Friday, March 1, 2024

Does Donovan Mitchell of the Cavs deserve to be NBA MVP talks?

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The Cavaliers’ first campaign was in an effort to get Jarrett Allen to the All-Star Game. That goal hasn’t yet come to fruition, but they’re still working on it.

The next stop on the campaign trail might be for Donovan Mitchell to join the MVP conversation.

Mitchell is in the midst of the best statistical season of his career and is leading the surging Cavs, who have won 15 of their last 16 games by an average of more than 18 points per win, enough to vault them into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s fair to say that in terms of winning the 2023-24 MVP Award, Mitchell has some work to do. It’s also fair to say that over the last few weeks — even days — he’s made up some significant ground. Soon, the conversation might heat up.

Jokic, Gilgeous-Alexander and Antetokounmpo lead 2023-24 NBA MVP race

Using updated odds for MVP from Tipico Sportsbook, there are eight players with better than 200-to-1 odds to take home MVP — and Mitchell is one of those eight.

Nikola Jokic (-160), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+250) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+670) are the pretty clear front runners as the All-Star break draws near. Luka Doncic (+1200) is then next in line. Kawhi Leonard (+3000), Jalen Brunson (+5000), Jayson Tatum (+7000) and finally Mitchell at +10000 round out the top eight. To put it more plainly, Mitchell is 100-to-1, Tatum is 70-to-1, and so on.

Though, only a few days ago, the same site had Mitchell at 150-to-1.

Much of the MVP conversation this season has deservedly centered around Jokic, a two-time MVP, and Gilgeous-Alexander, who is having a super season in Oklahoma City. And Antetokounmpo, another former MVP, will almost always be right there in terms of odds.


Donovan Mitchell in mist of best NBA season in 2023-24

Mitchell is beginning to make a case that he deserves to at least be in that conversation.

He ranks in the top echelon of players in several categories, including points per game (28.5, fourth in NBA), assists per game (6.3, 20th), steals per game (1.9, tied for second), player efficiency rating (23.8, ninth), win shares (5.9, 16th), defensive win shares (2.6, 12th), box plus/minus (7.5, seventh), value over replacement player (3.5, seventh) and defensive rating (109.4, ninth).

While Mitchell is on pace to set career highs in points and assists per game, it’s really his defense that has helped to bolster his resume.

“We have to acknowledge Donovan Mitchell is playing the best basketball of his career,” said Cavaliers president of basketball operations Koby Altman on a Zoom call. “He’s one of the best players on the planet. You look up and you look at his stats, he had the best year of his career last year and you look up this year and he has career highs and points, rebounds assist and steals.

“And this is what I want to make sure that we get across, is Donvan Mitchell is making his teammates better, and that’s the testament of a great player.”

In reality, the space between who might be fourth in the MVP race (Doncic, by odds) and eighth (Mitchell) is becoming minimal. But anyone in that second tier between those two catching the top three of Jokic, Gilgeous-Alexander and Antetokounmpo is a tall order.

While Mitchell’s case might be legitimate to be one of the top-five vote receivers by the end of the regular season, the three aforementioned favorites are the ones who have their names littered all over the leaderboards, often just ahead of Mitchell, Brunson, Tatum and Co.

Perhaps the best example is Win Shares, where Gilgeous-Alexaner and Jokic are tied at 10.8, with Antetokounmpo third at 8.7. Nobody else is above 7.7.

A voter could also point to player efficiency rating, in which that trio is second (Jokic), third (Gilgeous-Alexander) and fourth (Antetokounmpo). The only player above them is Phildelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, who is out for several weeks with a knee injury and won’t be eligible for MVP.

The verdict on whether Mitchell deserves to be in the MVP conversation is becoming an easy one: Yes. He and the other players in the second tier of odds, though, will have to make up a ton of ground over the home stretch of the regular season.

Mitchell will need a great deal of momentum on his side. But no team in the NBA has more momentum than the Cavs.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis1@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter and Threads at @ByRyanLewis.

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