We’re well past the halfway point, nearing the trade deadline and less than three weeks out from All-Star Weekend. Every year I say this, but the season just always goes faster than you expect. The playoff race is taking shape and so are the awards. Below is where, in my opinion, the MVP race stands entering play on Friday, Feb. 4th.
Joel Embiid is the new betting favorite (+225 at Caesars Sportsbook), but I’m sticking with Jokic (second at +300) at the top for now. Jokic has been the best player all season, plain and simple. Embiid is going to be tough to beat with the aid of everyone rooting for him because Ben Simmons left him in the lurch, but Jokic, let’s not forget, has been without his second-best player in Jamal Murray all season, too. And Denver’s third-best player, Michael Porter Jr., only played in nine games.
Jokic’s case rests on the same on-off foundation that has supported it all season: When he’s on the floor, the Nuggets are elite; when he’s off the floor, they’re literally one of the worst teams, statistically speaking, of the past 20 years.
To put a number to it, the Nuggets are a staggering 26.7 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass (plus-10.7 when he’s on, minus-16.1 when he’s off). Take Jokic off the floor, and the Nuggets post an offensive and defensive rating that would register as the worst in the league.
Yet here they are — with Jamal Murray having missed the entire season and Michael Porter Jr. all but nine games — sitting at No. 6 in the West just two losses back of a top-four seed. Absolutely remarkable.
Since Dec. 1, Embiid is the league’s leading scorer at 31.5 points per