The MVP Case for Nikola Jokic
With the NBA regular season coming to a close earlier this week, it’s time to talk about the MVP award. It should be noted that traditionally, the award is not given to the best player in the league, but rather the player who has the strongest case for it. With that said:
Nikola Jokic deserves the MVP of the 2020-2021 NBA season because he has the strongest combination of individual stats, nightly availability, and team success.
Jokic’s MVP buzz has increased as the season progressed, as the Nuggets climbed in the standings and other contenders missed time due to injuries, to the point where he is now the favorite to win the award. Still, in case there is any doubt, here is my updated MVP race and why Jokic deserves to win it:
To me, the MVP contenders this season have settled themselves into three tiers.
Tier 1: Jokic, Steph Curry, Joel Embiid, and Chris Paul
Tier 2: Damian Lilliard, Donovan Mitchell, and Giannis Antetokounmpo
Tier 3: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, and Luka Doncic
Yet, each of the MVP contenders have a flaw in their case, with the exception of Jokic.
LeBron and Harden are amazing players with MVP-worthy stat lines when they play, but were sidelined by injury and missed significant time (Harden missed 36 games, half the season, and LeBron missed 27). Also applies to Harden’s teammates, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Kawhi and Luka had solid seasons as the leaders of their team, but don’t quite have MVP-level stats, and sit in the middle of the Western Conference standings.
Curry and Dame carried their teams and in the process registered crazy scoring numbers, but the nature of the MVP award dictates that team success is a factor (sorry Curry fans, no stat line can justify giving the MVP to a player on the 8 seed).
Giannis definitely has the weirdest MVP case this season. He put up great numbers, played most of his team’s games, and led his team to the third seed in the East. Yet voter fatigue is so strong that no one talked about him for MVP this year.
Mitchell and Embiid were the best players on the best teams in their respective conferences, and put up MVP numbers. Most years, that’s good enough. However, both missed time with injury (Embiid missed 21 games, Mitchell, 19) and play alongside other All-Stars which dulls their accomplishments a bit.
Paul has the team success and availability, and is the unquestioned best player on the 50-21 Suns. He’s had a phenomenal season, and I know he affects the game in other ways, but averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds is way too low in my opinion to be considered for the MVP. There’s a lot of guys averaging 16 and 5 in the league. Still, he’s probably the closest to Jokic.
Jokic has none of these holes in his case. He played all 72 games, missing zero. For those who say availability is the best ability, Jokic proves it. He has the MVP stat line – 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists on 56.6/38.8/86.8 shooting splits, a significant improvement over last year’s performance (no seriously, he’s in the running for Most Improved Player – check the numbers). He led his team from a 21-15 record and the 6 seed at the halfway point of the season to the 3 seed and fifth best record in the league. And he did this while playing without an All-Star teammate, and losing the team’s second best player, Jamal Murray, to injury with a quarter of the season to go.
It is that last point that gives Jokic a slight edge over his closest competitors. While other contenders had teammates pick up the slack while they were out with injury, Jokic was the guy picking up the slack, carrying his team every night, and making up ground in the standings. Granted, Michael Porter Jr. blossomed this year, Murray still played 48 games and role players played their parts well, but without Jokic, the Nuggets would be in either the play-in tournament or the lottery.
Maybe the craziest stat that sums up his importance to the Nuggets and all-around impact:
For 28 out of 72 games this season, Jokic led his team in all three major categories – points, rebounds and assists.
He’s had huge scoring outbursts to match Curry and Dame, the all-around stat lines of Embiid and Paul, and the incredible highlights that went viral on social media so many times this season to solidify his case. Jokic clearly deserves the highest regular season award in basketball. I hope the sportswriters and broadcasters who vote for MVP, who hold the job I hope to someday, don’t mess this one up.