Trying to figure out who might win some of the NBA awards this season seems like a tough task, and it’s always a monumental effort because you never want to feel like you haven’t done the work associated with making the choice. This year is no different, especially for a few awards.
We’re going to look at Most Valuable Player, mostly because it’s been the single most talked about award and, truth be told, it’s the most interesting one simply due to the fact that it’s the most prestigious award the NBA has. At least for the regular season, that is. Essentially, if you win MVP your odds of making the Hall of Fame dramatically improve, and you’re basically a near-lock.
Despite the fact that the LA Clippers have zero players who would even come anywhere near consideration for this award, it is rather fascinating to discuss, especially for me since I have seen each of the three frontrunners in person with my own eyes during their respective illustrious seasons. I guess, in some way — and this is just me trying to convince myself that I’m more important than I actually am — it gives me a unique perspective.
Parsing through who should get the award is a tough task. And in doing so, it’s best to remember that just because one player is deemed to be more deserving doesn’t mean that the other players are undeserving or have not had incredible seasons themselves. They’re all elite of the elite. They’re at the apex of their profession. Enjoy them in that context.
The odds-on-favorite for the award, according to DraftKings, and the player I’d pick to win, is Denver Nuggets superstar big man Nikola Jokic (-320), a player that is in the running for the made-up title of singular best offensive ecosystem. He’s an entire hub unto himself.
To illustrate that, consider that Denver has been without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., their second- and third-leading scorers from last season. Per last season’s numbers, that’s 40.2 points per game effectively gone.
Any team struggles without two of their three best players, and the Nuggets went through their own lulls this season. But what helped Denver navigate that unenviable road was the simple fact that Jokic, last year’s MVP, was even better this season. Jokic, to date, has played in 74 of his team’s games. He’s averaging 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.9 blocks. All but the assists are career highs.
On top of that, Jokic is shooting 58.3% from the field — also a career high. That mark is buoyed by a ridiculous 65.2% shooting on 2s, a figure that is truly staggering considering 51.2% of his 2-point attempts come from outside three feet. These aren’t layups and dunks. These are tough, contested, high-arching mid-range shots that defy the logic of gravity, and distort what we think is possible on a basketball court.
The Nuggets have collapsed without him on the floor, as you would expect. For the season, according to Cleaning The Glass, Denver has been 19.7 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the floor compared to off, the highest mark in the league among players to log at least 1000 minutes. Last year, the Nuggets were 6.4 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the floor compared to off. Now realize that number has tripled. That’s the load he’s carrying. And he’s delivering.
We’re not going to delve into all the advanced numbers. By now, if you peruse Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or whatever your social media choice happens to be, you’ve already seen the numbers, or are even sick of looking at them. Yet there’s a basic way to explain the outright absurdity that Jokic has achieved this season, and why he should possibly take home his second MVP trophy.
Jokic is officially the first player in the history of the NBA to ever finish a season with at least 2000 points, 1000 rebounds, and 500 assists. He’s the 58th player to ever post at least 2000 points and 1000 rebounds, but none of those players came even remotely close to 500 assists. Prior to this season, the closest a player got to those two plateaus and 500 assists was Wilt Chamberlain in 1965-66 when he finished with 414 assists. Jokic has 584. That’s 21 more assists than LaMelo Ball, and they’ve played the same amount of games.
The man is fifth in total points, first in total rebounds, and sixth in total assists. His 109 steals also rank inside the top ten. It’s a masterclass. What we’re actually witnessing has never been done before. And when you see that level of history happen in front of your eyes, it might be a tad tough to realize it’s actually happening. You get numb to greatness.
It’s not just the numbers. And it’s not just the fact his team is without their second and third best players. It’s how the team has performed in the wake of all of that. Those two, Murray and Porter, have combined to play 265 minutes — all by Porter, and none of those minutes have happened since Nov. 6th. When Porter went down, the Nuggets were 5-4. For the season, Denver has a 48-33 record. They’re 46-28 overall when Jokic plays.
People might look at the standings and see Denver sitting in sixth, and they might assume that it wasn’t that good of a season. But even compared to the other two major candidates, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s been a wildly successful year. Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers are 49-31 while Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks are 50-30. Those aren’t huge discrepancies in terms of record, especially when adjusting for the teammates Jokic has been missing.
Jokic leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and field goal percentage. He’s the only player in the league doing that, and the closest player is Dallas’ Luka Doncic. But unfortunately for Doncic, he doesn’t lead the Mavericks in blocks or field goal percentage.
This has been an all-time historic campaign by Jokic. It’s one we’re going to remember for an exceedingly long time, and it’s something he definitely should get rewarded for. If he doesn’t win it, that’ll be fine. He already has one at home that he can gaze at whenever he so desires. But winning a second would put him in rarefied air.
Either way, what Nikola Jokic has been able to accomplish this season in the face of overwhelming odds and tremendous obstacles is both impressive and hypnotizing. Watching him hold a basketball and bend every single defense to his whim is truly a pleasure to see. His artistry and mastery of the game is at a level that so few people have ever been able to achieve, and it’s beautiful to behold.
Whether or not Jokic wins his second MVP ultimately does not matter. What matters is that we all enjoyed the journey and didn’t diminish it along the way. Not just for himself but for the other candidates as well. Sometimes you need to take joy in the game, and Jokic has made that possible on many nights throughout the course of this season as he appears slated, based on the odds, to win his second consecutive MVP award.