Nikola Jokic put up numbers never seen before in NBA history. Not from Wilt. Not from Kareem. Not from “Air Jordan.” Not from LeBron.
With a historic season, the Denver Nuggets big man earned his second straight Most Valuable Player award, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press on Monday. The NBA was preparing to make the announcement in the coming days, likely this week, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the voting results have not been announced.
ESPN, citing sources, first reported that Jokic would be named MVP again.
The 7-foot center became the first player in league history to eclipse 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season. And that sort of dominance by the player nicknamed “Joker” helped convince voters that he should be the 13th player of the NBA’s exclusive MVP back-to-back club.
The other finalists — who will finish second and third in some order — were Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, who led the league in scoring average, and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks.
The 27-year-old Jokic averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists on a team that was missing two max players in Jamal Murray (ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (back). Required to carry the load night in and out, the big man from Sombor, Serbia, answered the call and guided the Nuggets to a 48-win season. They earned the No. 6 seed in the West before losing in five games to the Golden State Warriors in the opening round of the playoffs.
“It’s just remarkable what he’s done,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone recently said of Jokic. “I know that I’m very biased, I admit it wholeheartedly — the MVP isn’t even a competition. There’s other great players, I’m not saying they’re not great players, but what Nikola Jokic has done this year, with this team, with everything that we’ve had to go through, is incredible.”
The award is likely the start of a huge offseason for Jokic, who is eligible for a supermax extension that could guarantee him nearly $254 million over five seasons starting with 2023-24. He’ll make $32.4 million next season.
“There’s nothing more important” than keeping Jokic, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly recently said.
Jokic joins rarefied company in winning for a second straight season. The other players to win two in a row include Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, LeBron James (twice), Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (twice). Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell each won the award in three straight seasons.
Next year, Jokic will have his chance at a threepeat as well.
The award comes as no surprise to his teammates. They had a front-row seat to his performance every night.
Guard Bones Hyland posted on Twitter: “Man.. All year I’ve been saying it, I just woke up happier then ever like I won the award!! I’m so proud of my boy man!! Great Player but a even better Leader & Great Role model! Thanks for showing me the ropes this year Jokey! Congrats Ma Brother.”
Former Nuggets coach George Karl posted: “Incredible Jokic! He earned it. He was better this year than last and carried his team all season.”
Known for his pinpoint passing as much as his soft touch, Jokic finished with a league-leading 19 triple-doubles. The 41st pick of the 2014 draft now has 76 in his career, which trails only Chamberlain (78) among centers.
After being knocked out of the playoffs — he averaged 31 points, 13.2 rebounds — Jokic was asked how he might celebrate should he win MVP.
“Probably with some music, beer, friends around, family,” he said. “Like how you’re supposed to do probably.
“But if I don’t get it, I’m not going to die. I’m just going to keep playing, keep trying to play the right way like I did my whole life.”
There was a time when the Jokic was maligned for his game. More specifically, his defense and not being able to jump. His once-pudgy frame — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich good-naturedly ribbed him about it — has more strength to it.
Ever bother him that his game doesn’t seem to generate the level of respect as other standout players?
“Can’t care less, brother,” Jokic said.
He sees the court with the clarity of a point guard and has an arsenal of shots that includes smooth baby hooks around the rim and a soft 3-point touch.
Popovich had the apropos answer when asked if it was more important to take away Jokic’s shot attempts or passes: “I don’t think anybody has figured that out,” he said. “He’s a great one.”
Jokic cares immensely about winning — games, not hardware. He’s not one to lobby on his own behalf, just letting his numbers do his talking. Last season when he won, he averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 boards and 8.3 assists. This season, he took his game to another level in making his fourth straight All-Star team.
“If that’s enough, it’s enough,” he said. “If not, you cannot control that.”
Funny story about his MVP trophy from a season ago: A few weeks ago, he said he wasn’t exactly sure where it was as his family moves.
“It is here in Denver,” Jokic recently cracked.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds, AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton and freelance writer Michael Kelly contributed to this report