2023 NBA awards race: Embiid’s MVP push, picks for every award

James Harden, Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden, Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Most Valuable Player

1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Nikola Jokic continues to post historic offensive numbers while elevating those around him in a way no other MVP candidate can quite match. Jokic can’t claim Embiid’s volume of scoring, but he’s more efficient from just about everywhere on the floor and he is, arguably, the best playmaker in the NBA — a genius manipulator who can seemingly bend space and time to pass teammates open.

The lack of defensive intensity was noticable post All-Star break and the Nuggets definitely coasted in the final month, which can’t be ignored. But on balance, Jokic’s offensive brilliance is impossible to overlook here. He was the Most Valuable Player in the true sense of the award: no player was more important to his team’s success as the No. 1 seed in the West.

2. Joel Embiid, 76ers

While Jokic ended the season with a whimper, Embiid went on an absolute tear after the All-Star break. His defensive intensity improved and the 76ers even finished a game ahead of Denver in the win column. Embiid is the best scorer in the NBA and he’s the anchor of a top-eight defense. When locked in, Embiid is straight-up the best rim protector in the sport for my money. He is going to win MVP and he will be totally deserving. The whole of his offensive output doesn’t quite reach Jokic, in my opinion, but anyone claiming Embiid’s case is built entirely on narrative is speaking disingenuously.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Another perfectly reasonable candidate who, in a year with fewer historic offensive numbers scattered around the association, might just be the obvious runaway winner. Giannis is the best player on the best team. He’s the best defender of the top-3 MVP candidates and his intensity never wavers (he did, however, miss more games than Jokic and Embiid). Antetokounmpo is still the consensus best player in basketball for most folks who cover the league. He shouldn’t finish any lower than this.

4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder

OKC cracked the play-in despite an average team age of 22.8 and the season-long absence of Chet Holmgren, the reigning No. 2 pick and the biggest prize of OKC’s draft-driven rebuild so far. A lot of that boils down to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who emerged as a top-10 player on the strength of his dominant self-creation skills, three-level shot-making, and underrated defense.

5. Jayson Tatum, Celtics 

The best player on the second-best team. The Celtics lost steam as the season progressed and so did Tatum’s MVP case, but he remains an otherworldly shot-maker and bankable wing defender who can will his team to victory on any given night. It’s maybe unfair to penalize a guy for having good teammates, but Tatum definitely has the most support of anyone on this list.

Honorable mention: Luka Doncic, Mavericks

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