Who will win between Jokic, Luka and SGA?

As the NBA playoffs roll on, the 2023-24 NBA MVP is expected to be announced soon. This season’s finalists are Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

After Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid won the award last year, Jokic is the favorite this time.

If Jokic does win, it would be his third MVP in four seasons. Already with one Finals MVP under his belt, Jokic could join some historic company if he leads the Nuggets to another title. Only five players have earned three regular-season MVPs and two Finals MVPs: Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and LeBron James.

Doncic led the NBA with 33.9 points per game and ranked second in assists per game. He is the third player to average a 30-point triple-double after the All-Star Break in NBA history, joining Oscar Robertson (1961-62) and Russell Westbrook (2016-17). Doncic would join Dirk Nowitzki (2006-07) as only players to win MVP in Mavericks history.

Gilgeous-Alexander finished third in the league with 30.1 PPG — behind Doncic and Milwaukee BucksGiannis Antetokounmpo — in leading the Thunder to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. He had a league-high 51 30-point games this season and would be the team’s third MVP since its 2008 relocation from Seattle — joining Kevin Durant (2013-14) and Westbrook (2016-17).

ESPN senior Zach Lowe explained last month why Jokic is this season’s pick, while NBA reporter Tim Bontemps’ final MVP straw poll reveals why the Nuggets star is the runaway favorite.

2023 NBA MVP Finalists

Nikola Jokic | Center | Denver Nuggets

79 games | 26.4 PPG | 12.4 RPG | 9.0 APG

Luka Doncic | Point guard | Dallas Mavericks

70 games | 33.9 PPG | 9.2 RPG | 9.8 APG

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Point guard | Oklahoma City Thunder

75 games | 30.1 PPG | 5.5 RPG | 6.2 APG

Zach Lowe’s MVP pick


1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

5. Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks

Gilgeous-Alexander and especially Doncic made this a real debate, even if Jokic will likely end up winning his third trophy.

Their relative voting totals (presumably for No. 2) should be close. The advanced numbers are split between them, although they might lean slightly toward Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s a much better defender than Doncic. He shot a higher percentage, but the gap shrinks toward zero when you account for how many more 3s Doncic attempted; they hit 2s at an almost identical rate.

Gilgeous-Alexander had the stronger start. He finished a bit slowly while dealing with a leg injury. Doncic has been an inferno for two-plus months as the Mavericks surged up the standings. The Thunder were near the very top from wire to wire.

It is impossible to imagine a team so young being this good without a veteran superstar to steady it — to seize the offense when the game gets frenzied and create a good shot from scratch. Gilgeous-Alexander is ungraspable, a pivoting phantom. He leveled up as a playmaker. He imbued this young team with a calm swagger in hothouse moments: We have him, so we are good.

The Thunder outscored opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions with Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor and were about dead-even — minus-5 total points! — when he sat. In a lot of seasons, Gilgeous-Alexander would win this. That he comes third here — that Antetokounmpo comes fourth while averaging 30.4 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists on 61% shooting — is a testament to the historic greatness atop the league.

What gives Doncic the thinnest of edges for No. 2 is his combination of size and playmaking. He dished 9.8 dimes, compared with 6.2 for Gilgeous-Alexander. Doncic’s ball-dominant style contributed to that difference, but it’s not as if Gilgeous-Alexander plays like Stephen Curry.

Read more on Zach Lowe’s picks for the NBA’s top individual awards.

NBA MVP Straw Poll 3.0

Nikola Jokic has never been particularly excited to make basketball history.

When the Denver Nuggets superstar center accepted his first NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2021, he was asked whether he was looking forward to getting the ceremony over with. “To be honest, yes,” Jokic told reporters.

The next year, as Nuggets coach Michael Malone emphatically pushed for Jokic to win the league’s top individual honor, Jokic was asked what it would mean to win back-to-back MVPs. “I don’t know. It doesn’t mean anything special. I’m just trying to win basketball games,” he told reporters.

After Jokic led the Nuggets to the franchise’s first NBA championship in June, he matter-of-factly declared in his postgame interview with ESPN, “The job is done. We can go home now.”

Whether he wants to or not, Jokic is on his way to further cementing his place in the innermost circles of NBA history. The MVP three-timer club boasts some of the greatest players in league history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose six MVPs are the most ever; Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, who each won five; Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James, who each won four; and Moses Malone, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, all of whom won three.

In ESPN’s final NBA MVP straw poll of the 2023-24 season, Jokic has not only put himself in position to join that elite group, he has expanded what already was a comfortable lead.

Read more from Tim Bontemps on the NBA MVP Straw Poll 3.0.

This post was originally published on ESPN

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