The 2020-21 NBA season is just a week in, and teams have just played four games at most – others have actually played just twice – so it’s really, really early to throw out names in the Most Valuable Player race.
For now, the easy answers are the usual suspects, like reigning back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo, scoring machine James Harden (despite all the trade rumours), and the ever-sensational Luka Doncic.
That said, year in and year out, random players always go on a tear to kick-off their campaigns, and for 2020-21, one of the guys to do so is Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic. Though the Nuggets are only a modest 1-3 on the season, which should look better as the season rolls along, the 25-year-old is putting up amazing, MVP-type performances.
How primed is Nikola Jokic for an MVP?
He’s continuously trending up, and there are a couple of reasons why. Let’s quickly go through each:
#1 – Stats and efficiency
Stats are not everything, but it plays a huge part as it creates quite the buzz and shows how much one is producing for the team. Jokic, as any NBA fan and fantasy basketball enthusiast would know, is a stat-stuffing machine. He doesn’t waste time piling it too, as evidenced in his record-setting showcase in February 2018, where he notched the fastest triple-double in NBA history: 14 minutes and 33 seconds. Remember that it was a younger version and the 2020-21 Jokic is a much polished and mature player.
This season, The Joker is averaging numbers that a top MVP candidate would have: 24.5 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 13.5 assists per game on 62.5% shooting. It’s possible that he ends up as a top five leader in all those categories.
The gentle giant already has three triple-doubles in just four games and was only one assist short of making it 4-for-4, so it’s quite apparent that he’ll rack up a lot this season. Having such an all-around stat line is always a big plus among the voters’ eyes.
#2 – Confidence
In the 2020 playoffs, the Nuggets became the first NBA team to overcome two 3-1 series deficits in a single postseason – they did it consecutively too. It’s an excellent build-off point for a young team.
That’s also the momentum that Jokic is working with this season, a perfect boost for someone who’s on a path to be an actual established All-Star. He’s more confident than ever and that should allow him to keep posting man-sized numbers and help co-carry Denver to a good position in the standings.
All that is poised to make him be at the conversation alongside every serious MVP candidate.
#3 – Voter fatigue
“Voter fatigue” is one of the best phrases to emerge over the last few years, and it may very well apply for this season’s NBA MVP talks. While 2019 and 2020 winner Giannis Antetkounmpo will rightfully remain in the race, voters will likely cast their ballots for a fresher candidate, like Jokic.
After Larry Bird’s three-straight MVP wins in 1984, ’85, and ’86, there have been numerous cases where a potential and worthy three-peat MVP got edged out by a first-time winner (not that winner didn’t deserve it) – Charles Barkley in ’93 (over Michael Jordan), Kevin Garnett in ’04 (over Tim Duncan), Dirk Nowitzki in ’07 (over Steve Nash), and Derrick Rose in ’10 (over LeBron James).
#4 – Status
As a two-time All-Star and a one-time First Team All-NBA member, with one amazing playoff run, Nikola Jokic is now officially beyond the “up-and-comer” status. He’s not the surprising player from a good-but-unproven team, he’s THE star from an established team in the mighty Western Conference.
If Jokic keeps his eye-popping numbers and once again guide the Nuggets within the top three spots, just like last season, his recognition will be more than an All-Star or All-NBA selection.