Kia MVP Ladder: International stars sweep Top 5

The top five spots on the Kia MVP Ladder are all filled by international stars.

A mix of topics associated with the NBA are looked at every Wednesday during the season.
This week, we’re looking at what led to Joel Embiid’s recent score surge, the Detroit Pistons’ losing streak that is trying to break records, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s complete control of the Milwaukee Bucks’ record books. This is a Kram night.

Joel Embiid is on a record-setting scoring run right now. He averaged 38 points in four games last week, but he didn’t play in just one fourth quarter. The Sixers beat the Wizards, the Pistons (twice), and the Hornets easily.

After that, he scored 40 points at a loss with Chicago on Monday. That made it 12 games in a row with 30 or more points, which is tied as the second-longest run in the last 20 years.

This season, the MVP has scored more points compared with minutes played, a feat only previously achieved by Wilt Chamberlain during a full season.

Coach Drew Hanlen was very upset that Embiid’s recent play wasn’t even good enough to get him a Player Player of the Week award.

That honor went to Giannis Antetokounmpo for the Eastern Conference shortly after a week when he scored 64 points in a game. Luka Doncic won it for the West, as he worked toward 11 straight 30-point games.

That dissonance represents a microcosm of the crowded and stacked MVP race, in which the five front-runners are taking advantage of a great scoring situation to put up crazy numbers for teams close to the top of the standings.

Embiid is the league leader in scoring for the third year in a row, anchors a top-five defense, and gives out six assists per game, which is more than his previous high of 4.2. Nikola Jokic gets almost a triple-double every game and has the biggest difference between when he’s on and when he’s off of any star.

He’s Giannis, who is scoring more quickly than ever. Luka is having the best season of his career in terms of points, assists, and 3-point rate. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is making a case for being the best two-way wing player in the league.

One more look at SGA’s resume makes it clear why he should be MVP. The young star came in fifth place in last season’s voting. His team is on track to win 56 games.

He is loved by advanced stats. According to Inpredictable, he has the highest win chance added in the league. This is because missed and made shots have a bigger effect when there is time left and a score is involved.

He is also on track to become only the fifth player in NBA history to average at least 30 points and lead the league in steals per game.

The others are Michael Jordan (three times), Allen Iverson (two times), Steph Curry, and Rick Barry.

All of those players except Barry, who was hated by his teammates when MVP was being voted on, won MVP awards.

But that’s the state of the MVP race right now, where a number of important factors have come together to create a large group of outstanding possibilities.

A big part of this is the NBA’s ongoing offensive explosion. This season, the average team is scoring 115 runs per game, which is the league’s best average in more than 50 years and makes individual stats look better.

The rise of heliocentrism, in which teams base their entire attacking strategies on the skills of their star players, makes those numbers even higher.

Ten years ago, only four qualified players had a usage rate of at least 30%. This season, 17 qualified players have that rate.

This season may also be affected by the fact that there are so many bad teams that don’t offer much of a challenge as rival players rack up ridiculous stat lines.

Four teams—the Pistons, the Spurs, the Wizards, and the Hornets—have point differentials that are worse than 9.5 per game right now. In any other season, there have never been more than two.