Last season, Nikola Jokic broke out. He had his first All-Star appearance, led the Denver Nuggets to their first playoff series win since 2009, and earned a spot on the All-NBA First Team. With averages of 20 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists per contest, Jokic was primed for a great playoff run. And that he delivered. Jokic absolutely dominated in his first postseason. He averaged 25 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists in 14 games versus the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trailblazers. The big man was set to explode in his fifth season, but it didn’t exactly go to plan in the beginning.
MVP Candidate Nikola Jokic
The Nuggets got off to a good start in October and November, maintaining the second seed behind the Los Angeles Lakers. Jokic was not a big part of that, however. In November, Jokic averaged just 15.8 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.8 assists a game. While those are very good numbers for a center, it wasn’t what we expected from him. He wasn’t the leading scorer for the team. He wasn’t shooting well at only 45 percent from the field. Jokic also was about 20 pounds overweight. The exact same thing happened last season. Jokic went through an early slump but turned it on after mid-December.
This season, the turnaround happened once the calendar flipped to 2020. Jokic has raised his play, and the Nuggets are playing their best basketball.
The Need for Nikola Jokic
The reason for Jokic elevating his play was not because Denver was playing bad. It was because of injury. In the last two seasons, Denver may have been hit by the injury bug the hardest out of any top team. Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr, Mason Plumlee, and Jamal Murray have all missed extended time this year. Last season, there was a stretch where Jokic and Murray were the only two starters for nearly a month. The same has happened this year.
Jokic elevated his play in February when the team has needed it most. In the six games prior to the All-Star Break, Jokic averaged 27 points, 12 rebounds, 9.2 assists, two blocks and two steals on 60 percent shooting. Denver has gone 4-2 in those games. It has not just been February when Jokic has been unconscious. He’s upped his scoring by nearly three full points in 2020, and without him, Denver would be near the bottom of the playoff race.
Why He Is An MVP Candidate
The mainstream media does not give Nikola Jokic the credit he deserves, even after the monster season he had a year ago. The MVP candidates who are mainly mentioned are Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis, and James Harden. The problem with mentioning those players is that those players either have All-Star teammates, or they are not winning as much as the Nuggets. Doncic is averaging unbelievable numbers for a second-year player, however, the Dallas Mavericks are currently the seventh seed.
James and Davis have each other. Antetokounmpo has Khris Middleton who is averaging 20 points a game on 50/40/90 splits and was an All-Star. Harden has Russell Westbrook who has been averaging about 30 points a game through 2020. Nikola Jokic has no player who is even close to that caliber. Jamal Murray has been the second-best player for the Nuggets, and while he has been great since returning from injury, he is not an All-Star caliber player just yet. Jokic has had to deal with every single starter besides himself down for an extended time, yet he has the Nuggets at 38-18. Over every single team in the Western Conference besides the Lakers.
There is no other player who has had to deal with that much adversity in a season, yet still has his team in the top five records of the NBA. Jokic finished fourth in MVP voting last season. He deserves to be in the top three this year. Antetokounmpo is the MVP. There is no doubting that. But Jokic is the most valuable player in the Western Conference, with only James to debate him. Nikola Jokic needs to be talked about more as an MVP candidate. Period.