NBA

The Lead’s 2022-23 Midseason MVP Ballot

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It’s almost the new year, which means it’s time to unveil our MVP ballot at the near-halfway point of the 2022-2023 season.

It’s gone by fast, and there’s still tons of time for a standings shakeup across the league, but there’s enough of a sample size to start thinking about the big picture.

And with that, The Lead presents its 2022-2023 MVP ballot with the 2022 portion of the schedule almost complete.

In terms of criteria, we kept things open-ended on purpose. But, there’s a common trend across our ballots. Individual stats, team context, and contribution to winning all matter. How much is up to our voting panel.

Let’s cut right to the chase because there’s a lot to sort out.

Note: All individual and team stats include games up to and including Tuesday, December 27th.

Honorable Mentions

Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies 

(28 games, 27.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 7.8 APG, 45/33/74 shooting splits; Grizzlies 20-13, 3rd in Western Conference)

The engine behind the Grizzlies and their twelfth-best offense in the league, Ja Morant continues to develop his game in his fourth season in the league. Already on pace to have a career-high in points per game, he’s also shooting the three ball at a higher percentage and on more attempts than his previous three years.

Throw in that he’s having career averages in both rebounds and assists (his 7.8 APG is good enough for fifth in the league) and there’s a good case for Memphis to have their first MVP in franchise history. The only thing keeping Morant from being higher on this list is the fact that he’s already missed three games this season due to various injuries.

Don’t expect the injuries to keep him down long though; if the rest of the NBA wasn’t aware, Morant is a cyborg. The MVP may end up being his to lose. – Luke Hatmaker

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De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings 

(29 games, 23.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 5.5 APG, 50/35/78 shooting splits; Kings 17-15, 7th in Western Conference)

The Kings have taken a big step forward this year and De’Aaron Fox is out in front leading the way.  

Fox is shooting over 50% from the field for the first time in his career. Not noted as a strong shooter from three-point range or at the free-throw line, Fox is shooting 78% from the line and 35% from beyond the arc this season.  Those are noticeable bumps over his career numbers of 46/32/73.    

Numerous times already this year, Fox hit key shots to help the Kings go on a seven-game winning streak after they started 0-4.  His most memorable game-winner was a near half-court buzzer beater from the logo to beat Orlando in overtime.  

Fox has also stepped up his efforts on the defensive end and taken on more responsibility as the vocal team leader.  

The Kings still look like one of the best offensive teams in the league and they have a real chance to end their 16-year playoff drought.  If they do, Fox should be in the MVP discussion. – Dave Andrade 

Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers

(31 games, 28.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 49/42/88; Cavs 22-13, 4th in the Eastern Conference)

Donovan Mitchell is quietly having the best season of his NBA career.

Not only is he averaging more points than he has at any point in his career, but he’s also improved his shooting splits in every category. Just a few hairs away from entering 50/40/90 territory, Mitchell has helped the Cleveland Cavaliers maintain a top-five seed in the entire league. The Cavs’ only early stumbles were during a five-game losing streak against a California triumvirate (Clippers, Kings, Warriors), the unpredictable Minnesota Timberwolves, and the former-champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Mitchell did struggle in the November 28th game against the Toronto Raptors (eight points on 3-11 FG [27.3%] and 1-5 3PT [20%]), handing him his worst display of the season. Outside of that, we can put the idea that he “doesn’t play well with his big men” to rest. He has fit in seamlessly with the Cavs since they acquired him via trade from the Utah Jazz.

There’s no inner turmoil with this team. Look at Donovan as a dark-horse MVP frontrunner if the Cavs finish with a top 4-5 seed in the NBA. – Michael Tolliver Jr

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

(26 games, 30.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 6.8 APG, 50/43/92 shooting splits; Warriors 17-18, 10th in Western Conference)

It’s a testament to the type of player Steph Curry is when he’s on this list with Golden State sitting in tenth place and mired in the aftermath of the Poole Party Punch.

Regardless, Steph has kept the Warriors afloat while leading a top-seven starting lineup in the league through the first chunk of the season. Already he’s on pace to have another career season: he’s making the most field goals (10.1) on the second-most attempts (20.2) resulting in the third most pts/game (30.0) through his 14 NBA seasons.

Furthermore, he’s making 59.0% of his 8.5 attempted two’s per game and 43.4% of his triples. That’s mind-bogglingly great. Throw in the 6.6 rebounds he’s averaging a game are good for his best in a season, and his assists per game (6.8) are the most that he’s averaged in a season since 2014-2015 and fourth best for the guard overall, and you’ve got what may end up being the best season we’ve seen from the future Hall of Famer. – Luke Hatmaker 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

(31 games, 31.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 5.8 APG, 51/35/93 shooting splits; Thunder 15-19, 12th in the Western Conference)

Although the Thunder’s record isn’t surprising to anyone, NBA fans across the nation have taken notice of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s rapid ascension to super-stardom.

Averaging 31.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game on 51/35/93 splits, Gilgeous-Alexander’s smooth drives and efficient midrange game have the Thunder competing in nearly every game. SGA has also stepped up his game on the defensive end, as he is attaining career highs in both blocks and steals per game (1.7 SPG/1.1 BPG).

SGA has always been a solid isolation scorer, but this year, that aspect of his game has taken off. He’s scoring 6.5 of his 31.5 PPG in isolation, with an even 1.00 points per isolation possession. If SGA can keep these stats up through the remainder of the season, he will be a lock to make his first career All-Star appearance and possibly join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only two NBA MVPs to miss the postseason. Jake Morris 

No. 5: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

(32 Games, 33.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 8.8 APG, 51/36/74 shooting splits; Mavericks 19-16, 6th in Western Conference)

Doncic was an honorable-mention candidate about a week ago, but a string of recent performances (including last night’s 60-20-10 triple-double) has propelled him back into the MVP conversation.

Doncic has been sensational as an offensive engine. He’s leading the NBA in points per game (33.5). His scoring versatility has been on full display as he’s one of the best post-scorers in the league. Averaging 4.6 post-up points per game is sensational for a primary ball handler.

Luka doesn’t just post up looking to score, though. As he often attracts double teams down low, he routinely makes the right basketball play. Kicking it out to his teammates for wide-open shots. All of the Maverick players aren’t taking advantage of these opportunities but Spencer Dinwiddie, Josh Green and Christian Wood are all helping Luka as much as they can, shooting over 40% from downtown.

Luka’s defensive motor still leaves a lot to be desired. He frequently dies on screens and plays “olè” defense at times. These are valid concerns but nobody has the ball as much as he does. His 9.9 time-of-possession number is by far No. 1 in the league. He has the ball so much because only he and Dinwiddie can make plays (hopefully Kemba Walker can help in this department). 

Their record isn’t ideal right now, but with a generational talent like Doncic, expect the Mavericks to turn it around and at least be in the playoff picture. – Brennan Sims 

No. 4: Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

(33 games, 30.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.3 APG, 56/37/93; Nets 22-12, 3rd in Eastern Conference)

As recently highlighted, KD and the Nets are scorching hot right now after a slow start, and that’s been mainly due to the two-way impact Durant has had for Brooklyn this season.

From two, KD is shooting 63% (!!!), two percentage points higher than his next-best career mark (61% in 2016-2017). In his 15-year NBA career, he’s averaged 54% shooting from two-point range. Compared to his lone MVP season in 2014, Durant’s efficiency continues to rank as his best.

In terms of effective field-goal percentage, Durant’s current mark of 60.7% ranks just short of his 2021 season for the best of his career (2021: 60.8%). The other success for Durant is getting to the line. In his last two seasons with the Nets, he’s averaging over seven free throw attempts per game. For context, that’s the most since his prime with the Thunder nearly a decade ago.

If the Nets keep up its winning ways, KD could find his way into the top-three later in the season. – Dominic Chiappone

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No. 3: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

(33 Games, 31.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 48/36/87 shooting splits; Celtics 25-10, 1st in Eastern Conference) 

No Ime Udoka, no problem.

Jayson Tatum’s across-the-board improvement is driving the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference. The biggest surprise is Tatum’s improved ability to draw contact. He’s averaging a career-high 8.5 free throws per game after never topping more than 6.2 attempts in his first five seasons. That’s opened up his jump-shooting game, and that’s with him shooting three percent lower on threes this year compared to his career average. As of now, Boston boasts the best and most efficient offense in the league. After coming up short in the Finals, Tatum continues to prove that the Celtics are tier-one contenders in the league.

To be fair to Tatum, there’s a case to be made he could be the front runner given his individual numbers and the team’s success. But Boston’s defense is middle of the pack right now, and outside of Robert Williams, injuries haven’t been the biggest concern for the Celtics.

Give it 15-20 more games and we could easily see Tatum rise to number one in the rankings. – Dominic Chiappone

No. 2: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

(28 Games, 31.2 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 5.1 APG, 54/25/64 shooting splits; Bucks 22-11, 2nd in Eastern Conference) 

Shocker? Similar to Jokic, fears of voter fatigue will plague Giannis’ candidacy. However, Milwaukee remains at the top of the pack in the East despite the absences of Khris Middleton and other key role players. As of now, Giannis remains the most unstoppable interior scorer in the league. The efficiency isn’t the best, but keep in mind the lack of offensive firepower on the Bucks’ roster. So far, the Greek Freak is averaging 31.2 points over 33.3 minutes per contest.

Considering Giannis is shooting 25% from three on three attempts per game, it’s impressive how he can put up points in bunches. From a supporting-cast angle, Giannis is doing the heavy lifting for a Bucks team that didn’t make many moves over the offseason.

Antetokounmpo’s top ranking isn’t a certainty, but he’ll continue to get better as the season goes on. – Dominic Chiappone 

No. 1: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

(30 games, 25.3 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 9.5 APG, 62/34/80 shooting splits; Nuggets 22-11, 1st in Western Conference)

Death, taxes and voter fatigue. The back-to-back MVP has been phenomenal to start the year once again, spearheading an offense that’s ranked 3rd in the league. And recently, his statistical output is ridiculous as the Nuggets have surged to the top of the Western Conference.

After a slow start, Jokic and Denver are both on fire since mid-November. Even with voter fatigue, it’s hard to have Jokic firmly in the MVP conversation given his production so far:

From Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (2nd in the league in 3P%) to Bruce Brown (career high in scoring), it seems like everyone on this Nuggets roster has been a beneficiary of Jokic’s selfless game. For a team that hasn’t been close to full health, it feels like eons. It’s a sigh of relief to see Jokic not having to do EVERYTHING for the Nuggets and instead get others involved in a way we’ve never seen.

Though voter fatigue may keep him from three-peating, Jokic is undoubtedly — and firmly — in the conversation once again. – Logan Collien

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