For the second consecutive season, the three finalists for the Kia NBA Most Valuable Player are Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Before this season’s winner is announced on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), we break down the stats for each player and how the three finalists compare to one another in a variety of categories.
No award has been discussed and debated more throughout the year than the MVP. Would Jokic become just the fourth player to win the honor in three consecutive seasons? Would this be the year that Embiid finally broke through after finishing as the runner-up the past two seasons? Would Antetokounmpo pass both Embiid and Jokic and become just the ninth player in league history with at least three career MVPs?
Kia MVP Ladder
NBA.com’s Kia MVP Ladder tracked the race on a weekly basis throughout the season, releasing a new top 10 every Friday before making a final vote at season’s end. Below is a visual recap of all the ladder moves over the course of the season, with each of the finalists holding the top spot at least once.
When deciding which player deserves the top individual honor the NBA bestows, voters have to study the game film and utilize all of the data at their disposal in order to make their most-informed decision. To get started, below is a look at how Antetokounmpo, Embiid and Jokic compare among the key traditional stats – points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game – as well as in field goal percentage, double-doubles and triple-doubles.
A few numbers immediately stand out. First, there is Embiid’s 33.1 points per game as he won his second straight scoring title with a career-best average in his seventh season. In a season that saw massive scoring numbers across the league, no one was more consistent as a scoring force than Embiid. Another standout Embiid stat is his 1.7 blocks per game, which ranked seventh in the league and was more than the other two MVP finalists combined.
Next, there’s Jokic’s 9.8 assists per game, which ranked third in the NBA this season and is also the highest mark ever recorded by a center. Jokic finished a distant third among the MVP finalists in scoring (he was 18th overall in the NBA) at 24.5 ppg. That number is key, but it also represents the number of points per game that Jokic created for his Denver teammates with his assists. When combining his points scored and created, Jokic accounted for 49 ppg, which tops the combined totals of both Giannis (46.2) and Embiid (43.9). It also tops Jokic’s marks from his first two MVP seasons (47.1 in 2020-21 and 46.8 in 2021-22). Jokic also finished with decisive leads in field goal percentage (63.2%, eighth overall), double-doubles (58, second) and triple-doubles (29, first).
For Antetokounmpo, it was not a single number that stood out, but rather his combination of points (31.1, fifth), rebounds (11.8, third) and assists (5.7, 28th) as he became just the sixth player in NBA history to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a season, joining Russell Westbrook, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor.
The advanced metrics offer another level of analysis and a few more stats that really stand out when comparing these three potential MVPs.
Jokic holds a sizable lead in offensive efficiency rating at 124.2, while Embiid finished at 119 and Antetokounmpo at 116.4. To put these numbers in perspective, the Sacramento Kings set the all-time record for team offensive efficiency this season with a mark of 118.6 points per 100 possessions. With Jokic on the court, the Nuggets offense was 5.6 points per 100 possessions better than the most efficient offense in league history. Embiid topped the Kings’ mark as well, just by a slimmer margin compared to Jokic.
When we look at usage rate, Antetokounmpo (37.3%) and Embiid (37%) finished the regular season ranked first and second, respectively, while Jokic finished 40th among the 372 players that played at least 1,000 possessions this season. The usage rates of Anteokounmpo and Embiid fall in line with what we’ve seen from the majority of MVP winners in the play-by-play era (1996-97 to present) for which we have this data to analyze.
Of the previous 26 MVP winners, 17 of them ranked in the top five in usage rate, including 12 of the previous 13 winners before Jokic won his first MVP in 2019-20 with a usage of 29.3% – which ranked 19th in the league. Then, Jokic followed that up with a 12th-ranked 30.9% usage rate last season. The only player of the past 26 seasons to rank above 20th in usage rate and win MVP was Steve Nash in both 2004-05 (104th) and ‘05-06 (56th). As the primary playmaker of Denver’s offense, Jokic profiles more like a pass-first point guard than he does a dominating scorer that fits the usual bill of an MVP.
Embiid (33.1 ppg, first), Antetokounmpo (31.1 ppg, fifth) and Jokic (24.5 ppg, 18th) have each proven to be great scorers in the NBA, but each player gets their points in different ways.
Below we look at each player’s scoring profile based on the percentage of points scored from each scoring zone ( in the paint, in the mid-range, from 3-point range and from the free throw line). The second slide breaks down each player’s scoring by opponent this season.
Of the three finalists, Embiid is the only one that scored fewer than half of his points inside the paint, while both Antetokounmpo and Jokic had paint points account for over 60% of their offense. Embiid led the field from the mid-range as he finished third in the league with 171 mid-range field goals made on 48.7% shooting; he also led from the free throw line, where he led the NBA in free throws made (10.0 per game) and finished second to Antetokounmpo in attempts (11.7).
Another way to differentiate the three finalists is to break down how they score their points by play type. Using Synergy play type data, we have a snapshot of each player’s preferred play types, with each of the three finalists leading the league in one specific area.
Antetokounmpo led all players in scoring in transition at 9.3 points per game, which accounts for nearly 30% of his entire offense. Jokic led all players in scoring on post-ups at 6.4 points per game; this season saw Jokic move his scoring closer to the basket as he attempted his fewest 3-pointers since his second NBA season in 2016-17.
Embiid truly stands out when breaking down play types. Not only did he lead all players in scoring as the roll man in pick-and-roll sets at 8.2 points per game, he also finished second in both post-up points (5.2 per game) and isolation points (7.0 per game). Embiid’s offensive versatility helped push him to his second straight scoring title.
Whether or not his skill on both ends of the court will be enough to claim his first MVP – and win the first-ever Michael Jordan trophy – will be seen on Tuesday night.