Like any other year, the 2020-21 MVP race was supposed to be fun, competitive, and exciting. It was for a while, until the seemingly inevitable happened.

Just over the last eight days, three marquee candidates got sidelined: Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers (knee), Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (tailbone), and just this weekend, LeBron James of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers (ankle). Curry is day-to-day, while Embiid and James are without a definite timetable to return. These injuries have sucked the fun out of an otherwise ultra-close MVP race.

Though all three have a good chance to regain their place soon, the extended absences will surely open up a wider path for the others. Although the race is carrying on, it’s looking like Denver Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokic is geared up to be the favorite moving forward. He actually went ahead of everyone in’s MVP ladder before James got injured.

Let’s first look at The Joker’s two key competitions as of the moment.

Damian Lillard is potentially the man to make a very considerable run at the throne. As you know, Dame is an elite point guard, scorer, and shooter, and arguably the deadliest clutch performer today. The numbers game are on his side as well, as he is pouring in a career-best 30.6 points per game while keeping the Blazers at the fifth and sixth spots in the West standings. It’s decent enough.

As for Giannis Antetokounmpo, he’s still doing ‘Greek Freak’ things. Aside from imposing his will in the paint, tallying 30 points, double-digit rebounds, and bits and pieces of defensive stats every night, he’s posting a career-high in assists at 6.4 per game. The Bucks are the hottest team in the league right now too, having won 11 of their last 12 outings.

Here’s why they’re behind Jokic, though: Lillard’s numbers may possibly dip now that CJ McCollum is back and Jusuf Nurkic is returning soon. Giannis, on the other hand, may fell victim to “voter fatigue” since he has collected the league’s two previous MVPs. No one has won three in a row after Larry Bird in the mid-1980s – not even Michael Jordan was able to match that feat.

Performance-wise, what is Jokic’s edge?

Night in and night out, it’s clear that the entire Nuggets offense is all about Jokic. This is not to say other Nuggets can’t create their own opportunities because they certainly can, but how he reacts or alters the defense on just about every situation is what sets his teammates up, as evident in his high volume of assists. That includes the two other primary weapons: Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.

Speaking of high volume, Jokic has the numbers, lots of it. The towering big man is just as much as a behemoth in the stat sheet as he is in real life. He’s currently averaging 27 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game on 56.8 percent shooting (41.6% from three). His 38 double-doubles are currently the most in the league, while his 11 triple-doubles are third.

The Nuggets are coming off a loss but they are 8-2 over their last 10. They’ll return to the court this Wednesday against the Orlando Magic, at 7 AM, Manila time. It’s the first stop on a three-game road trip.