2020-21 NBA Awards: Denver Nuggets Star Nikola Jokic Wins Most Valuable Player Award
Jokic bags this year’s MVP plum
It is now official. Denver Nuggets superstar big man Nikola Jokic has won the 2020-21 NBA Most Valuable Player of the Year award, becoming the first Nuggets player in franchise history to earn the top individual accolade in the league. Jokic, who hails from Serbia, beat out Philadelphia 76ers star big man Joel Embiid for the award.
As per an official article released by the league, it has become apparent that Jokic is only the third European player to win the NBA MVP trophy. The retired German star Dirk Nowitzki did it first in 2006, the same year that his Dallas Mavericks squad made it to the Finals, losing to Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in six games. Milwaukee Bucks superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo then won the MVP plum in 2019, and then bagged it again in 2020.
Aside from edging out Embiid, Jokic also managed to beat out the likes of Antetokounmpo, Golden State Warriors star point guard Stephen Curry, Phoenix Suns veteran playmaker Chris Paul, Dallas Mavericks young superstar Luka Doncic, and Portland Trail Blazers superstar leader Damian Lillard for the award. New York Knicks power forward Julius Randle came in next, and their veteran sixth man Derrick Rose also received one first place vote.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić is the recipient of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the 2020-21 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player, the NBA announced today. With the first Kia NBA MVP Award of his career, Jokić becomes the first player to earn the honor as a member of the Nuggets. He is also the first player from Serbia to be selected as the NBA MVP and joins Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) as MVP winners from Europe.
A second-round pick selected 41st overall by Denver in the 2014 NBA Draft, Jokić is the lowest-drafted player to be named NBA MVP with the exception of three-time MVP Moses Malone, who was not selected in the NBA Draft. The previous lowest-drafted players to win the award were two-time MVPs Antetokounmpo and Steve Nash, both selected with the 15th overall pick in their respective drafts. Jokić received 91 first-place votes and earned 971 total points from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters as well as the Kia NBA Most Valuable Player Award fan vote, making for 101 ballots. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (586 points) finished in second place, followed by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (453 points) in third place, Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo (348 points) in fourth place and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (139 points) in fifth place.
Jokic, who is now on his sixth year in the league, produced a career-best season with an excellent all-around stat line of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks per contest. Jokic also produced a very efficient set of shooting percentages, including a stellar 56% overall clip from the field, an excellent 38% clip from the three-point line, and a tremendous 86% clip from the free throw line.
What is even more amazing is that Jokic managed to play in every game this season. In a season that is full of unfortunate injuries and player absences due to the safety and health protocols brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nuggets superstar big man played 72 games in the regular season, and logged in 34.6 minutes per contest, which is the highest amount of playing time he garnered in his career.
Jokic is also now the first Serbian player to win the NBA MVP award. When he was selected as the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, nobody really paid attention and no one expected that he would be this good of a player. But even during his rookie year in the 2015-16 NBA season, Jokic already showed flashes of his all-around brilliance. By his sophomore season, he was already putting up a stat line of 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. Jokic then further improved those numbers in his third year, and it was evident back then that the Nuggets will eventually build the roster and the organization around the talented big man’s very unique skill set.
As the first Serbian player to win the most coveted individual trophy in the league, it is true that his countrymen will be proud of his accomplishment. Fellow Serbian player Bogdan Bogdanovic, who now plays for the Atlanta Hawks, says that even Jokic himself did not expect that he would be able to reach this far in his basketball career. Bogdanovic pointed out that when they were young, Jokic would be the one who will always crack jokes on the court, and make all these sloppy plays. But it was always evident back then that he has this unique skill set, and Bogdanovic said that his fellow Serbian player is steadily showing everything what he is made of. Even though they are on different teams in the league, Bogdanovic also emphasized that he is rooting for Jokic to be successful in the NBA for the years to come.
“I think he didn’t expect it. You can ask him. I think even he didn’t expect it as far as [what] I know [of] him. But the way he was playing in Serbia back home, he was the kid who was joking with the basketball. He goes on the floor, and he jokes with you on the floor. He makes moves and it kind of sometimes looks sloppy. But now, I think he’s brought it all together: the skills, that talent that he can throw some no-look passes and crazy passes that you’ve never seen, then some moves under the rim in the post. He’s different. He’s brought it definitely to the next level, and I think no one expected it. He’s one of the for sure motivations for all the kids [in Serbia]. He’s one of the biggest examples that it doesn’t matter how high you are ranked, and it doesn’t matter when you start playing basketball. It all doesn’t matter. You just have to keep on working and doing it your way.
So, yeah, we are all rooting for him. He knows [we’ve] got [his] back for that [MVP]. He did his job. For us [our job] is to make sure they hear [our] opinion about the MVP, us as players. It would mean a lot for our country for sure, the first time ever, [with us] never doing it. That’s something special, for real. He did a lot of work this year and a lot of years of work behind him. He proved that he had an MVP year this season.”
Of course, Jokic would not be here if he did not have the hardwork and the persistence to make full use of his talent and improve his skill set year in and year out. He was never the most athletically gifted player out there, and it is true that he struggled on the defensive end of the floor for much of the initial stages of his career.
But it is also true that the Nuggets star big man makes up for it with his tremendous court vision and high basketball IQ. It is without a doubt that he has redefined the meaning of a positionless center, and that starts with his unselfishness to always involve his teammates and his accurate passing of the ball. His brilliance on the offensive end of the floor has always been grounded on his all-around skill set, and that has been obvious even during his rookie year in 2015.
But it is also true that Jokic is working hard to be more consistent in his activity in terms of scoring the ball. The Nuggets big man is putting up a career-high 18.0 field goal attempts per game, and that has led to a career-best 26.4 points per contest. Jokic has been ramping up his activity in terms of asserting his dominance on the offensive end of the floor, whether in regard to his scoring or playmaking.
On top of all the individual progress that the team has seen from Jokic, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone also pointed out that his star big man embodies everything that they have built within the organization. More than that, Malone says that Jokic does not just know how to take the drastic steps for him to individually approve, but the Serbian big man also knows how to make everyone around him better, as per Tim Bontemps of the ESPN.
"I think the greatest thing I can say about Nikola is he fully represents the culture we've created here in Denver," Malone said. "I've been here six years and to see the growth of our program, and obviously that definitely coincides with the growth of Nikola Jokic. The last three years in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets had the most wins in the Western Conference, [with] 147.
That doesn't happen without Nikola improving, and more importantly as he's improved so has everybody around him and all you guys have heard me say countless times the reason why Nikola is a great player is he makes everyone around him better. We saw that all season, we've seen that for six years, we saw that in the first round against Portland. If Nikola was all about me, me, me, we wouldn't have had the success and I don't know if he would've had the success. He's totally selfless, one of the more understated superstars in recent memory and as I told him today I love him and feel really fortunate to not only coach him but have the relationship I have with him because it is a special relationship and one I enjoy having with him."
But of course, Jokic and his teammates still have a lot of work to do. They are currently in the thick of their second round playoff series match-up against Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns after edging out Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round via six games of tough contests night in and night out.
They lost the first game to the Suns, but it is true that the Nuggets have the tools to win this series. Even without their injured star point guard in Jamal Murray, the Nuggets have shown that they have built a winning system around their superstar big man. Michael Porter Jr. is showing that he has what it takes to become a consistent scoring punch, while feisty guards like Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo, and Austin Rivers are doing a tremendous job of covering up for the absence of Murray in the Nuggets’ depth at the backcourt.
Still, the Nuggets’ chances of making it to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive year will boil down to the leadership and overall brilliance of Jokic. To provide more boost for his team in the playoffs, Jokic has increased his numbers to an average of 31.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per contest, while shooting a stellar 42% clip from beyond the arc.
As per the same article written by Bontemps for the ESPN, Jokic pointed out that he never expected that he was going to play in the NBA, let alone accomplishing the feat of bagging the MVP award. Still, Jokic says that it is a big accomplishment that he and his teammates worked hard for all season long.
"To be honest, I didn't even think about being in the NBA. My goal when I started to play basketball back home was to play in the EuroLeague because that was the closest top league to my country. I could play in some big clubs in Serbia and grind my way up. But then the Denver Nuggets drafted me, and it was an opportunity for me to become an NBA player. It's a big accomplishment. But it's something that, like I said to the guys, it's not just me. I couldn't do it by myself. It's something that it is an individual award but it's the effort of everybody who is part of the Denver Nuggets organization.
The difference between this year was I started this season really well. I played kind of the whole season really well stat wise. I think this was the best season of my life and the cherry on the top is the trophy that I got. This is the best season of my life. I never thought about it. Like, even when the season was over, I was into the Portland series, so my focus wasn't on that. I didn't want to even think about it because it's just a trophy, and the season is not over. So I was just trying to keep my focus on the games."
As of now, it is not only Murray’s name that is listed on the Nuggets’ current injury report. Porter is also listed as questionable for Game 2 against the Suns due to a back injury, along with veteran all-around forward Will Barton, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Aside from Porter and Barton, young forward PJ Dozier is also recovering from an adductor injury, and there is no exact timetable for his return to the court.