Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Nikola Jokic leaps to No. 1 as injury sacks Joel Embiid

Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander rise while Joel Embiid's Kia MVP case teeters on the edge because of injury.

Nikola Jokic remains a steadying force for the Nuggets and leaps to No. 1 in this week’s Kia MVP Ladder.

Download the NBA App >

Setting the stage this week is widespread debate arising from the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, which requires a minimum of 65 games played for eligibility to win the league’s major awards.

Reigning Kia MVP Joel Embiid teeters dangerously close to the edge of disqualification, having missed three of Philadelphia’s last four games with a sore left knee, before suffering a left lateral meniscus injury Tuesday at Golden State.

Per the NBA’s new player participation policy, all the major awards, including MVP and All-NBA, require a player to miss no more than 17 games. Embiid is expected to miss his 14th contest Saturday against Brooklyn.

That means he’d be four games away from disqualification to repeat as MVP.

This latest Kia Race to the MVP Ladder accounts for the big man’s tenuous status.

One stat to know: 53.3 — That’s Embiid’s field-goal percentage, which has the seven-time All-Star on track to finish as the third player (Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan are the others) in NBA history to average 35 points or more on 50% or better from the field for a season.

What they’re saying: “Freak play with him and [Jonathan Kuminga] diving for the ball. Maybe it’s not as bad if the knee isn’t already banged up. Now, we’ve got one of our premier faces in this league, the MVP of our league, possibly hurt for an extended period because he’s forcing it (to adhere to the league’s mandatory 65 games).” — Warriors forward Draymond Green speaking on “The Draymond Green Show” about Embiid’s injury.

It’s not just Embiid: Several players in contention for major awards find themselves in the same situation as the Sixers center due to missed games.

Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving is already ineligible with 21 missed contests, while Miami Heat stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have sat out 15 and 10 games, respectively.

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton is up for a spot on the All-NBA team and had missed just three games over the first three months of the season before suffering a strained left hamstring that sidelined him 10 more outings.

Keep track of how our MVP rankings continue to evolve throughout the season.

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 26.3 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 9.0 apg

His case: Jokic followed up a 26-point, 16-rebound showing in a Saturday win over Philadelphia with a 25-point triple-double Monday to spoil Doc Rivers’ Bucks debut. The game marked Jokic’s league-best 14th triple-double of the season. 

Lower back pain forced the two-time MVP to miss his second game of the season Wednesday in what turned out to be a hotly contested loss to Oklahoma City. The 28-year-old is questionable for Friday’s game vs. Portland (9 ET, NBA League Pass).

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 31.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 6.4 apg

His case: Gilgeous-Alexander shook off back-to-back losses to Detroit and Minnesota by extending his career-long streak of 30-point games to eight Wednesday in a win over the Jokic-less Nuggets. Oklahoma City won the season series vs. Denver 3-1, marking the first time it has done that since the 2016-17 season.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 13 of his 34 points in that game in the fourth quarter. OKC’s homestand continues Friday against Charlotte (8 ET, NBA League Pass).

3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 35.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 5.7 apg

His case: A strange late scratch created the perception that Embiid was ducking a matchup in Denver against Jokic. But the reality, it appears, is he was dealing with a serious injury suffered two days prior in Indiana.

The Sixers are 4-9 this season without Embiid and are working to put together a treatment plan for him. An extended timetable for return could push Embiid off this list altogether given the league’s participation requirements.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 30.9 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 6.1 apg

His case: Antetokounmpo continues to stuff the stat sheet. But the two-time MVP’s seven-game streak of double-doubles ended Wednesday in Portland in a game where he missed two free throws with fewer than three seconds remaining and his team down three points.

Milwaukee remains winless under Rivers, and the current road trip only gets tougher with games on deck at Dallas, Utah and Phoenix.

5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 26.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 4.4 apg 

His case: In the middle of a seven-game homestand, Boston squandered an opportunity to run its winning streak to three in a row Thursday against a Lakers squad without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Tatum scored a game-high 23 points in the loss for a team that started 20-0 at home but has since lost three of the last five at TD Garden. Tatum produced his ninth 30-5-5 game in Tuesday’s win over Indiana.

The next five:

6. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (Last week: No. 6)
7. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Last week: No. 7)
8. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers (Last week: No. 9)
9. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns (Last week: No. 8)
10. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week: No. 10)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks; Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves; Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers; Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves.

* * *

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.