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NBA midseason awards: Mavericks’ Luka Doncic for MVP

Kurt Helin reveals his NBA mid-season award frontrunners for Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Sixth Man of the Year.

We’ve reached the midpoint of a wild, unpredictable NBA season with many more questions — How good are the Bucks? The Nets? Can Golden State flip the switch? — than answers. The midpoint also means we know which players have put themselves in position for NBA postseason awards. All week long, we will make our picks for some of the NBA’s top awards at this point in the season. Today:

NBA MVP: Luka Doncic

2. Nikola Jokic
3. Kevin Durant
4. Jayson Tatum
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo

This is the most wide-open MVP race I can remember and, from my perspective, six or seven players could walk away with this award. Joel Embiid sits just outside the top five, primarily because of games missed (that could change over the second half of the season). Stephen Curry is in the same situation. Before his shoulder injury he might have led the MVP race, but he’s missed a lot of time. Curry is expected back soon, maybe this week, and if he plays enough games/minutes by the end of the season, the dynamic can change.

Luka Doncic wins our mid-season award not simply because of his insane raw numbers or his efficiency getting them — 34 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 61.3 true shooting percentage — but also the workload he has had to take on to keep Dallas winning. Without a high-level secondary playmaker after Jalen Brunson chose New York, Doncic has had to shoulder an insane offensive load (his 38.6 usage percentage is second in the league). The Mavericks leaned into a completely heliocentric offense around Doncic and he has delivered them a 23-18 record and has them sitting fourth in the West. He’s also got the best game of the season, a 60-point, 21-rebound, 10-assist triple-double to lead a comeback against the Knicks.

From my perspective, the six players in the MVP mix have shaken out into two tiers (separated by just a half step), with Jokic and Durant on the upper tier with Doncic. There are strong cases for either to be MVP to this point. Durant has been at the heart of the Nets’ mid-season turnaround and is averaging 30 points a game with 6.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists, on a ridiculous 67.5 true shooting percentage. Jokic continues to put up insanely efficient numbers: 25.3 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and 9.5 assists, a 68.7 true shooting percentage, and the Nuggets are 22.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

Tatum is the best player on the best team in the league (at least when they’re focused), averaging 30.8 points per game and has an impressive 61.1 true shooting percentage, but as Boston has stumbled of late he hasn’t lived up to MVP leader billing. Same for Giannis Antetokounmpo. While he continues to put up numbers — 32 points and 11.8 rebounds a game — he hasn’t been as efficient, although some of that is him having to take on more of a shot-creation load with both Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday missing time. If Embiid stays largely healthy the rest of the way, he will be heard in this race.

Some fans are trying to make cases for others, but Zion Williamson (who likely misses too much time anyway), Donovan Mitchell, Anthony Davis and others are a step below this top six (or seven if we count Curry).

This feels like a season where the MVP race could come down to the season’s final weeks — and it’s not going to be a clear-cut, nearly unanimous choice. Like the season, this race is going to be wild and unpredictable.