NBA MVP Mondays: Nikola Jokic vs. Luka Doncic for one final week

Can Luka Doncic make one final push to take the MVP award from Nikola Jokic?

We are now in the final week of the 2023-24 NBA regular season. That means there are just three or four games left for each of the NBA’s MVP candidates to stake their claim for the award. Throughout the vast portion of the season, it seemed like either Nikola Jokic or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were going to end up with this award, seeing as the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder were going back-and-forth at the top of the Western Conference standings. Now, with Gilgeous-Alexander missing some games due to injury, Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic has put together quite the resume for this NBA season’s MVP award.

With Joel Embiid sitting out the majority of the year due to his knee injury, Doncic was able to leap and claim the scoring title for the first time in his career. What is even more impressive when talking about Doncic is what he’s done for the Mavs since the All-Star break.

In 21 games since his trip to Indianapolis, Luka has led the Mavs to a 15-6 record when he is on the court, averaging 33.1 points, 10.4 assists, and 1.0 rebounds per game while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 39.7 percent from distance. In these 21 games, Doncic has recorded 18 double-doubles, and 10 triple-doubles.

Dallas is now 48-30 on the season entering the final week, and they are two games back of the Los Angeles Clippers for the 4-seed in the Western Conference. Going from a play-in team to one that can actually contend for home-court advantage in a first-round series, Doncic has been the epitome of what it means to be the NBA MVP for the Mavericks.

Over in Denver, Jokic continues to shine for the Nuggets. Not only has Jokic been the one constant for his team yet again due to Jamal Murray’s injury concerns, but he has single-handedly put them in a position to overtake both the Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves late in the season for the 1-seed in the conference.

Although Doncic may be the best scorer in the NBA this season and be leading the league in multiple categories since the All-Star break, Jokic has been on his own heater in this span, leading Denver to a 17-5 record in the 22 games he has played in down the stretch run. He has also recorded 10 triple-doubles since the All-Star break, tying Doncic for the most in the league during this span. His 20 double-doubles in his last 22 games rank second with Anthony Davis, trailing only Sacramento Kings big man Domantas Sabonis.

Will Jokic win his third MVP award in the last four seasons, or will another international player be awarded their first MVP award when the NBA season concludes?

1. Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets 

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Ball Arena.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rankings: #1

2023-24 season stats: 75 games, 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 57.8 FG%, 34.7 3P%

In three games this past week, Jokic averaged 32.3 points, 15.7 rebounds, 9.0 assists, and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 55.1 percent from the floor. He has recorded back-to-back games with a triple-double, bringing his season total for triple-doubles to 25, one off of Domantas Sabonis’ 26 triple-doubles.

When the Nuggets need a basket, Jokic always delivers. When they need a stop on defense, he always seems to be around the ball, either deflecting it or causing the offense to make an extra pass that they shouldn’t. When he is double-teamed, Jokic always seems to find the open man.

No matter what the case may be, Jokic always delivers for the Nuggets, just like the league’s most valuable player should. Three of the Nuggets’ final four games are against teams with a losing record. The only game they will play against a decent team is when they face off with the Timberwolves, a game that could decide the top of the Western Conference standings. This is also a game in which Jokic can put a bow on his MVP case.

Claiming the 1-seed in style while also registering a massive triple-double is all Jokic needs to win his third NBA MVP award this season.

2. Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

 Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) celebrates during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at the American Airlines Center.Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #3

2023-24 season stats: 68 games, 33.9 points, 9.8 assists, 9.2 rebounds, 48.8 FG%, 38.2 3P%

The Mavs have won 14 of their last 16 games. As good as Kyrie Irving has been, Doncic has been the catalyst for all of their success. He has been Dallas’ leading scorer in nine of their last 16 games, and his 10 triple-doubles since the All-Star break are tied for the most in the league with Jokic.

As far as filling up the stat sheets go, Doncic has recorded a double-double in 17 of his last 19 games, including his 10 triple-doubles since the All-Star break.

When they were the 7-seed in the West and about to fall down to the 8-seed in the play-in region of the standings, nobody thought the Mavs were going to keep their season alive. That is when Doncic kicked things into higher gear to get them back on the path to success. Now, right before the playoffs, Dallas finds itself as the hottest team in the league with the hottest offensive player.

If the Mavs can claim the 4-seed from the Clippers, that may just be enough for voters to give Doncic the MVP award over Jokic.

3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) warms up before a game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rankings: #2

2023-24 season stats: 71 games, 30.3 points, 6.3 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 53.9 FG%, 36.5 3P%

Gilgeous-Alexander has had a tremendous season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nobody imagined this team claiming over 50 wins, but here we are in the final week of the season talking about the Thunder being legitimate title threats against the Nuggets. After all, Oklahoma City did win three out of four matchups with Denver this season.

While he has been next to Jokic all season in the NBA MVP race, Gilgeous-Alexander’s recent absences are certainly a concern. The NBA is a “what have you done for me lately” type of league, and MVP voters certainly have this type of mindset when they submit their award votes at the conclusion of the season. The Thunder All-Star has missed six of the team’s last seven games, including four straight, due to a quad injury.

Even though he would probably be on the court if these were playoff games, the Thunder are being cautious with Gilgeous-Alexander. As a result, they probably cost him a chance at claiming his first MVP award. Still, Gilgeous-Alexander ranks first in the league in 30-point games this season, as he has recorded at least 30 points in 50 different games. Doncic is right behind him at 49 games with such scoring numbers.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dunks the ball in the third quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Fiserv Forum.Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rankings: #3

2023-24 season stats: 72 games, 30.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 61.1 FG%, 27.4 3P%

The Milwaukee Bucks are in trouble. Four straight losses, three of which to teams with a losing record, is a terrible way for the Bucks to enter the final week of the regular season. However, none of their problems or recent defeats are Giannis Antetokounmpo’s fault.

The two-time MVP has been on a tear as of late, averaging 29.4 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game over his last eight contests. As far as scoring goes, Giannis now ranks second in the league in points per game, and second in total points scored this season.

Assuming his averages hold, he will become the first player in league history to average at least 30 points while shooting at least 60 percent from the floor over the course of the year. If he doesn’t miss any more games, Antetokounmpo will do so having played in 76 total matchups.

Now, the question becomes whether or not 2021 was a fluke for the Bucks. Can Giannis lead his team and get them on the right track heading into the playoffs, or will the Bucks face yet another early exit to Cancun?

5. Jalen Brunson – New York Knicks

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) brings the ball up the court against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at Fiserv Forum.Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rankings: #7

2023-24 season stats: 73 games, 28.2 points, 6.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 47.7 FG%, 39.4 3P%

Jalen Brunson entered the top five of the NBA MVP rankings last week, and he maintains his position after yet another impressive display of offensive brilliance. This past week, the New York Knicks star guard averaged 33.3 points, 10.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor. He recorded three double-doubles in this span of games.

All season, Brunson has been one of the most underrated playmakers and shot-creators in the entire league. No matter who his opponent is, Brunson has always found a way to keep the Knicks either in the game, or simply win it in the fourth quarter. Over his last six games, the first-time All-Star has scored below 30 points only once. His 43 points against the Bucks on Sunday lifted the Knicks to a 122-109 victory, allowing them to move up to the 4-seed in the East.

With only four games remaining, the Knicks have an opportunity to jump ahead of the Orlando Magic and the Bucks in order to seize the 2-seed entering the playoffs. As long as Brunson plays, they will have a chance to do so.

Just missing the cut

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

7. Anthony Edwards – Minnesota Timberwolves (Ranked No. 7 last week)

8. Domantas Sabonis – Sacramento Kings (Ranked No. 8 last week)

9. Kevin Durant – Phoenix Suns (Ranked No. 9 last week)

10. Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers (Ranked No. 10 last week)

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