NBA Awards Rankings: Nikola Jokic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexader duke it out for MVP

The NBA MVP race is tight once again, with perennial contender Nikola Jokic and potential first-time winner Shai Gilgeous-Alexander vying for supremacy.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nikola Jokic
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nikola Jokic / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA season reaches its conclusion, it is time to determine the rightful MVP winner, once and for all. Last season, Joel Embiid finally scaled the mountain after years of valient effort. Was he the right pick? That's open to interpretation, honestly. But, we cannot deny the titanic accomplishment of Embiid's 2022-23 campaign and how central he was to last season's story arc.

For a while, Embiid was on track to repeat as MVP, joining an exclusive club that most recently added his fellow 7-foot wunderkind, Nikola Jokic. Unfortunately, Embiid's career-best 2024 season was curbed by a meniscus injury, which opened the door to several viable "next best" options.

In the months since Embiid went down, the field has solidified with a robust mix of familiar faces and newcomers. This season, more than most, it's hard to nail down a definitive winner. Jokic has cemented his claim on the title of "Best Player in the NBA," but this has not been his best season. Meanwhile, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic are both charting paths to history, while Jayson Tatum is the No. 1 option on the best regular season team in ages.

The awards race is always a matter of personal preference for each voter, but this season's MVP race has a true eye-of-the-beholder quality to it. We generally know where the vote is trending, but there's enough ambiguity for a surprise outcome. There are several deserving candidates.

Let's supply one final ranking.

Final 2024 NBA MVP rankings

Honorable mentions: Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert, Tyrese Maxey, Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Davis

10. . Pelicans. Zion Williamson. Zion Williamson. player. . F. 10. 69

22.9 PPG | 5.8 RPG | 5.0 APG | .580 FG% | .357 3P% | .697 FT%

It has been an unpredictable, often volatile season for the New Orleans Pelicans. In the end, however, few teams present as many issues for opposing defenses. Zion Williamson remains the head of the snake, overcoming the constant hum of criticism to produce admirably in a shifting role. It took time for him to hit his stride this season, but Williamson has been special over the last few months.

In addition to meaningfully improved defense, Williamson remains virtually unstoppable as a rim pressure mechanism. His speed, strength, and vertical pop around the basket render him a walking mismatch. Even without a reliable jump shot — even with defenses packing the lane in anticipation — Williamson is constantly putting two feet inside the paint and causing breakdowns.

Often operating as the Pelicans' de facto point guard, Williamson finishes 64.9 percent of his shots within five feet of the rim. He's a sharp passer off of drives and a beast in transition, where he's virtually impossible to contain once he picks up momentum toward the basket.

9. 9. . Knicks. Jalen Brunson. 27. . player. G. Jalen Brunson

28.2 PPG | 3.6 RPG | 6.7 APG | .477 FG% | .394 3P% | .842 FT%

Jalen Brunson is the beating heart of the NBA's scrappiest team. There are inherent defensive limitations tied to his 6-foot-2 frame, but Brunson's offensive contributions are beyond essential. He has captained the New York Knicks through multiple injuries, keeping the offense afloat with Julius Randle, OG Anunobuy, and Mitchell Robinson spending significant time on the sideline. Factor in the midseason departure of Immanuel Quickley and his playmaking firepower, and Brunson's output is all the more impressive.

A sleight of hand master, Brunson has overcome physical limitations with pure, unbridled craft. There isn't a cleverer ball-handler in the sport. Kyrie Irving can generate more flash off the bounce, but Brunson understands how to maximize angles and generate space with a timely bump of the shoulder or textbook footwork in the post. His ability to muscle through skinny guards in the paint or tiptoe around bigger defenders in the post is a joy to watch. Brunson lacks an elite first step, but he can change speed and direction on a dime, forcing his defender off-balance before striking.

The Knicks are still battling for a top-four seed despite a season from hell on the injury front. Brunson has not been the only New York player to step up — the Knicks' supporting cast is one of the league's best — but without Brunson's shot creation, the entire house of cards would've collapsed months ago.

player. . . Stephen Curry. 8. Warriors. G. 8. 41. Stephen Curry

26.5 PPG | 4.4 RPG | 5.0 APG | .448 FG% | .403 3P% | .924 FT%

Stephen Curry is probably a victim of his own resumé. We know Steph is one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, a true shot-making savant who changed how we all understand the game of basketball. And yet, despite prodigious output and a mostly healthy campaign, Curry is barely on the periphery of most MVP boards.

The obvious "reason" is the Golden State Warriors' uninspiring collective performance. We saw the Dubs, a once-proud juggernaut, fight tooth and nail for the No. 10 spot in the West. Rather than beefing with the league's top contenders, Golden State was relegated to trash-talking with the Houston Rockets. Even so, Curry's individual production is the main reason the Warriors aren't slated to pick top-five in June's NBA draft. He remains a one-of-one destructive force against opposing defenses.

He won't win the award, obviously, but Curry's production is par for the course at this point. We should reward "par for the course" performances from all-time greats. Even if he's not doing anything new, even if the team around him is crumbling, Curry's ability to stress a defense and generate advantages for his team — both with and without the basketball — is unmatched.

66. 7. . Devin Booker. Devin Booker. player. Suns. . 7. G

27.3 PPG | 4.6 RPG | 7.0 APG | .495 FG% | .364 3P% | .885 FT%

Devin Booker runs into the classic "only one ball" obstacle with the Phoenix Suns. He is one half of a two-headed monster, sharing the court with a similarly dazzling and impactful Kevin Durant. Phoenix hasn't quite had the season we all expected with the new "big three," but lately, we've seen enough from the Suns to know that team is a very real postseason threat.

While Durant has his own case, Booker has earned the Suns' share of MVP votes this season. In the simplest of terms, Booker is more central to Phoenix's offense. He is the primary ball-handler, tasked with initiating the most sets and generating advantages on the perimeter. He shares that burden with Durant, of course, not to mention the likes of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon. But, this has been Booker's best passing season by a wide margin, in addition to his standard excellence in the scoring department.

Frankly, this has been Booker's best season across the board. He's more efficient than ever (61.2 percent true shooting) with impact metrics that trounce earlier stages of his career. Booker benefits from the star-power in close proximity to him, but he is the Suns' alpha.

C. . Domantas Sabonis. 6. player. 84. . Domantas Sabonis. 6. Kings

19.5 PPG | 13.8 RPG | 8.3 APG | .595 FG% | .378 3P% | .703 FT%

Domantas Sabonis deserves far more recognition for his efforts. He finished seventh in MVP voting last season, which he has followed up by averaging more points, rebounds, and assists on comparable efficiency. The Sacramento Kings' collective step back offers one explanation for the absence of Sabonis MVP buzz, but the man was snubbed from the All-Star game — a truly egregious omission that proves the baffling lack of respect for one of the game's hardest-working stars.

A less-than-stellar performance in the 2023 playoffs probably soured some pundits on Sabonis. He has been labeled as a regular season star that falters in the playoffs. Not only is that unfair, but it is irrelevant to the MVP race. This is a regular season award, and Sabonis should be judged solely on his accomplishments and impact during the 2023-24 regular season.

Sabonis leads the NBA in rebounds and he leads the Kings in assists. He is Sacramento's primary playmaking fulcrum, running countless two-man actions on the perimeter and operating as a passing hub on the elbow. He can pummel size mismatches in the post or dance around slower defenders on the block. Sabonis checks so many boxes, and he's a true workhorse. The effort level never wanes. One would expect Sabonis to receive more applause for his incredible work ethic, but alas, the NBA narrative thread has already been spun.

Jayson Tatum. Jayson Tatum. 5. player. 5. . Celtics. . F. 18

27.0 PPG | 8.2 RPG | 4.9 APG | .472 FG% | .378 3P% | .834 FT%

We always hear about the 'Best Player on the Best Team' when discussing the MVP race. It has been a while since that player actually won the award, but Jayson Tatum has earned his flowers and perhaps a few first or second-place votes, depending on what you value. The Boston Celtics are a truly dominant force — maybe the best regular season team since the 73-win Warriors. Tatum is, well, the best player.

Defenses face a series of impossible choices when guarding the Celtics, but Tatum demands the brunt of the attention on opposing scouting reports. He is the most polished wing scorer working today, blending textbook Kobe-lite footwork with the size to shoot over the top or the strength to get all the way to the rim and finish through contact. Tatum has improved drastically as a passer this season, becoming less vulnerable to double teams and late-game pressure. He's one of the few NBA players who can score comfortably from any spot on the floor, and he happens to be a top-shelf wing defender, to boot.

Tatum easily has the most "help" of any player of this list, for what it's worth. That shouldn't necessarily be held against him, but it's hard to define the most valuable player without invoking team context on some level. The Celtics can stay afloat on a game-to-game basis without Tatum. He can defer to teammates on bad nights. Not every candidate listed here has the same luxury.

4. Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo . player. F. 4. . Giannis Antetokounmpo . 89.

30.7 PPG | 11.6 RPG | 6.5 APG | .611 FG% | .274 3P% | .658 FT%

The Milwaukee Bucks are spiraling, which will unavoidably and unfortunately taint the MVP case for Giannis Antetokounmpo. He's not responsible for the Bucks' woes, of course. We can more easily place the blame on Doc Rivers, upper management, and the rest of his teammates. Antetokounmpo has been historically productive, on track to become the first NBA player ever to average 30+ points on 60+ percent shooting.

Normally, that sounds like a pretty airtight MVP case, especially for a player who impacts both ends of the floor like Giannis. Unfortunately, he is bumping up against another all-time great MVP class — one of many in recent years, which speaks to the unprecedented greatness on display in today's NBA. Giannis is a two-way force of nature, a truly relentless worker who influences every aspect of the Bucks' game plan. And, in the end, he's just not going to win the award.

Still, Giannis has earned his share of votes. Despite coaches who misuse him and the unavoidable turmoil infesting the Bucks organization, Antetokounmpo has been a major positive force for a team that is still in the mix for a top-two seed. Giannis' unrivaled blend of size, strength, mobility, and basketball I.Q. keeps him locked in the top five.

Luka Doncic. 79. . Mavericks. 3. 3. Luka Doncic. player. . G

33.9 PPG | 9.2 RPG | 9.8 APG | .488 FG% | .382 3P% | .786 FT%

Luka Doncic is on track for his first NBA scoring title, the culmination of his meteoric rise. It's easy to forget that Doncic is still 25 — we are at the very beginning of a long and prolific career — but now, he's set to receive legitimate MVP consideration for the first time in his career. Doncic still faces an uphill battle due to the quality of his competition, but the Dallas Mavericks' point guard presents a strong case for votes.

Shouldering the highest usage rate in the NBA (36.2 percent), Doncic is the sun around which Dallas' offense orbits. His workload is literally unmatched, with the Mavs relying endlessly on Doncic's ability to generate advantages on the perimeter and create out of various actions (or simply out of isolations). He is painfully close to averaging a triple-double, while also achieving the greatest efficiency metrics of his career (61.7 percent true shooting).

Doncic has never been better. He's taking smarter shots, improving from 3-point range and completely overwhelming even the league's best defenders on drives to the cup. His strength, touch, and creativity is difficult to fathom. He has so many moves and countermoves, that it becomes impossible to formulate an adequate game plan. Dallas has built the most well-rounded roster of Doncic's career, and it's paying off. The Mavs feel like a real looming threat in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.

player. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. . Thunder. 2. 149. 2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. G.

30.3 PPG | 5.5 RPG | 6.3 APG | .539 FG% | .365 3P% | .872 FT%

Another 25-year-old guard who is only beginning to scratch his NBA ceiling, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has quickly scaled the NBA totem poll. The ultra-young Oklahoma City Thunder are a real postseason threat, in large part due to Gilgeous-Alexander's stone-cold brilliance. He's arguably the top clutch performer in today's game, in addition to his unimpeachable statistical profile.

Gilgeous-Alexander is the NBA's best slasher, constantly poking holes in the defense and slipping down the lane for finishes. His length, touch, and craft makes him especially adept at finesse layups or touch shots in traffic. Gilgeous-Alexander has also boosted his 3-point numbers to career=best territory, demanding constant defensive attention at all three levels.

He has the benefit of sharing the floor with other quality creators, but Gilgeous-Alexander is OKC's primary source of advantage creation. On the other end, Gilgeous-Alexander has earned legitimate All-Defense consideration. He could even earn some top-3 DPOY votes. The Thunder's defensive ecosystem is exceedingly favorable for Gilgeous-Alexander, but he leads the league in steals (2.1 per game) and covers a ton of ground at 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan.

C. . . Nikola Jokic. 73. 1. Nikola Jokic. 1. player. Nuggets

26.4 PPG | 12.4 RPG | 9.0 APG | .578 FG% | .347 3P% | .823 FT%

Nikola Jokic continues to dominate virtually every useful or half-useful advanced metric. He passes the box score test as well, and we need not mention the eye test. The Denver Nuggets' championship run put to bed any lingering doubt about Jokic's ability to impact winning at the highest level. He's a walking mismatch, not only due to his strength and skill level, but because of his brain. Jokic is truly, always thinking five steps ahead of the defense.

The Nuggets are going to finish at or near the top of the Western Conference again. This has actually been a relatively down season for Jokic compared to his recent MVP campaigns, but even Jokic at 90 percent capacity is impossible to overlook in this conversation. Despite the strength of his competition and the potential boredom that comes with voting for Jokic again, the Denver big man has earned his third MVP award in four seasons. He probably deserved to win the 2023 trophy, too.

This is probably the closest a race has ever been, at least on paper. Embiid's win last season was predicated on various narrative developments and an overwhelming case of voter fatigue. Now that Jokic has proved his mettle in the playoffs, that fatigue has worn off, and the collective NBA fanbase is able to better appreciate how special Jokic's contributions are. We are witnessing one of the greatest primes in the history of the sport. Forget comparing Jokic against his peers; it's time to compare him against the all-time special talents.

He will join a very exclusive club of three-time winners if the votes end up in Jokic's favor. We can't engrave his name on the trophy just yet, but Jokic has earned his share of NBA history.

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