With one week remaining prior to the 2023-24 NBA season, it’s no better time to start looking at the stars leading the center spotlight.
MVP debates have circled the NBA spotlight for years now, with speculation starting as soon as November. While I don’t believe anything definitive can be made about the league until March, it’ll never stop an NBA writer from speculating. Not to mention, it makes some of the MVP takes to look back on quite hilarious reading (we were all there for the January 2022 DeMar DeRozan MVP campaign).
With the NBA filled with perhaps more stars than ever, here are the top 10 players who could lift the Michael Jordan MVP trophy this season.
1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
It’s Jokic’s basketball world, we’re all just witnessing it. The two-time league MVP reached the top of the mountain this past summer, clinching his first-ever NBA championship and finals MVP.
Along the way to doing all of that, Jokic also put together a season that was worthy of a third-straight MVP award. It was his most efficient season to date, and he led the entire league in (takes gigantic breath), offensive win shares, win shares, win shares per 48, VORP, offensive box plus-minus, defensive box plus-minus, PER, true shooting percentage and triple doubles in a very nice 69-game season.
Jokic is a force of nature on the basketball court. One of the smartest players in the league, who also happens to make 68 percent of two-point field goals. He’s the best player in the league and deserves to top the list again as the Nuggets search for a second-consecutive championship.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The reigning MVP checks in at No. 2 to start the season, and despite another disappointing finish in the playoffs for the 76ers, deserves the attention again. Embiid has finished top two in MVP voting the last three years and took home 73 first-place votes last season, winning the scoring title with 33 points per game.
This season, Embiid may have to take on an even bigger burden, with James Harden’s future in Philadelphia in question. If this team ends up a top-three seed again and in the conversation for championship, it’ll likely be because of Embiid’s dominance in the paint.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Already one of the best players in NBA history, Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks shocked the world with a trade for superstar point guard Damian Lillard. As the dust settles from that, it gives the team a great chance for the their second championship in four years, with Lillard his new running mate.
The truth is, Milwaukee was always in the running for a championship. If Giannis didn’t hurt his back in the playoffs last season, it could have just as easily been the Bucks lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. A healthy Antetokounmpo puts the Bucks in contention, and a healthy Antetokounmpo is one of the best players (if not the best) in all of basketball.
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry is still the straw that stirs the aging drink in San Francisco, and he’s still one of the most lethal offensive forces in the league.
The only thing holding back Curry from postseason accolades, including MVP, is new rules set by the collective bargaining agreement. The league set a new 65-game limit for postseason accolades, which Curry hasn’t reached in the last four seasons.
If he’s unable to do that this year, he’ll be exempt from the list, but there’s no denying that Curry is still one of the best players in basketball.
5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
The Celtics went all in to maximize the Tatum and Jaylen Brown pairing, swapping out Marcus Smart and Rob Williams III for Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis. We’ll see how all of those players fit, but it’s clear Boston wasn’t prepared to let the Tatum era go to waste, and pushed all of their chips into the center of the table.
For his efforts, Tatum has been a terrific player. He’s been a first-team All-NBA player for the last two seasons and averaged 30.1 points per game for the Celtics. If he can take the next step, and cement himself as a top-five player in the game, he’ll easily be in the MVP running with one of the best teams in basketball.
6. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Everything is trending up in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder one of the trendiest sleeper picks of the offseason. Why shouldn’t they be? They’re young, athletic, and add even more resources to the pile with Chet Holmgren joining the team from injury. The team reached the play-in last season, but has aspirations for much more.
That optimism is in large part thanks to the meteoric rise of Gilgeous-Alexander, who shocked everyone with a first-team All-NBA season. Debatably the best guard in basketball, he has the chance to lift the Thunder into a stratosphere they haven’t been in since 2016, and collect some personal hardware along the way.
7. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
It seems like the world is against Luka Doncic now. After the Mavericks flamed out in the regular season and tanked to secure their draft picks, the questions came about Doncic’s ability to lead this team to great heights.
Statistically, he was better than ever. He averaged 32.4 points, 8.6 rebound and 8.0 assists per game last season while having his most efficient season of his career. Despite playing point guard and averaging the second-highest usage rate in the league, Doncic had a 61 percent true shooting rate and made 59 percent of his two-point field goals. His post-up game was lethal, and he still remains maybe the best orchestrator of an offense in the NBA.
Still, the Mavericks are asking for more. The only thing holding Luka back from his first MVP is a roster that wasn’t good enough to make the play-in last season, and a maturity on the court to stay composed through the difficult run of the year. If all that gets put together, and the Mavs bounce back, Luka will finish as one of the top vote getters.
8. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Booker has averaged over 25 points per game in each of the last five seasons, proving to be one of the best scorers in the league. While his team has fallen short of that elusive championship goal, they remain aggressive in trying to accomplish that feat. This offseason, it included ushering out Chris Paul and welcoming Bradley Beal and Jusuf Nurkic, along with a brand new cast of role players. That also includes Kevin Durant, who the Suns brought in prior to the trade deadline.
Safe to say, Phoenix will be really good. They have three gifted scorers, several role players, and Nurkic, I guess. Could all of those players take away from Booker’s production, limiting his MVP chances? It’s possible, but Booker is still my top pick from Phoenix to take home the award.
9. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Let’s get bold. Edwards is coming off a strong offseason with Team USA and is one of the most gifted athletes in the league. The question for Edwards is not if he will become an MVP candidate, it’s when he will. Could Edwards lead the Timberwolves to great heights this season and jump into the MVP race? Absolutely, but he’ll need the help of the supporting cast to win enough games to enter the conversation.
It would take a big leap (similar to Gilgeous-Alexander last season, or Booker the year before), but Edwards has the talent to be in the conversation for years to come.
10. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
The biggest thing holding Davis back (along with the games played mandate), is playing with one of the best and most popular players in league history.
LeBron James will definitely steal the spotlight if the Lakers are dominant, but Davis was the most important player last season. He averaged 25.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks last season, and will need similar numbers again in the 2023-24 season.
If he can play 65 or more games (he hasn’t since 2018) with that production, Davis should be in the running for every postseason accolade.