In one of the more anticlimactic news announcements of the otherwise fascinating NBA post-season (Really, a 39-point win for the Grizzle WITHOUT Ja Durant?!!), the league finally officially released the news that the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic won the league’s MVP honor for the second consecutive season, despite that fact that multiple outlets had reported this exact story several days earlier.
The magnitude of the vote, with Jokic scoring 65 first place votes vs. 26 for runner-up Joel Embiid of the 76ers, wasn’t quite the 63-3 margin that Larry Bird allegedly beat Magic Johnson by in their rookie season, at least as reported by intrepid Lakers announcer Pat Riley (hilariously portrayed by Adrian Brody) in the just concluded inaugural season of HBO’s WINNING TIME. But it was conclusive and opened up passionate conversation among pundits and hoop heads about whether Jokic indeed deserved to be a back-to-back winner, joining the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and 12 others in the back-to-back winners’ clubs.
Plenty of basketball nerds touted advanced metrics such as wins above replacement, true shooting rate, “most defensive” measures and assist rate to justify their support. Less scientific fans and voters suggested that the fact that Jokic was the first player in NBA history to record 2000 points, 1000 rebounds and 500 assists in the same season was rationale enough. And while I love numbers more than most, I would offer these arguments were unnecessary overkill.
For me, how an MVP should be determined is by the emphasis on the V rather than the P. Embiid’s value to the 76ers is unquestioned–he has risen like a phoenix through numerous injuries, setbacks and teammates’ letdowns in the past two seasons to take the leadership role in Philly and help restore the glory days of the value of a center in that city to levels not seen since the departure of Wilt Chamberlain. But he did have at times healthy and motivated versions of Ben Simmons and James Harden by his side, so the fact that the Sixers made it into the conference semifinals two years in a row isn’t exclusively his accomplishment.
Jokic, on the other hand, lifted the Nuggets into a playoff position this season without the support of his two most talented teammates, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr., for most of the season. His most prominent supporting cast members were Orlando Magic ex-pat Aaron Gordon, 35-year-old vagabond Jeff Green and Monte Morris, the least talented and only Morris not to share DNA among the M. Morrises of the league.
With Embiid, the Sixers move from a very good team to a title competitor. With Jokic, the Nuggets move from irrelevancy to the post-season.
Case closed, in my book. Numbers take a back seat here.
It has been noted that Greek Freak followed up his back-to-back MVPs in 18-19 and 19-20 with a league title in 20-21. With Murray and Porter expected to be healthy next season, there’s already some speculation among Nuggets fans that a similar possibility awaits them. While that possibility can’t be completely overlooked, the likelihood of the Nuggets making up that much ground on a highly competitive Western Conference, let alone the rest of the league. is, in my mind, remote.
But if the Nuggets can at least improve upon their 48-34 record and perhaps move up a couple of playoff seeds and advance beyond the first round in a non-bubble year, that, in my mind, would be an accomplishment and perhaps a bet worth making.
So Jokic is definitely a leading candidate for most VALUABLE player already. And if the league does indeed get a third MVP “Joker”, then there’s yet another international superstar to market globally.
And should that come to pass, the Nuggets become a much more interesting franchise, and it’s wins across the board.
So go ahead and bet on Jokers. Wild, yes, but compelling as well.