Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Luka Doncic starts strong in chase for hardware

Dallas phenom Luka Doncic is off to a ridiculous start, but Giannis has been dominant for the undefeated Bucks.

Kia MVP Ladder: Why Luka Doncic's scoring outburst has him slotted 2nd

Luka Doncic has now registered 30 points in eight straight games to open the season.

Might as well start with some contentiousness.

On one hand, we’ve got Donovan Mitchell living up to billing as arguably the top acquisition of the 2022 offseason, having lifted Cleveland to a 6-1 record, highlighted Wednesday by an overtime thriller against the Boston Celtics for the team’s sixth straight win. Yet in this first ranking of players for the 2022-23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, the Cavaliers’ showstopper checks in at No. 3 on the list.

Blame at least some of that on “Luka Magic.”

The NBA’s leading scorer and betting favorite to win his first MVP award, Luka Doncic Euro-stepped into history Wednesday by notching his seventh consecutive game with at least 30 points in the Dallas Mavericks’ 103-100 win against the Utah Jazz. Doncic’s current tear registers as the longest 30-point streak to start a season since 1962-63, when Wilt Chamberlain lit up the league for 23-consecutive 30-point outings.

Doncic became just the third player to accomplish this feat. Chamberlain did it twice (1959-60 and 1962-63), while Jack Twyman reeled off seven-straight 30-point outings to tip off the 1959-60 season.

In addition to scoring 33 points against the Jazz, Doncic dished 11 assists to move past Michael Jordan (38 games) for 14th place on the NBA’s all-time list of games with 30-plus points and 10-plus assists.

“When you talk about MJ and Wilt, that’s rare air,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “We get to see that on a nightly basis. A 23-year-old kid that is playing at this level, is really, really special, and cool to see. He can do it in so many ways when you talk about posting up, getting to the basket, shooting the 3, shooting the little step-back. It just shows the focus that he has right now. He’s carrying the team and putting the team in the position to win.”

That’s not to say that Mitchell isn’t cooking, too. After all, the 26-year-old leads the league in clutch scoring for a Cavs squad that ranks No. 1 in the NBA in clutch minutes and second in clutch winning percentage (.857).

But in an MVP voting world where narrative often triumphs, Doncic might hold an early edge here. It’s certainly worth pointing out his lightning-fast start to this season, especially after he struggled in the first month of 2021-22 while working himself back into shape.

“I just know from last year I had to start better because the way I started last year wasn’t acceptable,” Doncic said. “So, I tried to learn from that and just be better than last year.”

So far, mission accomplished for Doncic, who debuts at No. 2 in the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder behind two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Ja Morant and Devin Booker round out the top five, while reining two-time MVP Nikola Jokic checks in at No. 9.

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

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Season stats: 33.6 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 5.0 apg

If you take out his season debut (21 points), Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in six consecutive games — to tie his career-long streak from November of 2019 — in leading the Bucks to a 7-0 record. That perfect start ranks as Milwaukee’s best start since the 2018-19 season. If Antetokounmpo, 27, puts up another 30-point game Friday at Minnesota (10 ET, ESPN), he’ll tie the third-longest 30-point scoring streak in franchise history. Last season, he became the first player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for four consecutive seasons, a streak that seems likely to keep going.

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Season stats: 36.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 9.0 apg

Credit the point-guard tutelage passed on by Kidd, but in addition to the eye-popping production, we’re seeing growth from Doncic as a leader. That’s led to this squad playing with plenty of chemistry and camaraderie that should serve Dallas well in the postseason. Before this latest milestone, Doncic became the first player in NBA history to tally 200-plus points, 50-plus rebounds and 50-plus assists through the first six games of a season. “Luka’s a savant in every sense of the word as it applies to basketball,” Mavericks guard Spencer Dinwiddie said. “The best is yet to come.”

3. Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers

Season stats: 31.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 7.1 apg

Let’s revisit this monster trade from back in September. Now, perhaps, you understand why Cleveland went all-in to acquire Mitchell, who became the third player in league history score 30 points or more in each of his first three games with a franchise. Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff sums it up well in describing Mitchell’s “will to win that’s not matched by many.” You saw it all on full display late in Cleveland’s OT win vs. Boston. Check out the full package of highlights to get a deeper feel for Mitchell’s impact. “Spida” and Darius Garland comprise one tough backcourt.

4. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Season stats: 31.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.4 apg

Morant led the league in paint scoring (16.6 points per game) in 2021-22, and although it’s too early to definitively call right now, it appears he’s improved 3-point shooting (51.9%) this season. His doing so opens up more of the offense for Memphis. Defensively, he’s still a work in progress. But you can’t argue results, as Memphis is 5-3 headed into Friday’s game vs. Charlotte (8 ET, NBA League Pass). The continued development of Desmond Bane only helps, as the Grizzlies now appear to have a legitimate secondary playmaker to complement Morant.

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Season stats: 27.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 5.4 apg

The fourth-place finisher in last year’s MVP race, Booker scored 194 points through the first seven games, the fourth-most points by a Phoenix player in franchise history over such a span to start a season. Booker turned 26 years old on Oct. 30, but by then had produced the sixth-most points (11,363) before a 26th birthday in NBA history. Although Booker ranked 10th in the NBA in scoring (entering Friday’s games), his value goes beyond the numbers. The eighth-year veteran continues to develop as a playmaker and, most importantly, a leader for a team that aims to finish this season among the top in the West.

The Next Five:

6. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
7. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
8. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
9. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

And five more (listed alphabetically): Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors; DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls; Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets; 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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