This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
We're 96 percent of the way through the regular season, with most teams having just two or three games remaining. For all intents and purposes, award voting can be done now, as it seems unlikely anything will change over the next few days.
Nikola Jokic likely has MVP locked up. The most favorable odds you can get on him to win are -2000 from BetMGM, if you've ever wanted to turn $20 into $21. Still, I wanted to take a look at each of the Top 5 candidates for the award and lay out the voter's argument as to why each should win.
I can't endorse betting on anyone on this list except Jokic. For what it's worth, I believe Joel Embiid has the best chance of taking second. If you want to put $1 on that and turn the digital bet slip into an NFT to display via the screen on your smart refrigerator, go right ahead. It's your fridge.
Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (-2000, BetMGM)
If you're a die-hard analytics truther, Jokic for MVP is your only choice. He's leading the league in VORP (8.2), BPM (11.5), Win Shares (15.0) and Win Shares per 48 Minutes (.298). What those numbers represent is Jokic's importance to the Nuggets' success. He leads the Nuggets in points (26.5), rebounds (10.8), assists (8.4) and steals (1.4) per game of all players that have seen at least 500 minutes. He's doing all that while being one of the most efficient players in the league, as he boasts a 64.7 true shooting percentage – 15th-best in the NBA. Denver also ranks fourth in the Western Conference and has the league's fourth-best net rating (+5.8) when factoring out garbage time.
Stephen Curry, Warriors (+3000, DraftKings)
Curry leads the league in scoring (31.8) with the league's 11th-best true shooting percentage (65.6). He's also second in the league in VORP, third in BPM and sixth in Win Shares. This is clearly Curry's best season since his last MVP campaign in 2015-16. The lack of consistent help from other Warriors players is devastating, which checks out when you consider they have just a 37-33 record despite Curry's excellence. With Curry off the court, the Warriors have a -9.5 net rating – somewhere between the play we've seen from the Magic and Thunder this season.
Joel Embiid, 76ers (+3000, DraftKings)
The best two-way center in the NBA, Embiid is a reasonable zag off Jokic if you believe defense is more valuable than passing when both are done at an elite level. Embiid has missed 20 games this season, but that shouldn't be enough to disqualify him from the discussion when he's been so dominant, evidenced by the fact that he's second in Win Shares per 48 Minutes. In his 31.4 minutes per game, Embiid has averaged 29.2 points on 64.0 TS%, 10.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.4 combined steals-plus-blocks. When he's off the court, the 76ers – currently 47-22 and first in the East – play like a .500 team.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks (+8000, FanDuel)
Advanced stats still love Antetokounmpo – third in VORP, second in BLM and fourth in Win Shares – even if his traditional numbers are slightly down. The two-time MVP got off to a slow start, but, from Feb. 10 onward, he's averaged 28.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks in 33.0 minutes. He's also second in the NBA in total games with 20+ points, 10+ rebounds, 5+ assists, 1+ steals and 1+ blocks. With Antetokounmpo off the court, the Bucks, who are third in the East, play like a .500 team.
Luka Doncic, Mavericks (+13000, FanDuel)
Doncic has the least help of anyone on this list except Curry. Kristaps Porzingis has appeared in just 41 games this season, and the team's third-best player is Tim Hardaway. That's resulted in Doncic leading the league in usage percentage (36.1) while also ranking fourth in VORP. The 22-year-old has averaged 28.0 points on 20.6 shots, 8.6 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 34.5 minutes. He also has 10 triple-doubles and four 40-point games.