Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Luka Doncic leaps Joel Embiid for No. 2 spot

Thunder star keeps pouring it on, Doncic has Mavs surging, but Nikola Jokic remains at the top following another impressive week.

Luka Doncic has scored 30 or more points in 7 of the Mavericks’ 12 games this season.

Setting the stage this week is Dallas Mavericks superstar guard Luka Doncic, who rebounded Wednesday from one of his worst performances of the season at New Orleans to generate a 26-point, 10-assist gem at Washington on the second night of a back-to-back set without Kyrie Irving (left foot).

Doncic racked up 21 first-half points in culling his NBA-best sixth 20-point half of the season.

One stat to know: 6-0 — The Mavs remain the league’s only undefeated team (6-0) in clutch time (minutes played with the scoring margin within five points with five minutes or fewer remaining) in large part because of Doncic.

The four-time All-Star is 5-for-7 from deep this season in clutch time. Dallas played 55 clutch outings in 2022-23, finishing 26-29 with the four-time All-Star shooting 7-for-36 from range.

Another stat to know: 73% — Through Thursday, the Mavs are 9-3 and in second place in the Western Conference. That record has been built, in part, on clutch play, as the Mavs are the only undefeated team (6-0) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. That’s a big reversal of fortune from last season when they struggled in close games after acquiring Kyrie Irving.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Doncic is the team’s leading clutch scorer, with more clutch points (25) than any two teammates combined, having shot 8-for-11, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range with the score within five in the last five. What may be a surprise is how poorly Doncic had shot on clutch 3s (38-for-166, 22.3%) prior to this season.

Luka Doncic clutch 3-point shooting

Season 3PM 3PA 3P% Lg. avg.
2018-19 12 40 30.0% 31.5%
2019-20 7 41 17.1% 32.6%
2020-21 6 23 26.1% 33.2%
2021-22 6 26 23.1% 30.9%
2022-23 7 36 19.4% 31.8%
2023-24 5 7 71.4% 30.8%
TOTAL 43 173 24.9% 31.9%

Clutch = Game within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime
Through Nov. 16, 2023

Doncic does take tougher 3-pointers that most players, and he’s 6-for-12 on clutch 3s in the playoffs. But this early-season success is something new. — John Schuhmann

What they’re saying: “Luka and that group set the tone, understanding getting in at 4 [o’clock] in the morning, the [potential] excuses of being tired or scheduling. The maturity, the trust, to execute, I thought they did a great job from the start.” – Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd.

And now, the top 5 in the 2022-23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder. 

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 30.0 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 8.4 apg

His case: Good luck unseating the two-time Kia MVP, who just put together his fourth consecutive game with 30 points or more, a streak that ranks as the second-longest of his career. Jokic enters Denver’s upcoming five-game road trip having put up 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in the season-opening 11 consecutive outings.

The plot thickens in New Orleans on Friday for Denver’s third In-Season Tournament matchup.

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 30.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 8.1 apg

His case: Doncic leads the league’s second-highest scoring offense (123.4 points per game), and he’s made subtle changes, such as taking more catch-and-shoot 3s, that have yielded significant results in helping to push Dallas’ pace to No. 5 in the league.

With 58 career triple-doubles, the Slovenian needs only one more to tie Larry Bird for ninth all-time in NBA history. Tough.

3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 31.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 5.8 apg

His case: Named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday for the 12th time, Embiid scored a season-low 20 points in Wednesday’s loss to Boston as Philadelphia dropped consecutive games for the first time. The contest snapped a three-game streak in which the reigning MVP hit at least 10 free throws.

But he should rebound at Atlanta on Friday, having averaged 25.3 points in 16 regular-season games against the Hawks.

4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 28.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 4.1 apg

His case: As some faces change around him due to injuries and personal matters early in the season, Tatum remains a Celtics constant as just the 15th player in league history to score 10,000 points before the age of 26. He’s played in all 11 of Boston’s games.

Tatum leads the 1-0 Celtics into Toronto on Friday for another Group C matchup of the In-Season Tournament.

5. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 28.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6.0 apg

His case: The leader of the NBA’s third-youngest team, Gilgeous-Alexander followed up a 28-point, seven-steal night against San Antonio with 24 points and seven assists Thursday in a win at Golden State to tip off a three-game road trip.

The 25-year-old has scored 30 points or more in seven games. But make no mistake, he’ll pick your pocket. Gilgeous-Alexander entered the win over the Warriors leading the league in steals (2.6).

The Next Five:

6. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Last week: No. 7)
Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers (Last week: No. 9)
8. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week: Not ranked)
9. Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat (Last week: Not ranked)
10. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Last week: Not ranked)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns; Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks; Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers.

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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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