Once a second round pick who no one thought would amount to anything in the NBA, Nikola Jokic has proved all of his doubters wrong by winning MVP of the 2020-2021 NBA season. Jokic is the first center to win the award since 2000, when Shaquille O’Neal took home regular season MVP, All-Star Game MVP, and Finals MVP. He is also the lowest drafted player and first second round pick to win an MVP, as the next lowest drafted MVPs were Giannis Antetokounmpo and Steve Nash, who were each picked 15th overall and have each won two MVP awards. Averaging a near triple-double with 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists (considered the greatest passing big man ever), Jokic also shot 56.6% from the field, 38.8% from three-point range, and 86.8% from the free throw line, proving that he did indeed deserve this award over other MVP candidates Steph Curry and Joel Embiid.
While Jokic was an incredible center during the 2019-20 season, he wasn’t nearly an MVP or MVP candidate quite yet. The league had decided that LeBron James was too old to win another MVP, and had a case of deja vu when Giannis Antetokounmpo took home the award for the second straight season1. In the NBA bubble where the playoffs were held due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jokic and his Denver Nuggets came back from down 3-1 twice in the same playoffs, something that no team had done before, and has only happened a handful of times in NBA history. After making the Eastern Conference Finals that year but losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers, the Nuggets have resurged this year, despite the loss of Jamal Murray due to a season ending injury, Acquiring phenom dunker Aaron Gordon, Denver has eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, and now looks to defeat the Phoenix Suns, led by Devin Booker and Chris Paul, both seeking a championship.
Why didn’t Curry or Embiid take home the award? Why was Jokic named MVP and not them?
To answer the Curry question, Curry’s explosion of threes and scoring did not occur until late in the season. Up until then, Curry had incredible scoring outbursts (see below), but he wasn’t consistently making the threes that he was in April and May. While his lights out shooting led him to average 32 points per game and just beat Bradley Beal for the scoring title, Curry’s Warriors still lost in the play-in to LeBron James (due in part to a Draymond Green missed floater to win the game in regulation) and the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as a young, up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies team. The fact that even though Curry had a somewhat weaker supporting cast and couldn’t lead his team into the playoffs says a lot compared to Jokic. Despite the fact that his own second option, Jamal Murray, ended his season early due to injury, Jokic still carried on and secured his team’s playoff berth. It’s not like it’s only Curry, like last year, as the Warriors have Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr, and James Wiseman (until he too got injured). Curry was great, but Jokic was greater.
As for Embiid, let’s look at the numbers. Embiid averaged 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists on 51.3% shooting from the field, 37.7% shooting from three, and 85.9% from the free throw line. Meanwhile, Jokic beats out Embiid on every stat except for points per game, in which he is slightly behind. Compared to Embiid, and as stated earlier, Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists on 56.6% from the field, 38.8% from three-point range, and 86.8% from the free throw line.
In the 72-game season, Embiid played in only 51 games. Jokic, on the other hand, would lead the league by playing all 72 games. Despite having an All-Star point guard in Ben Simmons and a near All-Star level scorer in Tobias Harris, Embiid is also surrounded by shooters to pad his assist total and win games (Danny Green, Seth Curry, Tyrese Maxey). However, the 76ers only won two more games than the Nuggets. Jokic has a supporting cast that doesn’t stack the deck in his favor the way Embiid’s does, and yet they still barely trail the team in wins.
I rest my case.
Other NBA News:
Tom Thibodeau won his 2nd Coach of the Year award for turning around the New York Knicks, and leading them into the playoffs for the first time in what feels like a decade. They lost in the first round, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Julius Randle, the Knicks only All-Star, won the Most Improved Player award as he transformed his game from star on a bad team to All-Star on a playoff team. While Thibodeau helped the Knicks immensely, lots of their success has to do with the emergence of Randle as a superstar.
Jordan Clarkson of the number one seeded Utah Jazz won the 6th Man of the Year Award as he averaged 18.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game behind Donovan Mitchell, an All-Star shooting guard and leader of the franchise.
Rudy Gobert, also of the Utah Jazz, has won the Defensive Player of the Year Award over other candidates Ben Simmons and Draymond Green. He led the league in field goal percentage (67.5%), averaged 13.5 rebounds per game, and blocked 2.7 shots per game, a career high.
The Rookie of the Year race between Lamelo Ball and Anthony Edwards has not yet been revealed, but it is sure to be a close race. Read my take on the award here, but let me know who you think is going to win, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!
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1: Jokic, who is Serbian, is one of six international players in the NBA to win the MVP award, with the others being Antetokounmpo, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, and Hakeem Olajuwon