With the season about one-third complete, the Most Valuable Player landscape has begun to clear up. Joel Embiid’s masterful play leaves him in line for a potential repeat, but multiple other prime candidates are knocking on the door.

10. Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers

Previous ranking: 8

2023-24 season averages

25 50 41.3 86.1 3/9 12.2 24.5

Haliburton just edges out Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey and Golden State Warriors talisman Stephen Curry for the final spot on this list. Though the Pacers are 2-5 since falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in the In-Season Tournament final, Haliburton has continued to star for Indiana, recording 18.3 points and 12.4 assists per game in that span.

However, the 23-year-old will have to rediscover his outside stroke to regain his early-season momentum. Haliburton has shot a paltry 31.9% on seven 3-point attempts per game since recording a blistering 44.1% from distance leading up to the Dec. 9 tournament final.

9. De’Aaron Fox, Kings

Previous ranking: Unranked

2023-24 season averages

22 48 39 73.8 4.4 6.2 29.6

Many counted out Fox and the Sacramento Kings despite their stunning run to the 2022-23 playoffs. Not only do the 17-11 Kings have a better winning percentage than last season’s team in a reloaded Western Conference, but Fox has taken another leap following his first All-Star campaign.

Always known as a blur in transition and driving to the rim, Fox has improved his outside shooting remarkably. He’s upped his 32.1% 3-point mark across his first six years to a career-high 39% on a personal-best 8.3 attempts per game. That’s pushed his scoring average up to 29.6, good for sixth league-wide. As a near-30-point-per-game scorer on a top-10 team, it’d be criminal not to include Fox on this list.

8. Kevin Durant, Suns

Barry Gossage / National Basketball Association / Getty

Previous ranking: 4

2023-24 season averages

24 52.1 47.3 87.1 6.2 5.4 30.9

It’s a borderline miracle that the Phoenix Suns are .500 heading into Christmas Day. Phoenix’s Big Three of Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant have struggled to get on the court due to injury. The trio has only been on the floor together for 24 minutes through the first 28 games of the season.

At 35 years old, Durant has been the most consistent of the three stars. The 10-time All-Star is the league’s third-leading scorer at 30.9 points per contest. He’s also continued to morph his game as he ages. Durant has become one of the NBA’s most lethal 3-point shooters, knocking down a career-best 47.3%.

7. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Previous ranking: 5

2023-24 season averages

27 47.9 35.2 79.4 8.5 4.1 26.9

The East’s best team and joint-best squad in the Association wouldn’t be where it is without Jayson Tatum, who leads the Boston Celtics in scoring and rebounding while ranking third in assists. Tatum, though, is arguably hindered in the MVP conversation due to how well the Celtics have played as a whole, especially recently.

He’s just one of three players on the squad averaging north of 20 points this month, with Kristaps Porzingis also close with 19.8 points per game. However, Tatum features on four of Boston’s top five five-man lineups with at least 20 minutes together this campaign. That includes the top two, which boast a 30.8 and 30.4 net rating, respectively.

6. Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves

Previous ranking: 9

2023-24 season averages

25 45.4 37 86.1 5.5 5.3 25.2

Based on pure counting stats alone, Edwards isn’t performing much better than last season, where he earned zero MVP votes. But after leading the Minnesota Timberwolves to a first-round exit as a No. 8 seed last campaign, Edwards has been the top scorer for a 22-6 team tied for the NBA’s best record.

It’s easier to see Edwards’ growth as a player and contributor to winning in his advanced numbers. His PER is a career-best 19.5, his 3.5 Box Plus/Minus is more than three times higher than last season, and his 107.6 defensive rating is the ninth-best mark in the Association. Though he’ll always be known as a scorer, Edwards’ increased emphasis on the little things has made all the difference in Minnesota.

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Dustin Satloff / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Previous ranking: 7

2023-24 season averages

28 60.4 20.8 67.2 10.9 5.5 30.8

Giannis Antetokounmpo is having another exceptional season. The two-time MVP is scoring above 30 points per game (30.8) for just the second time in his career.

It took some time, but the duo of Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard is starting to gel. The Milwaukee Bucks are currently riding a seven-game winning streak and haven’t lost since the semifinals of the In-Season Tournament. The pair’s improved play has unlocked the offense, which is third in rating (120.4) and first in true shooting percentage (57.9%). That’s catapulted the Bucks to second place in the Eastern Conference with a 22-7 record.

4. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Previous ranking: 6

2023-24 season averages

27 48.5 38 77.3 8.6 9.1 32.9

Dallas’ main man has had to assume a grandiose role on the Mavericks again with teammate Kyrie Irving out with a heel contusion. That, of course, isn’t an unfamiliar ask for the Slovenian star, whose usage rate has ranked in the 100th percentile relative to his position during every year of his career, per Cleaning The Glass.

Even still, Doncic is keeping Dallas in an increasingly tight mix for a top-six berth in the West without Irving over the last six games. In that stretch, Doncic is scoring 35.5 points per game with 10.7 assists and 8.7 rebounds to boot.

3. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Previous ranking: 1

2023-24 season averages

30 54.5 32.7 79.5 12.3 9.2 26.4

Another year, another season of Jokic putting up MVP-level numbers. The Serbian superstar is 0.8 assists per game away from averaging a triple-double, having recorded nine this season. And, of course, the Nuggets have remained fantastic coming off their championship victory. They sit at 21-10, good for No. 2 in the West.

Jokic has been a bit more aggressive this season, leading to a career-high 18.8 field-goal attempts per game. However, his efficiency in all areas of the floor has subsequently dropped. His field-goal, 3-point, and free-throw percentages are all the lowest they’ve been since at least the 2019-2020 campaign. Obviously, it’s a small nitpick for one of the greatest big men to play the game. But with such a tight MVP race this season, it pushes Jokic back to No. 3.

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Previous ranking: 2

2023-24 season averages

26 53.5 30.7 91.2 5.7 6.3 30.8

It’s not a coincidence that the Oklahoma City Thunder sit third in the Western Conference with Gilgeous-Alexander having played in 26 of their 27 games. The 25-year-old has been the catalyst to the Thunder’s 18-9 record as the team looks poised to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2019-2020 season.

The former Kentucky Wildcat has mastered the art of getting into the lane, using his size and herky-jerky style to weave his way to the rim where he can either finish or get to the free-throw line. Gilgeous-Alexander’s 22.3 drives per game is second behind Ja Morant’s three-game sample size of 26.7.

The 6-foot-6 guard has been just as disruptive defensively. Gilgeous-Alexander’s 2.8 steals per game is the most since Larry Hughes’ mark in the 2004-05 season.

1. Joel Embiid, 76ers

Previous ranking: 3

2023-24 season averages

25 54 35 89.3 11.7 6 35

Embiid has cemented himself as the indisputable MVP front-runner over the last month, despite being slated to miss Monday’s Christmas Day game with an ankle injury.

The Philadelphia 76ers franchise star has been sensational throughout December, averaging 40.2 points per game on bewildering shooting splits of 60.6/42.3/92.1. That run is highlighted by a pair of 50-point performances, including one in a statement win over the West-topping Timberwolves. He’s also registered a combined 3.5 steals and blocks during that span. Together with Tyrese Maxey, they’ve catapulted Philadelphia to the league’s best net rating.

And yet, the league-leading scorer’s remarkable recent efficiency is only more staggering when you factor in that Philadelphia has seldom needed him in the fourth quarter. He’s played just 28 total minutes in the final frame this month, which is only more than KJ Martin (27), De’Anthony Melton (25), Nicolas Batum (13), and Javonte Smart (one).