With the league’s new rules requiring end-of-season award winners to have played at least 65 games, the race for the 2023-24 MVP honor is seemingly wide open. Reigning MVP winner Joel Embiid’s recent injury has knocked him out of contention, leaving a trio of favorites and a host of other under-the-radar candidates.
Two-time victors Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (33-17) and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets (35-16) have a lot going for their candidacy in early February.
Not only have they been among the best players in the game, but their teams have the third-best and fourth-best marks in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively. Furthermore, both players are well on their way to meeting the 65-game threshold, as Antetokounmpo has played in 48 of his team’s first 50 contests and Jokic has appeared in 49 of Denver’s 51 tilts.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is a co-favorite as well, but perhaps just a tier below the two aforementioned superstars for a couple of reasons.
While Doncic leads the NBA in scoring (34.5 points per game) and minutes per game (37.5 minutes per contest), his Mavericks are a mediocre 27-23, sitting eighth in the Western Conference. As has been shown in the past, playing for a winning team matters when it comes to the MVP voting.
Doncic has also played in 42 of the team’s first 50 contests, meaning he can only afford to miss nine of the final 32 games of the season. If he stays healthy and the Mavs stay in the middle of the pack, they’ll need him on the court, so he should be able to reach the 65-game mark.
While Leonard has shockingly played in 45 of the Clippers’ first 49 games thus far, his counting stats may end up hurting him in any MVP chatter.
His 24.4 points per game lead Los Angeles but are only 19th in the league. With so many mouths to feed on the Clippers, including fellow stars James Harden, Paul George and Russell Westbrook, some of Leonard’s stats suffer as a result.
The two-time Finals MVP is averaging 6.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, while the standout numbers come in steals and shooting. Leonard is fourth in the NBA in steals per game (1.7), fourth in three-point percentage (.457) and 11th in free throw percentage (.892).
With a solid trio of frontrunners, plus other dark horses like Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell and New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, Leonard doesn’t currently have a realistic chance at the hardware. He’s still having one of his best seasons in years and can at least be in the conversation.