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Thursday, May 09, 2024

Nikola Jokic Becomes 10th Member of Pro Basketball's Three MVP Club

Nikola Jokic earned his third regular season MVP in the past four seasons, becoming just the 10th member of pro basketball's Three MVP Club, and the first new member of that exclusive group since LeBron James joined in 2012. Bill Russell was the first pro basketball player who won at least three regular season MVP awards, and he was then followed by Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Jokic and Malone are the only members of that group who are not in my pro basketball Pantheon. Jokic's career began after I made my selections, while Malone did not miss the cut by much.

This season, Jokic ranked in the top 10 in scoring (10th), rebounding (fourth), and assists (third), and he is the second player in pro basketball history to accumulate at least 2000 points, at least 900 rebounds, and at least 700 assists in the same season, matching a feat first accomplished by Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jalen Brunson rounded out the top five in this season's MVP balloting. They each had MVP-caliber seasons, but no one filled up a boxscore quite like Jokic did, and no one was as essential to his team's success. Jokic is not a defensive stopper, but he uses his size and strength to good effect to clog up the paint, and his defensive rebounding helps the Denver Nuggets to finish off defensive possessions by gaining control of the ball. The Nuggets ranked fourth in defensive field goal percentage and sixth in points allowed, and that would not be possible if the player who leads the team in minutes played were a defensive liability. 

My consistent position about MVP voting has been that the award should go to the league's best all-around player unless there is a dominant big man like Shaquille O'Neal who impacts the game more than any other player. Jokic is a hybrid who fits into both categories: he is the sport's best all-around player but he is also physically dominant in the paint as a scorer and rebounder. 

Jokic is just 29 years old and he has played at least 72 games in eight of his nine NBA seasons, so he is young enough and durable enough to play at an MVP level for at least another five or six years. It would not be surprising if he joins pro basketball's Four MVP Club, which has just six members: 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 6 (1971-72, 1974, 1976-77, 1980)
Bill Russell: 5 (1958, 1961-63, 1965)
Michael Jordan: 5 (1988, 1991-92, 1996, 1998)
Wilt Chamberlain: 4 (1960, 1966-68)
Julius Erving: 4 (1974-76 [ABA], 1981)
LeBron James: 4 (2009-10, 2012-13)

If Joel Embiid continues to be an injury-prone player who cannot lead his team past the second round of the playoffs then history will not look kindly on Embiid's 2023 regular season MVP award that cost Jokic the chance to become the first pro basketball player to win four straight regular season MVPs. Jokic has posted a 9-4 career playoff series record while leading the Nuggets to the 2023 championship, and even if the Minnesota Timberwolves knock out the Nuggets in this year's playoffs that will not invalidate Jokic's prior accomplishments and honors.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:29 AM



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