the Miami Heat. The performance marked Tatum’s third 40-point game of the season as Boston’s top-rated offense powered the team’s fifth straight win. Tatum is the sixth player in NBA history to have multiple games with 45 points or more with 10 or more rebounds while only committing one turnover or fewer, joining the company of Anthony Davis (six such games), Michael Jordan (three), Antetokounmpo (three), Kobe Bryant (two)  and Carmelo Anthony (two).

With a clear rise to best player on the best team through the quarter mark of the season, could Jayson Tatum win his first Kia MVP?

T-2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 33.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 8.7 apg

The NBA’s leading scorer, Doncic continues to dominate at a clip that leaves pundits wondering whether all the production is sustainable. The 23-year-old churned out the 51st triple-double of his career in Tuesday’s win over Golden State, with Mavericks coach Jason Kidd joking Doncic’s latest feat was “boring.” Given Dallas’ struggles this season to find consistent secondary ballhandlers, the club added a proven point guard Tuesday in Kemba Walker, which should help. Despite Doncic’s heroics, the Mavericks lost four in a row before Tuesday’s victory, and the club is currently a conference-worst 1-8 on the road after Wednesday’s overtime loss at Detroit.

The Mavs continue to struggle on the road, with Luka Doncic's usage seeming to run up against their limits.

T-2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 22.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 8.9 apg

Over Denver’s current four-game win streak, the two-time reigning MVP connected on 66.7% from the field and 44.4% from 3-point range while producing double-doubles in each contest to keep the Nuggets only one game out of first place in the West. Jokic finished Wednesday’s win over Houston only one rebound shy of his fourth triple-double of the season, and while it’s easy to view the Denver center as big and lumbering, the Nuggets actually outscored the Rockets 26-9 on the break. Another encouraging sign is the consistent production of Denver’s supporting cast of Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown.

Nikola Jokic scored 32 in a win against the Rockets this week.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 31.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 5.5 apg

He should probably be ranked higher considering Antetokounmpo hasn’t scored fewer than 30 points in a game since Nov. 18 and the Bucks have captured three straight wins. Milwaukee’s win against the New York Knicks on Wednesday marked the two-time MVPs 11th game this season in which he’s scored 30 points or more (it was also the 182nd such game in his career). The Bucks have won three in a row, and there’s a chance Antetokounmpo gets some much-needed help in Khris Middleton, who is expected to make his season debut on Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers (7:30 ET, ESPN).

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Season stats: 29.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.8 apg

“Book” simply can’t be denied as he continues to carry Phoenix. In the face of adversity, Booker has led the Suns to first place in the West as they have the NBA’s longest current winning streak (six games). He’s been able to do it without Chris Paul, Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder — three starters from last season’s squad. Booker has scored an eye-popping 96 points in his last two games, draining 69.7% from the field and 53.8% from 3-point range. In the win against Chicago on Wednesday, Booker became just the eighth player to score 50-plus points (he had 51) in 31 minutes or fewer in the shot clock era. What a way to wake up.

It took just 3 quarters for Devin Booker to amass a season-high 51 points, going 20-for-25 overall and 6-for-7 on 3-pointers.

The Next Five:

6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Last week’s ranking: No. 5)
7. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (Last week’s ranking: Not ranked)
8. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (Last week’s ranking: No. 10)
9. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: No. 6)
10. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics (Last week’s ranking: Not ranked)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans.

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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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