It’s no surprise that Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is an MVP candidate this year. Ever since his rookie campaign back in the 2017-18 season, we’ve only seen 0 get better year by year. Every aspect of his game has improved season by season and being able to watch that every game as a fan has been a spectacular ride.
His first year in the association, Tatum took home “All-Rookie First Team” honors joining Kyle Kuzma, Lauri Markkanen, Donovan Mitchell, and Ben Simmons. Fast forward four seasons and he joined a similar list but at a much higher and more impressive level with the “All-NBA First Team” joining the likes of former MVP’s Giannis Anteteokounmpo and Nikola Jokic.
Fast again, this time only one year, and Tatum is looking to win his first MVP trophy. In order to do so, however, he is going to have to defeat co-first teamers.
Let’s compare where Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum stands with the other MVP candidates
MVP Candidate No. 1: Nikola Jokic
The defending back-to-back MVP has been playing out of his mind leading the team in points, assists, rebounds, and steals, just to name a few. No one is questioning whether Nikola Jokic is elite or not, because he has multiple MVPs that can back up his case.
There has been a slight drop off, however, for the former MVP.
During Jokic’s first MVP season, Jokic averaged 26 points per game. The next season (last season), he averaged 27 points per game and won MVP again. If Jokic stays on the current pace he’s on now, he will hit below that 27 point per game threshold and it could be detrimental for his MVP status, opening the door for the young and explosive Jayson Tatum to win his first MVP, who’s averaging 32 points per game right now.
Now let’s take a trip back in time.
Back in 2014-2015, Steph Curry won MVP averaging 25 points per game and the next season he went on to win again, this time averaging 30 points. The season following, his points took a dip and he “only” averaged 26 points which opened the door for the explosive Russell Westbrook, who was in the midst of his prime.
Now let’s go even further back in time.
In the 2008-2009 season, LeBron James won the NBA MVP averaging 28 points per game and the next year he won it again, averaging 29. The season after that (2010-2011) his points per game dropped by only two points, allowing the young and explosive Derrick Rose to win his first MVP. Seeing any similarities?
This slight drop off by Jokic could completely open the door for Tatum to pursue his first MVP.
MVP Candidate No. 2: Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid is coming off an absolute masterclass against the Utah Jazz where he dropped 59 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and seven blocks. That is the most MVP-type statline a player could have in a game so it’s tough to say he doesn’t deserve MVP.
Now, I may be a bit biased, but he isn’t Jayson Tatum.
The first thing I think of with Joel Embiid isn’t his scoring. It isn’t his playmaking or his physical style of play, but rather durability. The 76ers have played 14 games this season and Embiid has played in just ten of those games. The Boston Celtics have also played 14 total games, but Tatum has played in every single one.
As a matter of fact, Embiid started playing in the NBA a year before Tatum and even with that extra year, Tatum has still played 41 more games than him.
Durability isn’t the only factor when it comes to MVP voting, but when there’s two players who are within only .4 points per game, assuming that they stay close come the end of the season, the player who played more games is most likely going to get the nod from the voters around the league.
Another area in their game where Tatum is playing better than Embiid is in his ball security. Tatum (as well as the Boston Celtics in general) is only turning the ball over 2.4 times per game while Embiid is turning it over 4.2 per game.
Steals, free throw percentage, and true shooting percentage, all favor Tatum over Embiid.
When it comes to this years MVP voting, there are a lot of players who are playing at such. high level that something as small as durability might come into play when voters are contemplating who to vote for.
MVP Candidate No. 3: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Greek Freak is exactly what his nickname insinuates he is: a freak.
Since entering the league back in the 2013-14 season, Giannis has only gotten better. Exponentially. He’s won two MVPs and even a finals MVP to compliment his NBA Championship back in 2021.
This is a new season though, and he’s got some steep competition in the East.
So far this season Antetokounmpo is averaging 31 points on 53% shooting while Jayson Tatum is scoring 32 points on 49% shooting. The difference however, is the variety of ways that Tatum can score. Giannis isn’t a one dimensional scorer by any means necessary, but he’s only shooting 24% from beyond the arc this season. Tatum on the other hand is making 37% of his shots from three, making him a complete all around scoring weapon.
While both players are tremendous defensive players (hence Giannis’ DPOTY award), the thing that will always separate them will be the ways they can score the ball. Whether it be beyond the arc, mid range, or from the charity stripe, the Celtics star can intimidate a defense from wherever on the floor.
It is also worth noting that even though the former MVP has some size on Tatum, Tatum is averaging more blocks than Antetokounmpo and the Bucks forward only has a slight advantage when it comes to steals.
MVP Candidate No. 4: Luka Doncic
Another spectacular basketball player with Luka Doncic. Ever since he entered the league in 2018, he’s proved he’s a force to be reckoned with and this season is no different. Averaging 34 points per game, Luka is leading the Dallas Mavericks in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, plus he’s second on the team in blocks behind only Maxi Kleber.
At first glance you notice that Luka leads his team in an abundance of categories and you think that with that alone he makes a great candidate for MVP.
Jayson Tatum however, leads the Boston Celtics in points, rebounds, and blocks, and second in steals.
Luka ledas Dallas in all those categories because he has to, the team isn’t as strongly built as Boston and without him, there’s no telling where the team would be. Tatum leads the Celtics in those categories because he can.
There’s no arguing that the Celtics roster is much stronger and deeper than the Dallas roster so to be able to lead the team in multiple categories when there is so much talent that could take the lead instead of him, really speaks volumes as to where Tatum is at talent wise.
Something else that stands out to me is Doncic scores more per game than Tatum by 2.5 points, but he also takes 2.5 more shots per game than he does. The Dallas star also averages 2.4 more free throw attempts per game.
If JT was averaging 2.5 more shots as well as 2.4 more free throws per game, there is no doubt in my mind that he would be averaging over 34 points.
MVP Candidate No. 5: Donovan Mitchell
Ever since the trade back in September, ‘Spida’ has been BALLING in The Land — averaging 32 points, five rebounds, and six assists, all career highs per game. The former “All-Rookie” teammates each have been having their best career years to date and it’s a great thing to see from the 2018 draft class.
Donovan Mitchell is leading the Cavs in points and shooting an effective 51% from the field which includes 43% from three.
Mitchell is playing almost 40 minutes per game right now and because of that, he’s had to continuously be sidelined because of a nagging ankle injury. At this rate if he keeps playing 40ish minutes per game, there won’t be much time to let the ankle fully heal until the end of the season (assuming he plays in the All-Star game and makes the playoffs)
The durability issue could be crucial to Mitchells MVP chances if he’s forced to play through a bum ankle and continue to miss games during the gruel NBA season.
Much like the Boston Celtics however, the Cavaliers have a semi-deep team that’s peppered with veterans and complimented with young stars so if Mitchell is forced to miss some more games due to his ankle, they could stay afloat atop the Eastern Conference standings, helping his MVP value.
Because he is newly acquired from the Utah Jazz and he’s making such an impact on the team already, it’s fair to say he’s high up in the MVP talks right now, as he should be. Come April of 2023 if the Cavs are in first place in the East, don’t be surprised if he’s ranked towards the top of the MVP ladder.
But, until then with Boston in first place, Jayson Tatum will remain above him respectively and hopefully hang on to win the award at the end of the season.