The NBA season is well underway and most teams have played a minimum of 25 games. While it is still early to tell, we have a solid idea of the standings on both conferences. The Golden State Warriors have looked supremely dominant, while the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Warriors have surprised everybody with how they have been playing without Klay Thompson because Stephen Curry is playing like the best player on the court.
James Harden has not been himself on the floor and does not look locked in during the regular season, which could hurt the Nets going forward. But so far, Kevin Durant has done his part in keeping the Nets with the #1 seed in the East by putting up 29.6 PPG and dominating the court in every manner. The Bucks are getting better each game since they are healthy, and their franchise superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is having another MVP-worthy season. Quite frankly, the reigning Finals MVP looks hungry for his second-straight NBA championship.
But another man is flying under the radar as an MVP candidate: Nikola Jokic. The Serbian superstar is putting up extremely solid numbers and would be the leading MVP candidate in most other seasons. He is literally carrying the Denver Nuggets on the court as the franchise endured a rough spell with their big man injured. Thanks to Jokic, Denver is back at .500 and the center deserves the bulk of the credit for that.
Each of these four superstars has been at their best this season, and they are well ahead in the race for the MVP Award in 2022. It has been a pleasure to watch each of them play this season, and they are by far the 4 best players in the NBA at this moment of time. As a result, there are only 4 players who will battle it out for the MVP Award this season, and here is how they rank at this point.
4. Nikola Jokic
Season Statistics: 26.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Nikola Jokic is clearly flying under the radar as a top-5 player in the game right now. Jokic is by far the most dominant center in the game, and he impacts the game in every area of the floor. He is a sensational offensive player that can score inside and outside (37.9%), rebound at an elite level, and pass the ball with ease. On defense, his raw size and strength make him a handful when opponents attack the rim.
Nikola is putting up over 7.0 APG as a 6’11” big man, which means he can see over any opponent when he handles the ball. Everything that the Nuggets do on the floor goes through Jokic because the big man literally acts as a point-center at times. What is even more impressive is that Jokic is developing a cutting edge in his play, and is not backing down from any opponents looking to punk him. Whether it is the backup from his brothers or his pride for being a reigning MVP, Jokic is enjoying the competition on the floor and is answering the call.
In terms of pure value to a team, Jokic is easily a part of the MVP race and will be throughout the remainder of the season. When Nikola was injured, the Nuggets went on a 6-game losing streak and looked like a lottery team at times. Even with Jamal Murray on the court, Denver is nowhere near as dominant when the center is off the floor. Jokic means everything to the Nuggets because when he is healthy, Denver is a championship contender and a lottery team when he is out.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Season Statistics: 27.0 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.6 BPG
The Greek Freak is simply a one-of-a-kind talent and is climbing the all-time player rankings by the season. At the age of 27, Giannis already has 2 MVP Awards, a Defensive Player of the Year Award, a Finals MVP, and an NBA title. The reigning champion might be the most athletic superstar in NBA history because he can get from one end of the court to the other in a few dribbles and can leap out of the gym. Giannis, even when his shot is not falling, can put up monster double-doubles because of his raw size.
Antetokounmpo is also a point-forward with the Bucks because he is more than capable of bringing the ball up and creating for others. The 6’11” forward has tremendous court vision and is getting more controlled by the season. Much like how LeBron James plays, Giannis is learning how to control the pace of the game by always making the right play. The former No.15 overall pick is unstoppable on the fast break because he is explosive and deadly when he is ahead of steam. With Giannis on the break, the Bucks offense becomes extremely elite.
Even in the half-court, Giannis is willing to create for others and not force the action anymore. The Greek Freak is a monster down-low because he has a soft touch around the rim and is developing a go-to mid-range fadeaway jumper. Giannis will never be a knockdown shooter at an elite level (28.0%), but if he can be somewhat consistent, he might be one of the most unstoppable players in league history.
Similar to Denver with Jokic, Giannis takes the Bucks to a different level. Antetokounmpo can defend all five positions, can drop 30 points with ease, and is more than capable of hauling down defensive rebounds. Giannis is so dominant, that he is drawing comparisons to Shaquille O’Neal because no player has a chance of stopping him. Shaq was dominant through his strength and size, but Giannis does it in his way with explosiveness and length. As a 2-time MVP, Antetokounmpo has a great chance to win his 3rd this season.
2. Kevin Durant
Season Statistics: 29.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 5.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG
What can be said about Kevin Durant that has not been said already? Perhaps, one thing. He should have more MVP awards than the one he has currently. Other than LeBron James, Kevin Durant has been the most unstoppable small forward since Larry Bird. The former Oklahoma City Thunder superstar is putting up his highest scoring average since the 2014 season when he won his first and only MVP award. If that is a pattern of things to come, KD could be close to winning his second MVP. Based on how he has been playing, Durant has a legitimate argument.
Without Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets are nowhere near as unstoppable as they should be. Instead of a Big Three, Brooklyn has a Big Two with a ton of older veterans. Unfortunately for the Nets, James Harden is struggling from the floor. Even if his stat line looks impressive at a glance (20.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 9.6 APG), his scoring average is the lowest it has been since the 3rd season of his career. The Beard is also shooting 40.4%, the lowest figure since his rookie season. From three, Harden is nailing only 33.7% while averaging 5.0 turnovers per game. Clearly, when looking deeper, Harden has not been effective.
Because of Irving’s absence and Harden’s struggles, Durant has led the Nets to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Bucks and Bulls. KD is a 4-time scoring champion, so we already know his scoring ability is at an all-time great level. But looking at the best scorers ever, Durant is once again proving himself as upper echelon. He is shooting 52.3% from the field, 37.5% from three, and 88.2% from the free-throw line.
Without Durant, Brooklyn Nets are hardly a playoff team and he has been doing it all season long. If not for the one man ahead of him, Kevin Durant is the runaway MVP.
1. Stephen Curry
Season Statistics: 26.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Stephen Curry is playing like the best player in the game. As soon as Jokic, Giannis, and Durant start gaining steam, Curry explodes with massive performances. The point guard recently made history by breaking the all-time 3-point record against the Knicks, and he will continue to pile on this record that won’t be broken by anybody. The Golden State Warriors superstar is once again putting up Hall of Fame numbers, but his percentages are truly excellent. The point guard is averaging 39.9% from three and 92.3% from the stripe, marks of an all-time great marksman.
But Curry’s campaign as the MVP leader is not because of his shooting or even his stats, but rather it is his leadership. Curry has lifted every player around him, from 3rd year shooting guard Jordan Poole to 6th year guard Gary Payton II. Poole has taken his average from 12.0 PPG to 17.9 PPG in one season and is clearly learning how to become a scorer from Steph. Payton II realizes Steph needs help on defense and is proving to be a much-improved player. Speaking of defense, Curry has greatly improved on that end as well.
The 7-time All-Star and 3-time NBA champion is leading the Golden State Warriors to the best record in the NBA without the presence of Klay Thompson, something that nobody expected. The Warriors have an incredible 14-2 home record, and taking care of business at home is usually an indication of a championship team. The fact that the best player on the best team in the NBA is breaking records, Steph is ahead of the pack in the MVP race. The former No. 7 overall pick needs to continue his level of play because any downturn in his play will allow the other 3 superstars to get close and even leapfrog him in the MVP race.
This MVP race is one of the tightest in recent history because 4 players truly deserve the award. The difference lies in the tightest of margins, but the best player on the best team (who happens to be the best in the world at his position) normally ends up with the award. There is still plenty of time left in the regular season before the MVP is crowned, but there will only be 4 players who have a legitimate shot at winning it and Stephen Curry is currently ahead of everyone in that regard.