Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Luka Doncic takes over No. 1 as Top 5 jostling continues

Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and a handful of others are moving up in our latest look at the contenders for Kia MVP.

Joel Embiid’s monster game vs. Utah has vaulted him back into the Kia MVP conversation.

Undoubtedly, sipping cricket tea and munching battered and fried lamb tongue skewers can prove humbling.

But the deference Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo showed for fellow NBA superstars in a recent appearance on teammate Serge Ibaka’s “How Hungry Are You?” show on YouTube provides an idea of the teeming amount of incredible talent around the league — not to mention the difficulty in properly ordering all these nightly virtuoso performances.

Asked by Ibaka if “you feel like you are the face of the league?” Antetokounmpo quickly changed the question.

“Do I feel like I’m one of the faces of the league? Yes,” Antetokounmpo said. “LeBron [James] is [the face of the league]. He’s still playing. Steph [Curry] just won a championship. [Kevin Durant’s] still hooping. [Joel] Embiid’s killing. [Nikola] Jokic [is the] back-to-back MVP. Luka [Doncic] magic. There’s a lot of people out there.”

One of them finally stepped into the top 10 of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder in dramatic fashion after starting off Week 4 of the NBA season as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Embiid makes his debut in this edition at No. 6, on the heels of a pair of downright monstrous performances.

Last season’s scoring leader, Embiid spent the weekend putting in overtime, dropping 101 points in back-to-back victories over a span of 24 hours, including a career-high 59 points Sunday night in a 105-98 win against the Utah Jazz. The 28-year-old tacked on 11 rebounds, eight assists and seven blocked shots in this season’s most blatant display of two-way dominance.

Take an all-access look at Joel Embiid's record-setting 59-point night vs. Utah.

The big man even scored 26 of the Sixers’ 27 points in the final frame on the way to becoming the first NBA player to register at least 50 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and five blocks in an outing since 1973-74 (when blocks became an official NBA statistic).

“I’ve seen guys score a lot of points,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. “I haven’t seen guys score a lot of points, rebound, and then, the blocked shots. That was impressive. He was getting everything. I’ve never seen a more dominating performance when you look at both offense and defense.”

The world certainly took notice.

Luckily for us, we’ll catch a glimpse of two of the league’s most dominating players Friday, when the Sixers host Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (7:30 ET, ESPN). The last time these superstars faced off, the Bucks opened their season with a 90-88 win in Philadelphia as Embiid finished with 15 points (on 6-for-21 shooting) while Antetokounmpo nearly notched a triple-double (21 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists). Overall, the Bucks have won eight of their last nine games against the Sixers.

Antetokounmpo surrenders the top spot in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, while Doncic surges to No. 1 in another shakeup of the top five, which adds reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic at the fourth spot.

Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander creeps into the mix at seventh because he continues to stuff the stat sheet. Meanwhile, Curry clings to No. 10 after delivering a heroic performance Wednesday night in another Golden State loss.

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

1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 34.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 7.8 apg

The NBA’s leading scorer, Doncic is carrying the Mavericks (8-6), who are seventh in the Western Conference. Although the 23-year-old cooled down somewhat after dropping 30 points or more in the first nine games of the season, he put up 42 and 35 points in wins over Portland and the LA Clippers, respectively, on Saturday and Tuesday before sitting out of Wednesday’s loss to the Houston Rockets. Doncic’s dominance is highlighted by a career-best efficiency as his true shooting percentage is 60.4% — which pales in comparison to Curry’s 70.1%, per colleague John Schuhmann.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 31.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.1 apg

The first quarter of Boston’s 126-101 win against Atlanta provided some evidence of the maturity we’re starting to see in Tatum’s game. The 24-year-old shot 1-for-7 (and 0-for-4 on 3-pointers) to start that game. But he found ways to contribute in other areas, dishing six first-quarter assists (tying for the most dimes he’s produced in any quarter of his career) and logging a steal, too, as the Celtics seized a 30-18 lead. The 3-ball didn’t drop for Tatum most of the night, but he managed to hit 3 of 10 from range as Boston captured its eighth-consecutive win.

Jayson Tatum is rolling and has a serious shot at the Kia MVP this season.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 29.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 5.5 apg

Antetokounmpo sat out two of Milwaukee’s last four games and shot 6 of 18 from the field Wednesday in a 113-98 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In that game, he finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Antetokounmpo is averaging a career-high tying 29.9 points per game and ranks second in the NBA in rebounding (11.8 rpg). But he could use help from the supporting cast, as Jrue Holiday (sprained right ankle) has missed four consecutive games but could be available Friday in Philadelphia. Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton and Joe Ingles still have yet to make their season debuts.

4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Season stats: 20.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 8.9 apg

Let’s hope for a speedy recovery for the Serbian because it’s nice to see him back in the top five for the first time since we started ranking the players for this list. Jokic entered the NBA’s Health and Safety protocols on Tuesday and sat out of Wednesday’s loss to the visiting New York Knicks. With Jokic on the floor, the Nuggets had won five of six going into Wednesday and overall, they are third in the West. Jokic isn’t putting up monster scoring numbers, but his fingerprints have definitely been all over this team’s wins.

5. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 29.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 6.8 apg

Morant’s time in the top five seems fleeting, as the Grizzlies have dropped two straight since backcourt mate Desmond Bane suffered a Grade 2 sprain of his right big toe and will miss the next 2-3 weeks. Morant has definitely been putting in work blessing us with a few eye-popping highlights during Tuesday’s loss in New Orleans on both offense and defense. In that game, Morant scored 36 points — his seventh 30-point game this season — while the other four starters combined for just 37 points.

Ja Morant put on a show in the Grizzlies' loss to the Pelicans.

The Next Five:

6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
8. Devin Booker (Last week’s ranking: No. 6)
9. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week’s ranking: No. 4)
10. Stephen Curry (Last week’s ranking: No. 10)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers; Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks.

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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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