A month has passed since the 2023-24 NBA season officially began. If there is one thing we know, it is that this is going to shape up to be a very fun 82-game schedule. There are obviously those teams that have separated themselves at the top of the NBA Power Rankings and there are those rebuilding at the bottom, but the middle tier of teams is more than capable of emerging as real contending threats. This has added layers to this season's NBA MVP race, as arguments could be made as to what this award truly stands for.
Should the best player in the league earn the NBA MVP award, or should it be given to the best player on the team finding the most success in the league? What about those who stuff the stat sheets and are amongst the league leaders in a handful of different statistical categories?
With this said, much has happened over the last week since the previous NBA MVP Monday rankings. Embiid's Philadelphia 76ers are one of three teams with at least 10 wins on the year, Jokic has continued to dominate for the Denver Nuggets, and Antetokounmpo has been the driving force in the Milwaukee Bucks winning seven of their last nine games.
Once again, the battle between big men has highlighted this season's early MVP race, as Jokic vs. Embiid has been a topic of discussion pertaining to this award since the Nuggets star won his first MVP award in 2021. Even with Jokic's gaudy numbers, Embiid once again leads the league in scoring and has leapfrogged his rival for the top spot in this week's rankings.
Four players, including Jokic and Embiid, return to the MVP Monday rankings from a week ago, while one new face from the Western Conference has suddenly emerged as a real candidate for the award given his team's sustainable success. That player isn't De'Aaron Fox, but he's making a charge after returning from an injury.
Giannis, Stephen Curry, and Jayson Tatum are surely in the conversation for NBA MVP as well, but these five players are clearly the front-runners for the MVP award.
1. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
Previous Rankings: #2
2023-24 season stats: 13 games, 31.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 50.2 FG%, 31.8 3P%
Coming off being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Joel Embiid has continued to display his dominance on the offensive side of the court. Embiid had 39 points against the Indiana Pacers to begin the past week and is coming off back-to-back 32-point games against the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets. As a result, the Sixers big man ranks first in the league in scoring and is currently tied with Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the league-lead in 30-point games this season (8), via StatMuse.
Without James Harden, Embiid has actually looks more comfortable on offense because of how well Tyrese Maxey complements his game. With Maxey being a downhill guard who can create for himself and push the pace, Embiid has opened up his game as an all-around playmaker and scorer, especially in dribble-handoff sets.
“I just think he's hard to guard. With his speed, he's tough to guard,” Embiid said of Maxey after the team's most recent win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. “He's such a great shooter, so anytime he's coming off of it and the big is back, that's an easy shot. Then if the big steps up, he's so quick to get by whoever is guarding him. Or if they just sag and they're pushing inside the three-point line, now we got the pocket pass, which I've been missing a lot of 'em, but I'll work on it and I'll get better.”
Embiid is averaging a career-high 6.2 assists per game right now and has recorded nine double-doubles in 13 total games. The Sixers currently rank first in the league in offensive rating, and it is not surprising to see this with Embiid leading the league in scoring once again.
2. Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets
Previous Rankings: #1
2023-24 season stats: 13 games, 28.8 points, 13.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 57.5 FG%, 30.0 3P%
Through 13 games, Nikola Jokic leads the league with 13 double-doubles and has single-handedly carried the Denver Nuggets to a 9-4 record due to the fact that Jamal Murray is out with a hamstring injury. Jokic is clearly the best player in the league right now, and the way he makes everything look so effortless probably takes away from his greatness since people tend to think he isn't taking every game seriously.
The bottom line is that if Jokic got named the MVP right now, nobody should really have a problem with it. Nearly averaging a triple-double on the season and hearing his name come up in discussions with Wilt Chamberlain every single week, Jokic will be a finalist for the MVP award once again as long as he stays healthy.
3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous Rankings: Not Ranked
2023-24 season stats: 13 games, 29.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.5 steals, 53.5 FG%, 36.0 3P%
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 10-4 on the season, making them the only 10-win team in the Western Conference. Although they are one of the youngest teams in the entire league, the Thunder look like a group of multi-year veterans playing alongside one another with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the center of all their success.
SGA emerged as an All-NBA candidate for the first time in his career last season. So far this season, one can make a very compelling argument for him being the NBA's MVP to this point.
Not only does Gilgeous-Alexander rank fifth in scoring, but the Thunder star ranks fifth out of all guards in rebounding and currently resides 18th in assists per game. Perhaps what stands out the most about Shai and separates him from Embiid and Jokic is the improvements he has made defensively. Whereas most scoring guards in the league don't give any effort defensively, Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as one of the best backcourt defenders in the league, averaging a league-high 2.5 steals per game.
Even though he's only 25 years old, Gilgeous-Alexander has suddenly become one of the best leaders in the entire NBA because of how he has bonded with his teammates. Every player on the Thunder shares a special connection with one another, which goes back to them starting their respective careers together. It is not surprising to see the Thunder finding all of this early-season success, leading to Shai being a favorite for the MVP award.
4. Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
Previous Rankings: #3
2023-24 season stats: 14 games, 30.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 50.0 FG%, 42.2 3P%
Just like Embiid and Jokic, it's hard to overlook Luka Doncic's production with the Dallas Mavericks. Doncic is nearly averaging a triple-double on the season and is the reason why the Mavs find themselves just a game back from the top spot in the Western Conference standings entering the new week. Dallas currently owns the third-highest offensive rating in the league, which isn't shocking given Doncic is averaging over 30 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor.
While he has always been a high-volume three-point shooter, Doncic has never shot better than 35.3 percent from deep over the course of a season. Through 14 games, Luka is averaging over 42 percent from three-point range, which is a massive reason why Dallas' offense has been so deadly. The Mavs are only going to go as far as Doncic can take them, so as long as he stays healthy, Dallas can contend in the West.
5. Anthony Edwards – Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous Rankings: #4
2023-24 season stats: 12 games, 26.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 46.7 FG%, 38.8 3P%
Last week, Anthony Edwards emerged in the MVP conversation due to the Minnesota Timberwolves hot start. Despite the Wolves losing in Phoenix this past week and Edwards not looking his best, the 22-year-old still finds himself inside the top five because of how he has matured as a leader for his team.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert are both experienced, veteran All-Stars. The same can be said about Mike Conley. Any of these three players could step up and lead the Wolves, but it has been Edwards who has set the tone for Minnesota, a team that ranks second in defensive rating right now.
As good as he is offensively, Edwards has played a huge role in the Timberwolves being one of the top-rated defensive teams early on this season. Whether or not this intensity and tenacity can be sustained over the course of an 82-game season is yet to be determined. Should Edwards continue to step up defensively while also ranking amongst the best in the league scoring-wise, it will be hard to ignore him in the MVP race.