ESPN’s Tim Bontemps surveys the NBA GMs to ask them who they would vote for MVP at various stages of the season. In the first poll (after the first third of the season) Jayson Tatum was number one on the list. Checking in on the list after the 2nd third of the season it looks like Tatum has dropped to 4th.
Tatum dropped to fourth this time around, despite helming the team that heads into the All-Star break with the NBA’s best record. Like all of the contenders for the award, Tatum is putting up absurd stats, averaging career highs in points (30.6), rebounds (8.6) and assists (4.5) per game.
Ahead of him on the list are Nikola Jokic (reigning 2 time MVP), Giannis Antetokounmpo (2nd last time), and Joel Embiid (10th previously).
These kinds of lists and rankings always become a practice of nit picking. Tatum is having an amazing season and should be firmly in the discussion of best in the league. There are times when his shot isn’t falling (35.7% from 3 this year) but on top of all the career high counting stats, he’s doing all the little things needed to push his team to the Finals.
He’s seeing the game at a higher level, reacting quicker to the defense, forcing the defense to react to him, and still putting in the work on the defensive end of the floor. As deep as this Celtics team is, you can feel his absence when he’s not on the court. Which might be why he’s 2nd in the league in minutes per game.
Regardless, he’s in the MVP discussion which is exactly where he needed to be if the team was going to have the kind of success that they are having thus far. There’s no shame in finishing behind the guys above him on this list (though it is fun to poke holes in their cases for purely homer-ish reasons).
For point of reference, the Ringer has Tatum ranked 7th on their Top 100 list (not an MVP equivalent but an interesting comparison).
There’s still a chance a blisteringly hot finish to the season could launch Tatum into the top of the MVP race. However, I’m personally more interested in the playoffs and channeling that energy into winning a Banner. These things aren’t mutually exclusive, but if he had to pick between the championship and an MVP banner, I think I know what he’d pick.