NBA Awards Rankings: MVP race heats up with Joel Embiid DQ'd

Joel Embiid won't repeat as league MVP, which leaves the door wide open for new arrivals and familiar faces.

Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander / Richard Rodriguez/GettyImages
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. G. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. 1. . Thunder. 149. 1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. player

31.1 PPG | 5.6 RPG | 6.6 APG | .548 FG% | .368 3P% | .883 FT%

We often talk about players who get it done on both ends — the classic "two-way" star. While Giannis is the torchbearer for that particular MVP argument, this year, that crown belongs to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It is difficult for guards to match 7-footers in terms of overall defensive impact, but Gilgeous-Alexander leads the league in steals (2.2) and he has been the head of the snake for the Oklahoma City Thunder's top-five defense. Obviously, he has help from Chet Holmgren, Lu Dort, and Jalen Williams, but Gilgeous-Alexander's ground coverage and intensity on that end of the floor has been a sight to behold.

In addition to the elite, first-team All-Defense output from Gilgeous-Alexander, he is the NBA's No. 2 scorer and the leader in key advanced metrics, such as offensive win shares (and total win shares). OKC's offense operates like a hydra, but SGA is the most intimidating and unyielding head. He is the NBA's best driver, constantly getting two feet in the paint and creating fissures for the Thunder to exploit.

At 6-foot-6, Gilgeous-Alexander can finish from any angle around the basket. He has the soft touch necessary to evade shot-blockers with funky, outside-the-box finishes. He can absorb contact and parade to the free-throw line. Keep him in the mid-range, and SGA will dominate with subtle gear shifts and potent step-backs. He has even upped the 3-point volume, forcing defenses to smother him on the perimeter and opening up more lanes to attack the middle.

SGA simply checks too many boxes on an elite team. He is a legitimate contender for MVP. SGA has been the closest to Jokic and Doncic in terms of overall offensive contributions, all while playing his a** off on the defensive end. Gilgeous-Alexander is constantly generating turnovers, spearheading the fast break, and putting his body on the line for OKC. Last season was his coming out party, but now Gilgeous-Alexander has arrived full-stop as a top-five NBA player and perennial MVP candidate.