Nikola Jokic – The Center of Attention
The last time a Denver Nugget won an MVP award was back in 1969-70. The player was Spencer Haywood, the league was the ABA, and technically, he wasn’t a Nugget, as the team was then called the Denver Rockets.
Since the merger from the ABA to the NBA, there have been many great Nuggets such as Alex English, David Thompson, and Carmelo Anthony. But none have won an MVP.
Nikola Jokic is looking to change that.
The oddsmakers will point to a Lebron James (LAL), Joel Embiid (PHI), or a James Harden (BRK) as betting favorites to take home the trophy, but the sixth-year center from Serbia shouldn’t concern himself with odds. After all, the odds that a slow, gawky, second-round draft pick would be starting in his third All-Star game after averaging 27.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists midway through this season weren’t very good either.
Ten reasons why Nikola Jokic should, and will, win Denver’s first MVP award when it’s all said and done.
- Scoring Average – Every MVP candidate is going to score points. Joel Embiid averages 30.2, Damian Lillard (POR) averages 29.8, and Steph Curry (GSW) averages 29.7. But only Jokic is shooting over 56% (56.7) from the field among the other MVP finalists. Damian Lillard is shooting just 44.5%, and Utah’s Donavan Mitchel just 42.1%.
- Rebounds – At 11.0 rebounds a game, only Embiid (11.6), and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (11.7) have more among the projected finalists. But Jokic easily averages more offensive rebounds (2.8) than the other two big men.
- Assists – At 6’ll, the assumption is that the assist category is reserved for point guards, and James Harden (BKN) leads this category among the favorites with 11.1 a game. But Jokic and his incredible 8.6 assists trails only Harden, and the Maverick’s Luka Doncic (9.0), while bettering Lebron James (7.8) by almost a full assist per game.
- Three-Point Shooting – Steph Curry has made almost 170 three-pointers while shooting 41.1% from beyond the arch. Harden, Lillard, and Mitchell have all made over 100 threes so far this season. But the MVP candidate with the highest three-point percentage is actually Jokic at 41.8%. And while limited attempts could lead to a higher percentage, Jokic and his 134 shots from three is more than enough of a sample size.
- Free Throw Shooting – Jokic and his 88.1% at the free-throw line is impressive enough. But it’s the weakness in players like Lebron James (69.2%), and Antetokounmpo (66.1%) in this category that could be a deciding factor in the race for MVP.
- Player Efficiency Rating (PER) – Defined as the measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15. Jokic leads all favorites in this category as well with a score of 31.5. Joel Embiid is second with a score of 31.1, and no other MVP candidate has a score over 30.
- Win Share – Defined as an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player. Jokic leads all candidates with a WS of 8.3. The next closest is Embiid and Antetokounmpo, each tied with a 5.8.
- Defensive Rating – Jokic (111.7) will never be compared defensively to a Rudy Gobert (101.7), but with 1.6 steals per game, Jokic currently sits as the sixth-best among all NBA players, including the Clipper’s Kawhi Leonard (1.5), the Wizard’s Bradley Beal (1.4), and Boston’s Jayson Tatum (1.4), and first among all MVP candidates.
- Cancel Culture – James Harden is having an outstanding season, but his chances of winning the MVP will soon come to end with the return of Kevin Durant. Lebron’s scoring and rebounding will fade when Anthony Davis comes back. Chris Paul cancels out any MVP shot for Devin Booker, Paul George makes it difficult for Kawhi Leonard to dominate, and Jason Tatum may not even be the best player on his own team (Jaylen Brown). MVPs need great players around them, but not too great as to steal their thunder. That’s Jamal Murray.
- Regular Season Wins – Over the last two seasons, the Milwaukee Bucks have won the most games in the NBA, and both times Giannis Antetokounmpo walked away with the MVP. Houston had the most wins the year before that, and James Harden took home the trophy. And Golden State had the best records in 2014 and 2015 when Steph Curry won back-to-back awards. The only exception over the past six seasons was in 2016 when Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook took home the award despite the team finishing just fifth in their division.
Meaning Nikola Jokic’s path to winning Denver’s first MVP award is rather simple. The Nuggets either have to win more games than any other team this season, or Jokic may just have to average a triple-double like Westbrook did five years ago.
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