The Denver Nuggets are currently 12-13, tied to the Dallas Mavericks for seventh place in the Western Conference. Despite having Aaron Gordon for the entire season, the Nuggets just can’t get by. After starting the season 9-4, the Nuggets have lost six straight games and dropped below .500. They have since been unable to get past that mark. This lack of team success is overshadowing arguably the greatest individual season of all time. Denver center Nikola Jokić is expected to run away with the MVP award this season. However, if oddsmakers and sports journalists are to be believed, Jokić is nowhere near.
To understand everything I am about to say, I recommend that you take a look at this video by JxmyHighroller on YouTube. It perfectly encapsulates what made Jokić’s season so incredible. His player efficiency score of 33.6 is on pace to be the greatest single season score of all time by over a full point (Giannis Antetokounmpo, 31.9, 2020). In attack, his plus-minus box (9.5) is currently the fourth highest in NBA history. In defense, his plus-minus 4.6 box also leads the NBA.
His averages of 26.1 / 7.2 / 13.4 are all close to or better than his averages from last season, in which he won the MVP award, but Jokić is publishing these figures this season with much more efficiency. high. His effective field goal rate is over 0.02 points higher. He’s taking fewer shots and discharging more, and while his free throw percentage and three-point percentages have dropped, he’s maintained incredible efficiency to the point that it’s almost irrelevant to his total stats.
Despite everything, Jokić currently has the fourth best result odds of winning the MVP, having a 5.13% chance of taking the hardware home. The main reason he’s not getting as much MVP hype as it should is his team’s record. He is statistically the best player in the NBA, but his team’s sub-0.500 record is holding back his case as an MVP. So what can Jokić individually do to raise his MVP case? I’m talking about the kind of numbers he would have to field to overtake Steph Curry in the MVP race. The obvious answer is “Oh, he just needs to start winning more games”. True, but it’s also a bit out of her control. Could you start playing more often? Yes, but load management has become such an integral part of the game that asking him to do it when other stars like Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and the like aren’t playing all the games as well.
To really answer the question, we can take a look at other MVP winners and / or people who have approached them. Since 1977, the only award winner to finish his team worse than third in the conference is Russell Westbrook of 2017. How did Westbrook do it? Putting numbers previously considered impossible, averaging triple doubles per season. Jokić should probably do something similar, not record a triple double for the season. Westbrook’s 2018 season proved that the feat is no longer worthy of an MVP Award.
However, Jokić could lead the league in assists per game. It has never been done by a center and would definitely make someone’s head spin. Wilt Chamberlain is back at the top of the table in terms of total assists 1968, but in terms of averages per game, this was never done. That said, Jokić is literally competing with a guy who has earned a leading spot in insurance commercials because of how good he is at assists, so maybe that’s asking too much. There is another way Jokić could win the prize, and it’s not that amazing.
Steph Curry finished third in the MVP vote last season despite his Warriors not participating in the playoffs (but they finished the regular season in eighth place in the Western Conference). He received the second highest number of MVP votes of all. If his team was bad enough, enough to lose the playoffs entirely, what made him such a popular MVP nominee? Simply put, it was how hot it got towards the end of the season and how fun it became to see him bring the Warriors every night. In the second half of last season, Curry played eight games with over 40 points and lost less than 30 three times.
As talented as Jokić, he is not very fun to watch and is not one capable of losing 45 points per game. That narrative of being a great basketball player and a great entertainer is lost with Jokić. The only titles that Jokić draws are about him play dirty. As crazy as it sounds, Jokić may need to build his brand and start making fun of people after crushing them if he is to win the prize. Unless the team around him starts playing slightly better and makes his way to the top of the Western Conference leaderboard, Jokić will need some crazy narrative surrounding him to put himself at the top of the MVP odds chart. Until then, its greatness will more or less go unnoticed.