Before the Denver Nuggets took on the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, their head coach took on MVP prognosticators for what he perceives to be a snub of the reigning Most Value Player, Nikola Jokic.
“I think he is one of the more disrespected reigning MVPs that I can think of in terms of the attention that he gets,” Michael Malone told reporters before the game. “If you open up the dictionary, and you look up the word consistency, there’s going to be a picture of Nikola there. And that’s going back to the Bubble. That’s going back to a 72-game season last year, and this year we knew Jamal [Murray] was going to be out for an extended period. When you add a Michael Porter, when you add a P.J. Dozier to that [injured] list, it even becomes more incredible what he’s doing.”
What prompted Malone to bring this up when he did is unclear, though the Denver Post related his statement to the Nuggets being snubbed of a Christmas Day game. According to StatMuse, Jokic was the first reigning MVP to not get a Christmas game since the NBA expanded the Christmas schedule to five games in 2008, something the Nuggets took notice of when this year’s schedule was announced in August.
cool cool https://t.co/h9cshLSob4
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) August 17, 2021
It could also be the public discourse around who will win this season’s MVP, which often begins with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant before coming around to Giannis Antetokounmpo then Jokic. On Tipico Sportsbook, Curry has the shortest odds to win the award at +140, followed by Durant at +200, Antetokounmpo at +650 and Jokic at +1300. A December poll by ESPN of 100 media members also had Jokic fourth.
From that perspective, Malone has a point. Jokic is playing just as well as he did last season, even better in some respects, and his on-off numbers are through the roof, which proves his value to the team. So why wouldn’t he be favored again, if that is indeed what Malone is insinuating should be the case?
|Nikola Jokic||2021-22||2020-21 (MVP)|
|FG% (3P%)||.563 (.354)||.566 (.388)|
|On-Off per 100 possessions||+21.6||+6.4|
|+/- per 100 possessions||+8.6||+6.6|
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
The reason is because winning usually matters in these conversations. That’s where the argument would ring hollow. Whether or not it’s Jokic’s fault, the Nuggets are just 20-19 and in sixth place in the Western Conference – with zero margin between them and the first seed of the play-in tournament. Curry and Durant lead top-two teams in their respective conferences, while Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are in fourth place, just 3.5 games back of first in the East.
The Nuggets were a third place team when Jokic won the award last year. It was absolutely deserved, but in a way, showed how much respect he actually garners. Jokic was just the second player in the last 15 years to win MVP on a team that didn’t finish with a top-two record in their conference. The only other exception was Russell Westbrook when he averaged a triple-double for the first time.
Malone credited the Jokic disrespect to his game not being “sexy.” Maybe that’s the case in terms of how the award is discussed through the year, but it doesn’t hold weight where it matters: voting. Jokic’s game wasn’t sexy last season, either, when he won MVP by a very large margin.
His style of play also may have factored into the Nuggets not playing on Christmas, as the NBA is in the business of selling games. But there’s also the aforementioned absence of Murray, which more likely had something to do with that – knowing the Nuggets were going to be shorthanded coming into this season. With a full compliment of players last year, they did play on Christmas.
At the end of the day, maybe Jokic is overlooked in some respects with how the MVP award is discussed. But in the past, the award has usually gone to one of the best players on one of the best teams, not the player who did the most with less. Unless we want to change how it’s voted on, the Nuggets should win more if they want Jokic to repeat as MVP. If Malone wants to help, that’s how he can.
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