Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Nikola Jokic looking like odds-on favorite in chase

Luka Doncic ties Giannis Antetokounmpo for third, but Nikola Jokic's lead for No. 1 is nearly insurmountable at this point.

Nikola Jokic came through with a big performance in the Nuggets’ win vs. the Wolves this week.

Setting the stage this week, the tussle for tops in the West between Oklahoma City and Denver should logically factor into determining the outcome of the 2023-24 Kia MVP race.

It likely won’t, however, if the recent action commencing on betting markets are any indication.

Despite the Thunder and the Nuggets being essentially locked atop the Western Conference standings after Thursday’s games, two-time MVP Nikola Jokic remains a favorite on most betting lines while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander owns the second-best odds.

So, while this looks like a potential runaway, let’s keep in mind that 23 days remain before the end of the regular season.

What’s disappointing, though, is we won’t see these teams meet again in the regular season for a final head-to-head look at the candidates. After falling to the defending champions 128-95 on Oct. 29, the Thunder reeled off three-straight wins over the Nuggets to take the series.

Gilgeous-Alexander played in all four games, averaging 26.5 points per game on 44.9% shooting with 5.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 turnovers per game. Jokic participated in three of those contests and averaged 23.7 ppg (70.7% shooting) with 10 rpg, 8 apg, 1 spg and 4.7 tpg.

One stat to know: 4 — The number of games this season Jokic registered 35-plus points with 15-plus rebounds, which trails only Giannis Antetokounmpo (who has five such games).

What they’re saying: “It’s always amazing to be mentioned with guys who have done amazing things. It’s humbling because they’ve laid the foundation for me to be able to just play my game.” – Gilgeous-Alexander after becoming the 13th player in NBA history to score 30-plus points in 50 games in a season.

On the rise: Here comes Luka Doncic. The superstar guard moves into a tie with Antetokounmpo at No. 3 after leading Dallas on Thursday to its seventh win in its last eight showings. Doncic dished eight dimes in a game the Mavs rocked the rims for 18 dunks to set a new single-game franchise record.

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

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 26.1 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 9 apg

His case: Maybe Jokic does have eyes in the back of his head. As long as the 29-year-old keeps dropping triple-doubles like the one orchestrated Thursday in a quality win over the Knicks, he’ll remain so far ahead of the field he won’t be able to see it in the rearview anyway.

The 30-14-11 performance against New York, snapped the Knicks’ four-game winning streak and came on the heels of a 35-point, 16-rebound gem in a gritty road win at Minnesota.

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 30.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 6.4 apg

His case: Extended his franchise record of 30-point games on Wednesday to 50 (an NBA-high) with 31 points against Utah. The 25-year-old scored 20 of those points in the second half, as Oklahoma City captured its third-straight win and 13th in its last 16 outings.

A three-game road trip starting Friday at Toronto, followed by matchups at Milwaukee and New Orleans which should test the young team’s mettle as it fights to stay atop the Western Conference.

T-3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 30.7 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 6.4 apg

His case: Antetokounmpo appears to be losing some ground after missing two games dealing with a left hamstring issue. The 29-year-old returned Thursday and contributed to Milwaukee’s 115-108 win against Brooklyn.

He scored 21 points with nine rebounds and five assists in the victory. But the Bucks are currently riding the hot hand of Damian Lillard, who has averaged 31 points and 11.3 assists over the team’s last three outings.

T-3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 34.1 ppg, 9 rpg, 9.8 apg

His case: Doncic produced perhaps the ugliest triple-double of the season Tuesday in San Antonio, shooting 6 of 27 against the NBA’s 28th-rated defense. But this is all about winning, and the 25-year-old keeps delivering on that front.

Doncic scored 34 points with nine rebounds Thursday against Utah to push Dallas into sixth in the West. He just needs to maintain the momentum. Doncic needs just four more 30-5-5 games to tie Oscar Robertson for the most such outings in a single season.

5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 27.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 4.9 apg

His case: The savvy 25-year-old put up a couple of 30-point showings this week to increase his 30-point games total to 25, which is tied for sixth in the NBA. Tatum scored 23 points in Wednesday’s first half against a shorthanded Bucks squad missing Antetokounmpo.

Of the top five MVP candidates, Tatum holds the lowest usage percentage (29.6%) outside of Jokic (28.7%). Still, you can’t discount his contributions to Boston’s double-digit game lead in the East.

The next five

6. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Last week’s ranking: No. 6)
7. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers (Last week’s ranking: No. 7)
8. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: No. 8)
9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: No. 10)
10. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Last week’s ranking: unranked)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves; Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers; LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

* * *

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

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