NBA Awards Rankings: Jokic vs. Embiid (again), plus Tyrese Haliburton's rise

Some new developments on the MVP front, with a familiar battle waged at the top.

Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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. 3. player. 79. Guard. Luka Doncic. 3. . Mavericks. Luka Doncic

The Dallas Mavericks are off to a 9-3 start, which stands in stark contrast to last season's 11th-place finish. Kyrie Irving is still settling into his role, but the marginal additions of Grant Williams, Derrick Jones Jr., and Dereck Lively II have completely revamped the team. Jason Kidd has ratcheted up the tempo, the defense looks respectable, and the Mavs have the feel of a genuine contender.

That should be the expectation, always, when you roster a player of Luka Doncic's caliber. With the exception of a rotten performance in Tuesday's loss to the Pelicans, there hasn't been much to nitpick with Doncic's output. He's averaging 30.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.1 assists on .502/.420/.761 splits with a typically robust usage rate of 34.3 percent. Even with Irving properly integrated on offense, Doncic is directing traffic.

He's not quite in the 'best player in the world' conversation just yet, but Doncic has been on a steady upward trajectory since he entered the league. His combination of absurd usage, combined with elite efficiency by even his standards (64.0 percent true shooting, a career high), should keep Doncic tethered to the MVP race all season.

It has never been an exact one-for-one comparison, but Doncic is truly the closest we will get to prime Houston-era James Harden. The Mavs' offense typically starts, and very often finishes, with Doncic sizing up the defense. He can use his bullish frame to penetrate the paint and finish at the rim, or he can bury the opposition in step-backs and pull-ups. He's shooting the ball better than ever, and the assist numbers remain impressive. The defense is a knock, as always, but not enough to keep Doncic out of the conversation.