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Nikola Jokic is Playing Like an MVP But Needs Team to Step Up

   Nikola Jokic is Playing Like an MVP But Needs Team to Step Up

March 17, 2021

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is not your usual MVP candidate. He can’t jump. He doesn’t really dunk. He’s not a ‘superstar’ in the traditional sense. He doesn’t talk a lot of trash, and you won’t find a more humble guy in the post-game interview.

In his three All-Star appearances, he usually chucks one unusual hook shot and spends the rest of his time feeding bounce passes to the ‘big’ names to pull off highlight-reel dunks. There’s a clear distinction between Jokic and other MVP candidates like LeBron James, Joel Embiid, and Stephen Curry.

Yet Jokic is having the season of his life. He leads the Nuggets in all major statistical categories: minutes, points, assists, rebounds, and steals. He recently passed Denver legend Dikembe Mutombo for most all-time double-doubles for the franchise. At the age of 26, he is already viewed as the best passing NBA big man of all time and is a versatile, undefendable presence in the post.

The ‘Joker’ combines a soft finishing touch with incredible vision and passing ability, and can stretch the floor, shooting above 40% from behind the arc in 2021 despite being a career 34% shooter from deep. He ranks in the NBA top 10 for almost every major statistic, including assists, something unthinkable for most centers. Indeed, you would struggle to name a player outplaying Jokic in 2021. But the biggest obstacle to Jokic’s MVP candidacy may not be keeping up this career-best form. It might lie with his teammates.

Since the 1990s, only one player has won regular-season MVP playing for a seed below 1st or 2nd in the conference: Russell Westbrook on the 6th-seeded Thunder in 2017. Westbrook that year made history by being the first player to average a triple-double.

Nuggets fans have been waiting for this team to explode onto the scene, hoping that Jokic alongside guard Jamal Murray and young forward Michael Porter Jr. would form their three-headed dragon. This is a team that narrowly missed the playoffs two years in a row only to become surprise 2nd and 3rd seeds the following two years. A team criticized for ‘lack of playoff experience’ only to play 33 playoff games in two seasons. A team doubted by many who twice came back from 3-1 down to win playoff series against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers last year.

But the Nuggets currently sit in the mire of the Western conference, bouncing between the 4th- and 6th-seeded spots. In the NBA betting on bet365 the Nuggets sit +1300 to win the Western Conference. But, until Murray and Porter Jr. become those second and third stars beside Jokic, there may be a ceiling to the ambitions of this Nuggets squad. Murray needs to turn his occasional superstar games into nightly occurrences and Porter Jr. needs to add more than just scoring to his game before superstardom beckons.

MVP voters will be looking for reasons to exclude a non-traditional candidate like Jokic from the ballot despite his stat-stuffing performances and All-Pro play. He will face stiff competition from former winners with reputations at the highest level: James, Harden, Curry, Antetokoumpo. For Jokic to take that next step and be recognized as the NBA’s greatest player this year, he will need support from his teammates to drive this team to the one stat that has evaded Jokic this season.

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