NBA

NBA 2022-23: Who can challenge Jokic for MVP in the new season?

By Sports Desk October 15, 2022

It feels like a golden era for great players spread across the NBA.

So much talent, so many game winners, and an almost endless amount of possibilities as the stars prepare to get the new season under way.

Despite this, the MVP award has been sealed off by Nikola Jokic for the past two seasons, so the rest will have to step up and take it from the Serbian this time around.

We all have our favourites, and anything can happen in the NBA, but ahead of the new campaign, three members of the Stats Perform team have made their picks for who they think can challenge Jokic in 2022-23.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers - Liam Phillips

After finishing second in MVP voting two years in a row, Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid is in prime position to get over the hump this time around.

Embiid, 28, has been denied the past two awards due to historic seasons frotem Denver Nuggets talisman Jokic, where he established himself as arguably the greatest playmaking center in the history of the league.

Winning the MVP in back-to-back years is not as uncommon as one would think, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, LeBron James (twice), Steve Nash and Tim Duncan all achieving the feat this century.

However, Larry Bird is the only man to three in a row, from 1984 to 1986, since Wilt Chamberlain's three-peat between 1966-68.

Take into account that Jokic now has his two top team-mates returning to the line-up after Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr were sidelined for the entire season, and his numbers will almost have to take a dip to accommodate them.

With Jokic facing a big ask to land the gong again this upcoming season for those reasons, Embiid should be the favourite, as he just needs to emulate his performance from the past two seasons and voters will be clamouring to reward the seven-foot-two superstar.

His biggest opposition will likely come from the Mavericks' Luka Doncic, who finished sixth in 2021 and fifth in 2022, and is still only 23 years old.

A slightly better Mavericks team this season, combined with a small step forward in Doncic's shooting percentages, will have him right near the top of the voting by default.

But the difference is the 76ers could finish as the top team in the Eastern Conference, and the Mavericks have almost no chance of claiming the Western Conference one seed – and voters are suckers for a great record.

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks - Ben Spratt

If voters rewarded Jokic for carrying the Nuggets, would they not do the same for Doncic? Already clearly the main man in Dallas, Jalen Brunson's departure will only give the Slovenian further opportunity to impress.

Doncic (28.4 points per game) was the Mavericks' leading scorer last season. With Brunson (16.3) following Kristaps Porzingis (19.2 before a trade to the Washington Wizards) through the exit door, they have lost numbers two and three on that list.

Rather than source a like-for-like replacement for Brunson, the Mavs will presumably just ask Doncic to do more. His usage rate was already the highest in the NBA.

Doncic is one of the few players in the league with the ability to beat teams on his own – Jokic obviously being one of the others.

 

In the absence of his injured team-mates, Jokic improved on an MVP season in terms of points and rebounds, even allowing for a small dip in assists without Murray to give the ball to, and was not punished by voters for a decrease in win percentage.

If Doncic takes the same path, he is looking at averaging a 30-point double-double for the season. That will be very difficult to ignore.

Not that Doncic is readily ignored. He heads into the season as the MVP favourite yet again, having seen previous campaigns derailed by early-season struggles.

After playing in the Olympics last year, Doncic acknowledged he "relaxed a little bit", "maybe too much", and needed "to do better", drawing criticism from Reggie Miller for "plodding up and down the court".

Now, though, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd says Doncic is "taking his body serious", returning in top physical condition for – surely – a genuine MVP charge.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks - David Segar

The man who was denied the chance to win three on the bounce by Jokic in 2020-21 has a big job on his talented hands to lead the Bucks this year.

The 2021 champions are among the favourites to mount a strong challenge for the title, but have had a fruitless preseason, losing all five warm-up games in the past few weeks.

However, in Antetokounmpo, they have a man who is capable of dragging any team to success, and despite no longer being considered the league's leading player as he was in 2018-19 and 2019-20, the Greek's output has not really subsided.

In the first season he was awarded MVP, Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points per game in the regular season, with 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, before recording 29.5 points per game, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists the following year.

Despite ultimately winning a championship, he was behind Jokic in the voting in 2020-21, though averaged 28.1 points per game, 11.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

Last season was the best of his career for average points from the 27-year-old, with his 29.9 per game only bettered by Embiid (30.6) and James (30.3), while he also averaged 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

It would be easy to argue that Antetokounmpo is a better player now than he was when he won his previous two MVPs, and like on those occasions, maybe he does not need to go all the way with the Bucks to reclaim his crown.

Though Greece were eliminated from EuroBasket by Germany at the quarter-final stage, Antetokounmpo still made the team of the tournament, and looks to be in good form heading into the season, even if his team-mates might need a little longer to get going.

It is a long campaign, though, which will give Antetokounmpo ample time to show that he has what it takes to become just the ninth player in history to win three MVP awards.

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