Led by two time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets began the season on fire and stayed on pace for 60 games, propelling Nikola Jokic to become an early-season favorite for the NBA MVP. While the Nuggets still remain atop their conference, they now have fewer wins than the Giannis-led Bucks and only one more win than the Joel Embiid-led 76ers. With wins being out of the equation as a distinguishing factor, the three main candidates have to go head to head in a battle of statistics for MVP.
A common gripe for Nikola is using the idea of “voter fatigue” as a way to discredit his MVP candidacy. Voter fatigue is essentially a concept stating that voters get tired of voting the same player MVP multiple years in a row, so a player is unlikely to win the award more than two years consecutively. However, using a flaw in the voting system is not a valid reason to discredit a qualified player's eligibility for an award. Other than that, Nikola Jokic is having a historic NBA season. Along with leading the Nuggets to the first seed in the Western Conference, Jokic is essentially averaging a triple double, becoming only the third player in NBA history to do so. He has been a tantalizing and uber efficient scorer from all three levels this season, dominating opposing players from inside and outside the three point arc. In addition to scoring, Jokic is the best passer in the league, and his playmaking is leading the Nuggets to a top three offense in the NBA. The main and fatal flaw of Jokic is his defense. While advanced statistics say that he is a good defender, the numbers can be unreliable because they are determined using mostly plus minus lineup numbers, which are contingent on many different factors other than his performance. He is exposed in the pick and roll constantly, and also one of the worst rim- protecting bigs in the NBA. His steal and block numbers are inflated due to his gambler mentality on the defensive side of the ball and as a center, it is much harder for him to hide on the defensive side, so his lackluster defense is a glaring hole in his MVP candidacy.
On the contrary, Joel Embiid is coming off of two seasons as the runner up behind Jokic in the MVP race, and has led the Sixers to a top three seed in the Eastern Conference once again. His scoring dominance has been on full display yet again this season, averaging 32 points per game with great efficiency, and dominating from the free throw line. While his three point percentage dipped from last season significantly, he is still a respectable threat from behind the arc. While his playmaking has improved, it remains far from Jokic, especially because James Harden takes much of the offensive burden off of Embiid. Jokic has the edge offensively, but Joel Embiid makes his case on the defensive side of the ball as he is one of the best rim protectors in the entire NBA, and has the capability to switch on occasion.
This season is shaping up to have yet another close MVP race between Jokic and Embiid (not to mention Giannis), and much of the decision will be based on voter preference. Jokic is the clearly better offensive player and Embiid is the clearly better defensive player, so it is up to how the voter interprets value on the basketball court.