Nuggets

Jokic’s MVP Candidacy Reaches Peak with Nuggets’ Recent Rise

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Nikola Jokic‘s historically irreplicable play continues to grow more impressive by the year.

The Joker became just the 13th player ever to win back-to-back MVPs in 2021 and 2022. Who’s the rest of the list? Well, just your usual cast of NBA legends like LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, and company.

To date, Jokic’s production remains unprecedented. Through the start of this season, the numbers all but prove that.

Jokic just came off his most-recent video-game-like performance— a 40-27-10 stat line against the Hornets. In his last five games, Jokic is averaging 34.4 points, 14.8 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 59% from the field on 21.2 attempts per game.

Ridiculous.

This year, Jokic sits as the only player to average a 25-10-9 stat line while shooting above 60% (!!!) from the field. The individual success has translated to wins, with Denver sitting at 18-11 through 29 games, placing as the third seed in the West and only trailing the top by one game.

The production by Jokic continues to impress. Let’s dive deeper into the numbers and see where the 27-year-old is making his biggest impact on the court.

Jokic by the numbers this season

Jokic’s recent stretch of dominance began after a brief three-game absence in mid-November. Since returning from injury, the numbers have been off the charts compared to the beginning of the season.

Jokic in 2022-2023

  • First 13 games: 20.8 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 8.9 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 61/29/88 shooting splits
  • Last 13 games: 29.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 9.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 63/34/76 shooting splits

So what’s changed? For starters, Jokic is looking to be aggressive much earlier than at the start of the season. Between the beginning of the season and now, Jokic’s free-throw attempts have grown exponentially. The sharp increase in efficiency stems from his improved ability to attack the basket and be a mismatch nightmare in the post.

The scary part for opponents— Jokic is just getting started.

Typically, Jokic’s volume increases — as with most superstars — during the playoffs, but the efficiency dropoff isn’t drastic. For his career, Jokic averages 14.0 field-goal attempts on 55% shooting in 30.5 minutes per game. In the playoffs, that jumps up to 19.5 attempts on 52% shooting in 36.8 minutes per game.

Jokic’s three-point success rate will also evolve back to the mean. He has a career 34% clip from three but is only shooting 31% this season.

The Joker’s numbers result in Denver’s offense continuing to produce. As of now, the Nuggets are third in offensive rating, seventh in points per game, first in field-goal percentage, and second in three-point percentage.

If the offense keeps up, expect the Nuggets to enter the playoffs as a dark-horse candidate to sneak into the Finals.

Contextualizing Jokic in league history

Jokic possesses a credible case to secure his third-straight MVP. It’s not an impossible scenario.

The West remains a wide-open conference. If Denver remains a top 2-3 team, it’s hard to leave The Joker out of the MVP conversation. Even if the shooting regresses, Jokic is arguably the literal most “valuable” player in the league. This season, the Nuggets are plus-3.1 points better with Jokic on the court, but a dismal minus-10.6 points without him.

Denver With and Without Jokic

Historically, the production this season remains a one-of-one season. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s time to put raise Jokic on these all-time-greats lists.

Besides Jokic, these are the players who have also won back-to-back MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

All but Nash, Giannis, Malone and (maybe?) Curry are clearly top 10-15 players ever (it’s harder now more than ever not to put Curry at least in the top 15 best ever). Malone is a clear top 15-20 player ever, while Nash is pretty high on the all-time greats list.

The bottom line— we’re witnessing a monumental milestone within the context of the league’s history. Jokic continues to climb his way up the all-time ladder.

Denver’s outlook moving forward

The likelihood of Jokic winning a third-straight MVP is rare. Only Russell, Bird and Wilt achieved the feat. In this current climate, it’s an uphill race for MVP.

Per FanDuel, Jokic sits at +1900 to win the MVP, fifth out of all players considered. Most of that is driven by the central narrative that voter fatigue will dissuade voters from selecting Jokic.

With that said, Jokic’s production continues to push Denver in the right direction. Down the road, the MVP race won’t matter if Jokic can carry his performance to the postseason.

As stated earlier, the West is as open as ever. Golden State continues to struggle out of the gate, now dealing with a recent injury to Curry. Memphis and New Orleans both still need to prove they’re more than just paper tigers. Phoenix is on a downward trend, while teams like the Clippers, Timberwolves and Mavs struggling to get into a groove of any kind.

After recent seasons of misfortune, Denver continues to prove it belongs on the fringes of title contention.

As per usual, most of this success will continue to fall under the radar.

But, the fact remains Jokic’s numbers are trending toward unprecedented levels.

About Dominic Chiappone

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