The Darkhorse MVP Candidacy of the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic

Getty Nikola Jokic talking to Luka Doncic during his push for the 2019 MVP campaign.

Coming into the 2018-2019 NBA season, Nikola Jokic was widely regarded as one of the most underrated players in the league. However, as the season has gone on, Jokic has guided the Nuggets to the second best record in a loaded western conference behind one of the most impressive stat lines posted by a big man in recent years.

Averaging a robust 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game, Jokic has fully morphed into the point center role he showed flashes of in years past. As the primary facilitator of the offense, the Nuggets run one of the most efficient and well-rounded offensive attacks in the league. With Jokic acting as the de-facto facilitator at the elbow on most possessions, his passing wizardry opens up an incredible amount of easy looks for his teammates.

Look at how the defense falls apart and allows easy cuts to the rim when Jokic gets the ball near the elbow and starts scanning the floor:

Nikola Jokic Stats

On the surface, his 20.4/10.8/7.7 line is extremely impressive without any context. When taking the fact that he plays center, his assist numbers, in particular, become even more impressive. Jokic’s 2017-2018 average of 5.9 per game ranked him 3rd amongst centers in NBA history (trailing only Wilt Chamberlain and Wilt Chamberlain). By far the team leader in assists, Jokic plays the role of primary facilitator and often makes fantastic passes to open up the defense that don’t show up in the stat sheet.

Probably the only number of Jokic’s that has trended in the wrong direction this year has been his 3 point percentage. Despite being a career 35% shooter from deep, Jokic is just barely hovering above 30% on the year. However, this number is a bit deceptive as Jokic has become the focal point for opposing defenses and is averaging nearly 2 more 3-pointers per game. When Jokic is able to leak out behind the 3 point line, it creates a nightmare for the defense as the Nuggets boast a roster of superb athletes adept at attacking the rim. With that increased spacing comes either easy baskets at the rim or open looks for Jokic when his defender cheats a bit too much.

Take a look first hand at how the Nuggets exploit the mismatch their unicorn big creates:

The Case for Nikola Jokic to Win the MVP

Arguably no player in the NBA has a greater offensive impact compared to Nikola Jokic. In fact, Jokic is putting up offensive numbers that nobody outside of Wilt Chamberlain has even sniffed. Especially considering that Wilt Chamberlain was nearly half a foot taller than anyone he played against, Jokic’s dominance across the board becomes even more impressive.

While Jokic isn’t the defender that Kawhi Leonard or Paul George may be, he does a good job of contesting shots and is far from a defensive liability. Jokic simply plays his role on a great defense very well and is athletic enough to at least offer some form of resistance when he gets switched onto a guard.

All in all, Jokic may not have the gaudy stat line that other MVP candidates have produced, but arguably no player has been more valuable to their team’s overall success than the Joker.