Until a couple of weeks ago, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic wasn't a prominent part of the 2020-21 NBA MVP conversation. Most fans and analysts had Joel Embiid and LeBron James as the main contenders for the award. However, recent injuries to both superstars have opened an opportunity for Jokic to jump to the front of the line.
Nikola Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game and has single-handedly kept the Denver Nuggets in the top half of the Western Conference. There is no question that the Serbian deserves his spot among the front-runners to win the regular season MVP this season.
Nikola Jokic could become the first NBA MVP in Denver Nuggets history
With an ankle injury sidelining LeBron James for the foreseeable future and Joel Embiid having already missed 18 games this season, Nikola Jokic has the perfect opportunity to win the first MVP award in Denver Nuggets history.
We look at three reasons why Nikola Jokic should be awarded the 2020-21 NBA MVP award.
1) Individual statistical dominance
Although stats don't tell the whole story, numbers still play a major role in voters' decisions, especially when it comes to regular season awards. Nikola Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game while shooting 56.6% from the field and 42.7% from beyond the arc. The big man also leads the league in PER with a count of 31.0.
While the Denver Nuggets struggled early on in the season, Nikola Jokic carried the team on his back, averaging a triple-double through the first 14 games while keeping the side afloat at 7-7. Since then, the team have bounced back, winning two-thirds of their games and are now sitting at the 4th spot in the Western Conference with a record of 31-18.
To casual NBA fans, the Joker comes across as an unathletic, slow player with decent handles and some unusual post moves. Unlike most dominant centers who like to bang low in the post and in the paint, Nikola Jokic has more finesse to his game, with fadeaways, hook shots and over-the-shoulder mid-range jumpers.
Jokic isn't your typical center, but still manages to put up MVP-like numbers while playing in the 2nd slowest offense in the NBA. While he has issues defensively, Nikola Jokic has recorded 74 steals this year, only three fewer than league-leader T.J. McConnell. If the 6' 11" Serbian finishes the 2020-21 campaign with the highest number of steals, he will become the first post player ever to do so.
2) Contribution to the Denver Nuggets' Conference standing
Individual dominance plays a big role in the NBA MVP award, but the team’s overall success at the end of the year is usually the deciding factor. As the team's best player, Nikola Jokic has led the Nuggets through their rough start and they are currently the 4th seed in the Western Conference.
He owns 10.7 win shares, 3.4 more than Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert, who are tied for second in the NBA. It’s the widest win-share margin the NBA has seen since 2015-16, when Stephen Curry, who finished the season ahead by 3.4 win shares, became the league’s first unanimous MVP.
Nikola Jokic's season currently ranks as one of the six best of all-time, trailing only LeBron James' 2008–09 season, a trio of Michael Jordan campaigns, and Curry’s unanimous MVP year in box plus-minus, which measures a player’s box-score contributions to his team while on the court.
While LeBron James is considered to be the NBA's most durable superstar, it is Nikola Jokic who has stood the test of shortest offseason in NBA history and is yet to miss a game this season.
Another front-runner for MVP Joel Embiid, who is dominant on both ends of the floor, has missed 18 of the Sixers' 50 games already and will be out a few more games with a back injury.
Nikola Jokic is now the clear favorite to win the MVP as it'll probably be too late for Embiid or LeBron to put together a run that'll solidify their MVP case. If the Joker can remain healthy and maintain his current level of production, he will become the first NBA MVP in franchise history for his team.