Luka Doncic continues to stockpile counting stats for Dallas, but that’s a borderline uncharitable description of his impact. Dallas relies on Luka, perhaps more than any other team relies on one single player, but Luka has proven that he can win games that way. The Mavs would do well to get him better teammates (just check the standings), but Doncic is very much from the James Harden school of high-usage megawatt creators who can single-handedly power a contender.
Of the all-time great players, Stephen Curry might be the most challenging for average NBA fans to wrap their heads around. He doesn’t dominate the ball quite like Doncic, he doesn’t defend at the level of Durant, and yet he just seems to influence every aspect of the game for Golden State. The word “gravity” gets used too liberally in NBA media, but it applies truly and fully to Curry. He warps the defense like no other player can. He’s much more than a great shooter; he’s a singularly intelligent player who understands how to weaponize that elite shooting to the fullest extent.
Joel Embiid is about to win his first MVP award and it will be fully deserved. He’s the best points machine in the NBA right now, too skilled for elite post defenders and way too strong for everyone else. Defend him straight up and it’s a free throw parade. Throw multiple bodies at him, and Embiid is better than ever at navigating heavy traffic. He also happens to be an elite rim protector; maybe a top-five defender in the entire NBA when he’s all-in.
Nikola Jokic is probably more unfamiliar to the average NBA fan than any two-time MVP should be. Some of that is the league’s fault; some of it is simply due to his unconventional brand of stardom. He doesn’t chirp to the media and he’s not a traditional highlight machine. Instead, he dominates with playmaking wizardry and throwback post-up dominance. He can’t jump, but he moves with the fleet-footedness of a ballerina in the post and he’s the most efficient volume scorer in the NBA, bar none.
His claim hasn’t necessarily gotten stronger, but it’s hard to deny the No. 1 spot to Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s the most physically imposing player in the NBA, a blunt-force weapon who can plow through defenders en route to the basket and devour offenses whole on the other end. He’s also a brilliant playmaker who understands, now better than ever, how to leverage his gravity as a driver to create for teammates. He also dominates the glass for good measure. We’re talking about maybe the only perennial MVP and DPOY candidate in the NBA.