Approaching the trade deadline, the NBA's MVP race is still wide open and the task of finding separation among so many high-level candidates continues to be a tall order. That said, Nikola Jokic is becoming the pretty universally accepted favorite to win this third straight, which hasn't happened since Larry Bird in the mid-eighties. 

Below are my MVP rankings entering play on Monday, Jan. 23. 

1. Nikola Jokic

What I'm about to tell you might register as the most insane stat that you hear during this season that has been full of insane stats: Nikola Jokic has shot at least 50 percent from the field in all but one of the games he's played this season. Over his last two MVP seasons, the most consecutive games he tallied without a sub-50 shooting effort mixed in was nine. Now he's at 36 straight following a 3-for-10 performance in late October. Absolutely bonkers. And yet that's been the story of what is, at the moment, the most efficient shooting season in NBA history. 

2. Joel Embiid

Embiid is rising quickly in this race alongside the Sixers surging into the East's No. 2 seed. He's averaging 35 points per game since December 1 on over 42-percent 3-point shooting. Over that span the Sixers are outscoring opponents by 8.7 points per game during his minutes. That's the best point differential of anyone on this list not named Jokic. He's back to being a mid-range machine while still upping his at-rim frequency and he's the best defensive player in this list, as evidenced by Philly's No. 7 overall defense falling by over seven points per 100 possessions when he sits, per Cleaning the Glass. 

3. Luka Doncic

The Mavericks have lost seven of 10 and I think a top four seed, at minimum, is a requirement for Doncic to have a realistic shot at MVP considering the strength of the field. He's by far the worst defensive player on this list, which, again, in a tiebreak situation is a real factor. Or at least it should be. That said, no team is more reliant on their star than Dallas is on Doncic, who, don't get it twisted, has been incredible all season: 33 points a game. Has his 3-point percentage over 38 since December 1. Only Giannis and Embiid get to the free-throw line more. Usage off the charts. Definition of an MVP. 

4. Kevin Durant

Over the last seven weeks, among players in any kind of realistic consideration for MVP, only Jokic has recorded a more positive per-game point differential during his minutes than Durant's plus-8.3. Per Inpredictable, Durant has taken 58 clutch shots this season -- defined as having a "elevated impact" on the outcome of a game -- and he's rocking just under a 60 eFG on those shots. 

Short of Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo (who has fallen out of the top five of the MVP race in my opinion), Durant has a case as the most impactful superstar defender in the league, all while being in the middle of a historically efficient midrange shooting season and operating as one of the most effective pick-and-roll players in the league. If anything, Durant's recent absence only bolsters his MVP case as the Nets lost their first four without him to bad teams. 

5. Jayson Tatum

Tatum followed a 51-point gem against Charlotte with a 19-rebound showing against Golden State, both Boston wins. It's a good illustration of Tatum's ability to drive his team to the best record in the league in all kinds of ways. He's as complete a player as we have in the league. 

Boston is still a positive team when Tatum sits (plus-9.1 on; plus-2.2 off), which isn't something that can be said for any of the other guys on this list when they sit. Denver, for instance, goes in the tank when Jokic sits. The Sixers are a virtual point-differential replica of the Celtics when Tatum plays, but go to a minus-2.5 and fall off a cliff defensively when Embiid sits. Tatum having great teammates shouldn't penalize him in the MVP race, but it could potentially be a tiebreaker for some voters in a close call. 

Still in the race