TTX Sports >Football World >Kia MVP Ladder: Nikola Jokic reigns once again at season's end

Kia MVP Ladder: Nikola Jokic reigns once again at season's end

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Channing Frye explains how Nikola Jokic has distanced himself from the field in the Kia MVP chase.

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Setting the stage this week, Nikola Jokic downplayed the significance of Wednesday’s clash against Minnesota only to dominate it in lifting Denver to first in the Western Conference via a 116-107 drubbing of the Timberwolves.

Jokic reeled off 41 points in sinking 16 of 20 shots, guarded largely by Kia Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert. The reigning Finals MVP also grabbed 11 boards and dished seven dimes, taking over late in the third quarter to demolish the NBA’s top-rated defense.

The showing marked Jokic’s 20th 40-point game, essentially rubber-stamping Kia MVP No. 3 for the six-time All-Star.

At least, that’s how it looks from this vantage point.

So, Jokic finishes first for the fourth consecutive season in the final edition of Kia Race to the MVP Ladder for 2023-24.

If Jokic seizes a third MVP, he joins the company of a trio of three-time winners: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Moses Malone. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five), Bill Russell (five), LeBron James (four) and Wilt Chamberlain (four) have taken home more MVPs.

So, you can argue the historical context here.

But Jokic appears poised to fall exactly where he (deservedly) belongs.

One stat to know: 25-12-8 — Averaging 26.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9 assists per game, Jokic almost assuredly will become just the second player since Oscar Robertson (30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg and 11.4 apg) in 1961-62 to average that stat line in a season. Robertson accomplished the feat while averaging 44.3 minutes. Jokic is doing it at 34.6 mpg.

What they’re saying: “Rudy Gobert is going to be regarded as one of the best defenders of his generation, and it just speaks to how great Nikola is. I don’t think anybody in the NBA can guard Nikola 1-on-1.” – Nuggets coach Michael Malone.

And now, the top 5 in the final 2023-24 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.


1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 26.6 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 9 apg

His case: Jokic ranks first in total plus-minus (664), second in total assists (691), third in total rebounds (954) and fifth in total points (2,048). The vet also ranks among the top 10 in a few hustle stats as well.

Then, take a look at statistics like true shooting percentage in clutch situations (69.8%) in evaluating Jokic’s case, or player impact estimate. Jokic checks most of the boxes, and, if the Nuggets win out, his case becomes even more airtight.


2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 30.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 6.2 apg

His case: Tough decision here, given all the momentum Luka Doncic generated with wins and eye-popping numbers while Gilgeous-Alexander missed six of OKC’s last nine games. SGA has still played three more contests than Doncic, leading a team of virtual unknowns into Western Conference contention.

Despite the injury’s absence, Gilgeous-Alexander’s smoothness was displayed in Wednesday’s win over San Antonio. The two-way star has scored 66 total points in two outings since returning to the lineup.


3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 33.9 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 9.8 apg

His case: That Doncic thrived during a chaotic season in Dallas shouldn’t be overlooked with the Mavericks winning 16 of their last 18 games, including Wednesday’s 111-92 triumph at Miami. Doncic lit up the Heat for 13 points in the first quarter en route to a 29-point night.

There’s no disagreement here if you’ve got Doncic at No. 2. He’s trekked a tougher road while cranking out more production than Gilgeous-Alexander. But he also plays alongside a future Hall of Famer, too.


 4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 30.4 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 6.5 apg

His case: Like Doncic, Antetokounmpo has excelled despite adverse circumstances, flashing mind-boggling efficiency while averaging more than 30 points, 11.5 rebounds and a career-high 6.5 assists. He’s out for the remainder of the regular season due to a left soleus strain.

But let’s hope the eight-time All-Star returns for the start of the playoffs. Antetokounmpo started fast in Tuesday’s win over Boston before suffering this latest injury late in the third quarter.


5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 26.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.9 apg

His case: Maybe Anthony Edwards or Jalen Brunson belong in this spot. But it’s tough to downplay Tatum’s impact on a team that has been historically dominant this season. Boston locked up No. 1 in the Eastern Conference and the NBA a while ago and the maturing Tatum is the main reason for that.

Say what you want about the supporting cast. But Tatum has knocked down more 3-pointers (1,239) than any player before his 26th birthday (March 3) while ranking fifth in regular-season victories (327) over that span.


The next five

6. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Last week’s ranking: No. 6)7. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)8. Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks (Last week’s ranking: unranked)9. Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: unranked)10. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: No. 7)

And five more (listed alphabetically): Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics; Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves; Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers; Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers

* * *

Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery

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