Again in June 2014, the Nuggets landed a little-known huge man out of Serbia with the No. 41 general choose within the NBA Draft. The choice was not seen on ESPN as a result of the community was airing a . . . Taco Bell business.
Practically seven years later, Nikola Jokic was entrance and middle on nationwide tv to simply accept the 2020-21 NBA Most Beneficial Participant award, making him the bottom drafted participant to ever be named MVP. (Three-time MVP Moses Malone was chosen within the 1974 ABA Draft out of highschool, then jumped to the NBA as a part of the 1976 ABA Dispersal Draft.)
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In a season that featured main accidents to a few of the league’s largest stars and lengthy absences due to well being and security protocols, Jokic was a mannequin of consistency, turning into the primary MVP to play in each regular-season recreation since Kobe Bryant in 2008. He carried Denver to a 47-25 report and the No. 3 seed within the Western Convention even though he did not have Jamal Murray for an 18-game stretch to finish the season after he tore his ACL in April.
“He’s tasked with an amazing accountability of being the point of interest of our offense, being the anchor of our protection,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone mentioned of Jokic. “And he by no means complains. He goes on the market and does his job to the very best of his potential each single night time.”
However Jokic’s marketing campaign shouldn’t be diminished to his sturdiness. His MVP case was all the time about greater than his minutes benefit over Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid and different candidates.
In 72 video games, Jokic averaged 26.4 factors, 10.8 rebounds and eight.3 assists, becoming a member of Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook as the one gamers to hit the 25-10-8 thresholds for a full season. He completed within the prime 5 in complete factors, rebounds and assists. He shot 56.6 p.c from the sector, 38.8 p.c from 3-point vary and 86.8 p.c from the free throw line. When Jokic performed, the Nuggets posted an offensive ranking of 120.2. When he sat, that quantity dropped to 103.4. That is the distinction between being the highest offense within the league and being barely higher than the Thunder.
To place it merely, Jokic changed into an offensive cheat code. At 6-11 and 284 kilos, he dominated weaker defenders within the publish. His improved taking pictures made him a fringe risk. His elite passing allowed him to function a point-center in transition and half-court units. He had the entire solutions earlier than the check even began.
Whereas he won’t ever be confused for an Embiid-like defensive power, Jokic has proven enchancment on that finish. He is aware of learn how to put himself in the proper positions defensively, and he typically anticipates the play earlier than it occurs. That is why he completed sixth within the NBA in complete deflections and eleventh in complete steals.
“Is he an athletic shot blocker? Is he going to be blocking photographs out of the air? No, he is not,” Malone mentioned. “That is not his recreation. However he has a excessive IQ. He is the anchor of our protection. He communicates our protection. And he does numerous issues that will not present up on stat sheets.”
There was an odd pushback all through the season to Jokic being the MVP frontrunner. Possibly it was as a result of he does not match the mould of a monster wing like Kevin Durant or LeBron James, or a game-breaking guard like Stephen Curry. Possibly it was due to considerations that Jokic’s MVP yr would look odd traditionally. Possibly it was as a result of there was some sense one other candidate would have finally surpassed Jokic within the rankings given higher well being.
However ultimately, these arguments did not maintain a lot weight, and voters acknowledged the unassailable reality. Jokic collected 91 of 101 doable first-place votes, shutting down any doable controversy.
That goofy Serbian man, the identical one who obtained drafted whereas a voice actor waxed poetic in regards to the quesarito, is now a part of one of many NBA’s most unique teams. He completely earned his spot.