NBA MVP Rankings: Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic in Crowded Field; why Kevin Durant is still of great value

NBA MVP Rankings: Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic in Crowded Field;  why Kevin Durant is still of great value

If you claim to be sure who should be the NBA’s MVP at this point, you have more power. Personally – and I don’t think I’m alone here – I change my mind almost every night. The league’s talent pool has never been greater, and those great performances are becoming such a standard practice that it’s hard to even put them in perspective anymore. I dare say we all take them for granted.

Nonetheless, we here (or should I say, here are the voters, who I am not) are charged with the nigh-impossible duty of severing these candidates at the top of the food chain by the thinnest of threads. It’s like trying to decide who gets into Stanford or Harvard. Each of these kids has an awesome GPA and a Moonball SAT score.

Coincidentally, we have our own acronyms in the NBA, and the guy who once again sits at the top of damn near each of them is my start. Here are mine coming into play on Wednesday 11th January very liquid MVP rankings.

  • Caesars Sports Betting Odds: +325

PER (Player Efficiency Rating). VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). WS (Profit Shares). BPM (plus/minus box). RAPTOR (Robust algorithm (with) player tracking (and) on/off ratings!) WAR, Total RAPTOR and Defensive RAPTOR. No matter how you feel about the NBA nerd number movement, once again being basically #1 on the advanced stats board is no coincidence. Jokic’s value to his team continues to be off the charts. (Yes, I know, so does every other guy on this list, but Jokic is just a little bit above the rest.)

Jokic – who currently has the second-lowest MVP ratings on the Caesars board, behind Luka Doncic – leads the league with 54.7 front court touches per game. For reference, Doncic averages 33.9 touches per game. Does that mean Jokic controls more properties? No, but it means he doesn’t hold the ball as long, allowing him to have multiple touches per possession. That’s why Denver’s offense is doing so well. Jokic is the center of attention, but he only holds the ball for an average of 4.4 seconds per possession, while Doncic controls it for almost 10 seconds per possession.

That’s no punch for Doncic, who is everything for the Mavericks, both because he’s incredible and because they have no other options to create consistent offense, while Jokic is back working with the Nuggets’ masterful roster with Jamal Murray fold and Aaron Gordon, who has blossomed into a Rand All-Star since joining Jokic.

Still, this Denver squad doesn’t look that hot without Jokic making everything work, falling over 25 points per 100 possessions when not on the floor, via cleaning the glass. In other words, when Jokic is playing, Denver is operating at what would be considered the best offensive rating in history. If he sits, they have the worst offense in the league.

And it’s not just an insult. Jokic’s defense has steadily solidified over the past few seasons to the point where he is now the anchor of an impressive unit, saving the Nuggets an extra 3.9 points per 100 possessions by a league average defender. (It’s called Defensive Box Plus/Minus, and yes, Jokic tops that category too.)

Oh, by the way, the Nuggets are tied at the top in the West too, so Jokic, who’s averaging half an assist per game from a triple-double, doesn’t have to fulfill the outsize burden of proving he did last season when he made his second Consecutive MVP won, though the Nuggets finished as the No. 6 seed. If Denver stays at the top of the table and Jokic continues to play that way, he should become the league’s first three-goal MVP since Larry Bird in the mid-’80s.

Two advanced stat categories that Jokic doesn’t master are Basketball-Reference’s Offensive Win Shares (OWS) and 538’s Offensive RAPTOR. Luka, currently the MVP favorite according to Caesars, tops these. And he’s second to Jokic in almost all the others. Doncic leads the league with 34.2 goals per game and his 61-20-10 triple double – the first such line in NBA history – is still the talk of the town.

Doncic recorded three games over 50 points in the last week of December and so far in January he has gone 39, 34 and 43-11-7 against the Clippers on Tuesday night, albeit in one loss. Most impressively, as of this writing, Doncic has the Mavericks as a top four seed in the West without anywhere near a second All-Star (all due respect to Christian Wood, who was obviously great).

The recently injured Durant has tremendous value here and if he comes back in a month and picks up where he left off, and especially if the Nets pull out the East’s No. 1, he’ll be one of the favorites to end up. Unfortunately I don’t see Durant in this post in the short term due to absence, but he has been so exceptional this season that one could argue that he should be at the top of this list at this moment.

Again, the edges are tiny. Durant is shooting 57 percent at seven middle-range shots per game this season. He is 56 percent overall with a true shot percentage of .637 – a mark that includes 38 percent of 3 and a clip of almost 80 percent at the rim.

Those numbers on the diet of the highly competitive looks that Durant largely survives on are insane. Durant was also the driving force behind a top-10 Brooklyn defense. His effort never lets up defensively. He makes the second and third attempts whenever he is able. He closely guards the perimeter. He turns. Protects the rim. Switches seamlessly between tasks. He’s almost as smooth defensively as he is offensively, which obviously says a lot.

Brooklyn’s season has completely turned around. This is the Nets team everyone envisioned when Durant came on board. He’s always tried so hard, but now, at least for now, he’s got the drama-free season support he deserves, and the Nets look like a top-tier contender for that reason.

The best player of the best team in the league during the season. If you have Tatum in the top three on this list, or even at the top, you have a realistic argument. Tatum is averaging over 30 per game and scoring 124.3 points per 100 shot attempts per Cleaning the Glass, which is by far the most efficient mark of his career.

Tatum hit a triple-double 29-14-10 against Dallas last week and did great defensive work at Doncic. Tatum is at the sweet spot of his career, where he’s at or near the peak of his ability, but also young enough to prove something every night. Tatum plays as hard as anyone. He’s chasing a title. He chases MVP. It’s risen to the game’s elite ranks, but it still lacks the hardware of those of similar status. It makes him even hungrier for something close enough to taste.

Giannis is less than two weeks away from becoming the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to record two straight games with 40 points and 20 rebounds, and he followed with a career-high 55 points in a win over the Wizards last Tuesday. Giannis is again averaging big numbers, but despite averaging close to 32 points per game, he doesn’t quite have the same offensive impact as the other guys on this list.

That’s a high bar given the seasons Jokic, Doncic, Durant and Tatum have, but that’s the deal in such a tight MVP race. The Bucks are a bottom 10 halffield offense, and the pull-up midrange shot that Antetokounmpo weaponized last season only to see it fall this season plays a role (44 percent of 10- 19 feet last season, 34 percent). this season, according to The Bucks have lost six of their last 10.

Still in the running

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