NBA MVP Mondays: Jayson Tatum crashing the party – ClutchPoints

Jayson Tatum continues to rise up the NBA MVP rankings.

As soon as Joel Embiid went down with his knee injury, the NBA’s MVP race opened wide up for Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Over the last several weeks, these have been the only two players truly mentioned in the running for the MVP award. In fact, they were practically the only two players to receive consideration for the award in ClutchPoints’ midseason media poll. With just over a month remaining in the regular season, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has been making it a point of emphasis to put himself in the MVP conversation both from a playing perspective and when speaking with the media.

“I know I can score 30 a night. I did that. But that’s not necessarily what this team needs on a nightly basis,” Tatum said recently after a victory over the Chicago Bulls. “I’ve done everything but win a championship, so that’s all I’m going to be judged on at this point in my career. I’m just doing what it takes to help us get to that point.”

Regarding the MVP race and where he stands, Tatum made it clear that scoring isn’t the only criteria for the award.

“There’s a lot of guys doing great things,” the Celtics star continued. “I won’t have the points per game that the other three, four guys will, but I think the voters are smart enough to understand the dynamic of our team. You know, essentially having to do less scoring maybe on certain nights, but still impact the game in a lot of ways to kind of ensure that we win every single night.”

Although his scoring numbers are lower than those of Jokic and Gilgeous-Alexander, Tatum is the best player on the best team in the NBA. That certainly counts for something when examining the MVP race this season. Other players around the league are also taking notice of this, as Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green recently claimed that the only reason Tatum isn’t getting the respect that others are getting in the MVP conversation is because he hasn’t won a championship.

Xavier Tillman Sr., a new teammate of Tatum’s, also chimed in on the MVP conversation, stating that he thought the Celtics star was just a scorer until he was able to truly see his defensive, passing, and rebounding abilities.

So, what exactly is the criteria for the MVP award? Should voters value scoring and statistical categories, or should winning ultimately hold the most weight?

As of right now, it appears as if the statistics side of things are still valued the most, which is why Jokic and Gilgeous-Alexander haven’t moved in the MVP conversation. However, keep an eye on Tatum because he’s the biggest mover in this week’s edition of the NBA MVP rankings.

Previous 2023-24 NBA MVP Rankings: Week 18 | Week 17 | 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. Nikola Jokic – Denver Nuggets 

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #1

2023-24 season stats: 59 games, 25.9 points, 12.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 58.1 FG%, 34.1 3P%

Coming out of the All-Star break, it seemed like Gilgeous-Alexander had gained ground on Jokic in the MVP race. Now, Jokic is in firm control of his destiny and quest for a third MVP trophy.

The Denver Nuggets are currently on a six-game win streak. Over this span, Jokic has averaged 24.8 points, 14.2 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game while shooting 62 percent from the floor. Jokic has had his fingerprints on every single play that ends in a basket for the Nuggets, and he’s the reason why they have a chance to not only claim the 1-seed in the Western Conference, but possibly win back-to-back championships.

After he went for 35 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists in a 10-point win against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer named Jokic as one of the few players in the league nobody has answers to. Although Jokic doesn’t lead the league in scoring, rebounding, or triple-doubles, he does rank first in Player Efficiency Rating and Value Above Replacement Player, among those qualified for the award. Usually, the player that finishes first in those categories goes on to claim the NBA’s MVP award.

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots the ball against Phoenix Suns guard Bradley Beal (3) during the first quarter at Footprint Center.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #2

2023-24 season stats: 59 games, 31.2 points, 6.5 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 54.8 FG%, 38.2 3P%

Between Gilgeous-Alexander and Jokic, whichever team finishes with the upper-hand may very well see their player named the MVP. What Shai has done for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season has been incredible. While most people look at his scoring numbers and the fact that he leads in the league in total points and 30-point games, what gets overlooked is the contributions he has made in other areas.

The Thunder currently rank fifth in defensive rating. Obviously, Chet Holmgren and Luguentz Dort have a lot to do with this, but Gilgeous-Alexander is the anchor of this team’s defense. He currently leads all players in steals, and the Thunder guard always tends to get his hands in passing lanes, something that doesn’t always show up in the numbers.

The other aspect of Gilgeous-Alexander’s game that always goes unnoticed is his leadership. Perhaps he isn’t the most outspoken guy, but Gilgeous-Alexander has helped create a new culture in Oklahoma City, similar to what Kevin Durant did years ago alongside Russell Westbrook and James Harden early on in their respective careers. Because of Shai, the Thunder are going to be in the title conversation out west for many years to come.

When you are talking about what it means to be the most valuable player in the league, the Thunder guard certainly fits this criteria.

3. Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) returns the ball against Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (11) in the second half at TD Garden.
Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #6

2023-24 season stats: 57 games, 27.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 47.8 FG%, 36.9 3P%

Being the best player on the best team in the league needs to count for something. In addition to being back on the All-NBA First Team, Tatum deserves recognition for the MVP award. Perhaps he won’t win it over Jokic or Gilgeous-Alexander, but it’s hard to make the claim that he isn’t in the top three in this race right now.

Two seasons ago, Tatum finished sixth in the MVP voting. Last season, he finished fourth. This season, he has now worked his way into the top three of the NBA MVP rankings due to everything he is doing on the court. In addition to being a 30-point player on any given night, Tatum is also averaging 8.4 rebounds and has recorded 21 total double-doubles this season. Much like Gilgeous-Alexander, Tatum’s contributions to winning are also reflected in the Celtics’ defensive effort.

While the numbers may not always reflect this, Tatum has quietly become one of the better two-way players on the wing. He may not always put up the flashiest numbers, but Tatum contributes to winning. That matters in the MVP race.

4. Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) celebrates after he makes a three point shot against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half at the American Airlines Center.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #3

2023-24 season stats: 53 games, 34.5 points, 9.7 assists, 8.9 rebounds, 49.6 FG%, 38.0 3P%

Luka Doncic continues to be the heart and soul of the Dallas Mavericks. Nearly averaging a triple-double on the season, the now-25-year-old seems to be setting new records every time he takes the court. However, Doncic and the Mavs have seemed to hit a rough patch following their recent seven-game win streak, as Dallas has lost four out of their last five games.

None of this seems to be Doncic’s fault, though, as he has averaged 37.3 points, 11.3 assists, and 9.7 rebounds per game since the All-Star break. Doncic also has five double-doubles in this span, including three straight triple-doubles.

The only reason Doncic is not in the same category as Jokic, SGA, and Tatum is due to the fact that the Mavs are 34-27 and in the play-in region of the Western Conference standings. Should they be able to go on a run and rise up the standings, Doncic will re-enter the MVP conversation in full force.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dunks the ball against Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges (0) in the third quarter at Fiserv Forum.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Rankings: #4

2023-24 season stats: 59 games, 30.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 61.9 FG%, 30.1 3P%

Much like Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo has continued to do everything for the Milwaukee Bucks. The only difference here is that his contributions have pulled the Bucks ahead of every other team except the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference. Giannis, who has led Milwaukee in scoring for eight straight games, recently recorded a 46-point night against the Chicago Bulls.

This was Antetokounmpo’s eighth 40-point game of the season, trailing only Doncic (12), and Embiid (9) for the most in the league.

The Bucks have won five straight games heading into Monday night’s showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Antetokounmpo has been at the forefront of their success. This team’s title hopes depend solely on Giannis being able to take them deep into the playoffs, regardless of whether Khris Middleton or Damian Lillard are on the floor. While it is unlikely that he can cut the gap between the Bucks and the Celtics in the standings, this would result in Antetokounmpo becoming a favorite in the MVP race.

Just missing the cut

6. Domantas Sabonis – Sacramento Kings (Ranked No. 5 last week)

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

8. Anthony Edwards – Minnesota Timberwolves (Ranked No. 8 last week)

9. Kawhi Leonard – Los Angeles Clippers (Unranked last week)

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

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