The Western Conference appears to have a firm grasp on the NBA MVP award this season. The fact that Joel Embiid is no longer eligible for the MVP award as a result of games missed due to injury also plays a huge factor in why more attention is being cast on those in the West. Currently, in the midst of the NBA All-Star break, the discussion of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander versus Nikola Jokic has become more prevalent. Right now, it is hard to overlook what the Oklahoma City Thunder guard has been able to achieve.

At the start of the season, many expected growth from the Thunder. However, going from a fringe play-in tournament team to one that could actually contend for a championship was not an expected jump. Gilgeous-Alexander has made it his mission to put Oklahoma City back on the map in the Western Conference. Just 1.5 games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for the best record in the West, the 25-year-old guard has been able to achieve this.

Gilgeous-Alexander and Jokic are the two favorites for this year's NBA MVP award, as they have no doubt been the two best players in the league. However, the Thunder currently sit above the Denver Nuggets in the standings and have defeated the defending champions in three of their four meetings. At All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, Gilgeous-Alexander was asked about what winning the MVP award would mean, an honor that the young guard certainly has at the top of his mind.

“A dream come true,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It's something I can't even wrap my head around it. I try so hard to stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself… It's something that I would be honored and blessed to receive, obviously.”

What this year's MVP race comes down to is statistics versus success. Both players have the numbers to back up their MVP resumes and they each have found a lot of success for their respective teams. Has Jokic, a two-time MVP who always puts up triple-double-like numbers, stood out this season compared to the newcomer?

While the Nuggets big man is certainly still in the running for the NBA MVP award, Gilgeous-Alexander is clearly leading the race given the fact that he has put the Thunder right at the top of the league standings.

Previous 2023-24 NBA MVP Rankings: Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13 | Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) dribbles the ball up court in the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #2

2023-24 season stats: 53 games, 31.1 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 54.6 FG%, 37.1 3P%

At the All-Star break, Gilgeous-Alexander leads the league in steals, win shares, and 30-point games (39). He also ranks second in total points and points per game, as well as 13th in assists per game. The Thunder guard has been dominant on offense all season long, so much so that it has become a rare occurrence for him not to exceed 30 points in a game.

After being named a starter in the All-Star Game for the first time in his career, Gilgeous-Alexander went out in Indianapolis and scored 31 points on 7-of-10 from three-point range. Now, what Shai did in this game doesn't have any impact on his MVP status, and these stats do not matter in the slightest. However, it is clear to see that Gilgeous-Alexander is beginning to look more and more comfortable from three-point range.

In December, he shot just 26.8 percent from three-point range, mainly doing his damage offensively in the mid-range area. During January, Gilgeous-Alexander shot 40.0 percent from deep. Now in the month of February, SGA is shooting 64.3 percent from the perimeter, making him even more difficult to guard in isolation sets.

The way Gilgeous-Alexander has evolved his game is truly remarkable. He may just be the toughest player to guard in this league off the dribble, and he is well on his way to winning the NBA MVP award should the Thunder remain at the top of the Western Conference standings with the Timberwolves.

2. Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets 

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) after the game at Ball Arena.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #1

2023-24 season stats: 53 games, 26.1 points, 12.0 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 57.7 FG%, 35.2 3P%

At this point, a lot of the talk pertaining to Jokic and this year's MVP award is focused on whether or not he has exceeded the expectations that come with already winning the award twice. Although this shouldn't be a criteria at all and voters should simply evaluate players based on what has happened as of late, this is what occurs when biased voters with agendas are involved. When you look at the numbers and the fact that the Nuggets are still in a position to claim the top spot in the West, Jokic is clearly the favorite for MVP this season.

In terms of comparing him to Gilgeous-Alexander, the discussion shifts from numbers to the notion of whether Jokic has been better this year compared to his two MVP seasons. This is what is wrong with the way the league handles award voting. Gilgeous-Alexander is very much deserving of this award, but when we start to truly discuss what most valuable player means, it is hard to overlook the fact that Denver is awful when Jokic isn't on the floor.

The NBA MVP race may very well come down to which team finishes with the better record. Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder reside above the Nuggets in the standings and have held their own against the defending champs all season long. This holds a lot of weight, which is why Jokic falls to the No. 2 spot in these rankings for the time being. The battle between SGA and Jokic may very well flip back and forth on a weekly basis leading up to the final few weeks of the season.

3. Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) warms up before the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Washington Wizards at the American Airlines Center
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #3

2023-24 season stats: 47 games, 34.2 points, 9.5 assists, 8.8 rebounds, 49.2 FG%, 37.5 3P%

Luka Doncic is the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 31.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 8.0 assists per game ahead of the All-Star break. In two games after earning this honor, Doncic recorded 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 15 assists against the Washington Wizards, followed by 27 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists against the San Antonio Spurs. All season long, Doncic has put up extraordinary numbers. The difference now, compared to the start of the season, is that the Dallas Mavericks are winning games.

The Mavs entered the All-Star break on a six-game win streak, and they are now in the running for a top-six spot in the Western Conference standings. Continued success and adding on to this win streak may result in Dallas inching closer to Jokic's Nuggets and Gilgeous-Alexander's Thunder.

Luka has a huge matchup ahead of him this upcoming week coming out of the All-Star break against the Phoenix Suns. A win here would put the Mavs in a position to move into fifth place in the conference.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) warms up before a game against the Denver Nuggets at Fiserv Forum
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #4

2023-24 season stats: 54 games, 30.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 61.6 FG%, 25.5 3P%

The Milwaukee Bucks are a mess right now. Under Doc Rivers, they have gone 3-7 with horrible losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers in recent weeks. Still, they reside as the third-best team record-wise in the East because of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Currently shooting 61.6 percent from the floor and averaging over 30 points per game, Giannis may just become the first player in league history to achieve such a feat.

Antetokounmpo has recorded 43 double-doubles this season, trailing only Jokic (44) and Domantas Sabonis (50), plus he has seven double-doubles in his last nine games. The Bucks superstar also leads all players in points scored this season at 1,662 total points.

It will be tough for Giannis to gain ground over those ranked ahead of him, but he is certainly still in the running for MVP based on what happens in Milwaukee the rest of the way.

5. Domantas Sabonis – Sacramento Kings

Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis (10) reacts after committing a foul against the Toronto Raptors at Golden 1 Center.
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #5

2023-24 season stats: 54 games, 20.1 points, 13.2 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 62.2 FG%, 42.6 3P%

For some reason, the NBA felt like they needed to exclude Domantas Sabonis from this year's All-Star Game, even though he leads the league in double-doubles, triple-doubles, and rebounds. The Sacramento Kings may not be having that great of a season compared to last year, and they are currently in eighth place out West, but they still reside above the Los Angeles Lakers in the standings, who ended up getting two All-Stars.

Whatever the case may be in terms of Sabonis being left out of the All-Star Game, it is clear that he deserves recognition in this season's MVP race. Sabonis has recorded a triple-double in six of his last nine games. He has also had a double-double in 11 straight games.

It is really hard to overlook this type of production, even if Sabonis isn't the scoring machine that Gilgeous-Alexander, Jokic, Doncic, and Antetokounmpo are. The more triple-doubles he records, the more attention Sabonis will get in the NBA MVP race.

Just missing the cut

6. Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics (Ranked No. 5 last week)

7. Donovan Mitchell – Cleveland Cavaliers (Ranked No. 8 last week)

8. Kevin Durant – Phoenix Suns (Ranked No. 7 last week)

9. Anthony Edwards – Minnesota Timberwolves (Ranked No. 9 last week)

10. Tyrese Haliburton – Indiana Pacers (Ranked No. 10 last week)