We all love competition. It’s fun to debate. Players, coaches, fans, and the media all have their opinions. To be sure, we saw several superstars in the NBA perform at MVP-caliber levels.
But make no mistake about it, Nikola Jokic stands alone at the top.
If the award was “most-feared,” perhaps Giannis would get the nod.
If the award was “most-talked-about,” perhaps Joel Embiid would finally rest easy about this whole thing.
If the award was “most dynamic and fun to watch,” you could make a case for Ja Morant.
If this was about “best player on the best team,” then we could debate Booker and CP3 for a while.
But yeah, there’s only one player who was clearly “most valuable” this season, and that is Nikola Jokic. Believe me, I spent most of this season hoping someone else would win it. Someone with more flash, more early-evening games, and more likely to challenge for a ring this year.
I wanted Ja Morant to stay healthy and become the next face of the league, winning his first MVP award. He didn’t.
I wanted Joel Embiid to make his teammates better, play in more games (he missed FOURTEEN), and stop complaining about MVP criteria. He didn’t.
I wanted Devin Booker to take his game and stats to the next level and make a clear case. He didn’t.
Meanwhile, out in the wild, Wild West… The Joker did it again. This guy posted better numbers than he had last season as an MVP. This guy endured the losses of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, and led the Nuggets to a 6th seed in the West. This guy finished in the top 8 in the NBA in points, rebounds, and assists.
Points and rebounds can be impressive, valuable, and memorable. It seems like that’s the case Joel Embiid keeps trying to make for himself. In some years, Embiid might have won the MVP with this year’s stats, team performance, and improvements in his outside shooting and clutch play. To Embiid apologists and 76ers fans, the argument seems to be a hypothetical “what else does he have to do?” It’s a question he asks as if he’s already done it all, because he’s played hard, played hurt, and played well.
But the truly great players always recognize how they could improve. How they could do better. How they work hard and push themselves and set the bar higher, no matter what they did this season. The answer to Joel’s “not-as-hypothetical-as-he-thinks” question has several answers, and we can look no further than the Joker’s example to find the MVP qualities that are apparently Embiid’s blind spots.
Jokic passes the ball. 8.7 assists a game means something. Some people feel that Jokic is the best passer in the NBA today, regardless of position.
Jokic played in more games (74), averaged more rebounds, and isn’t the guy you want to foul in crunch time (81% FT). If it was a close MVP race, someone should point out to Jokic and Giannis fans that the guy who won the award actually played in more games, got more rebounds, got his teammates involved, and made clutch free throws all throughout the season.
Jokic had the weakest supporting cast of any MVP candidate. I’m sure Nikola would give anything to upgrade from Monte Morris to Tyrese Maxey, or from Aaron Gordon to Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, or from Bones Hyland to Chris Paul and Mikal Bridges.
In early April, after a full season of truly hoping and rooting for someone else to win the MVP, just for variety, excitement, and terrific performances… I began to look at the facts. NBA voters apparently saw the same facts. The MVP award forces us to compare, to compete, to pay attention, and to ultimately select one guy who is truly “most” valuable to his team and the league.
Someone needs to carefully tell Mr. Embiid that it’s not about media fads or “whatever narrative you guys want to come up with.” It’s about one big man who empowers his teammates, dominates the whole floor and flow, performed with more games, more rebounds, and more setbacks than anyone else. It’s about a revolutionary point-center whose performance this year rose above the debate and offers answers to all of the questions.
This isn’t the narrative I wanted to choose. It’s the narrative we all watched play out in real time over the past six months.
As an aside, I’d like to share my top 7 rankings for this past season’s MVP in the NBA…
(1) Nikola Jokic – clearly.
(2) Giannis Antentokounmpo – every bit as dominant as Embiid, but a better leader and example to his team.
(3) Joel Embiid – imagine if he averaged more than 3 assists a game and stopped campaigning for awards!
(4) (tie) Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic – both guys exploded during the playoff push (Feb-Apr) and their teams surged.
(5) Devin Booker – would be higher if he didn’t have CHRIS PAUL and if he hadn’t missed FOURTEEN games. Seems like a trend.
(6) Ja Morant – for the big moments and the major step he took as an All-Star attraction and performer for Memphis as a 2-seed!
(7) Steph Curry, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and DeMar DeRozan. All of these guys were in the conversation at different points during the season. But each one had a solid supporting cast.. each one missed a bunch of games… and each one had some bumpy stretches this season.
See what I did there? My list of “top 7” somehow became a list of 13 players who had great seasons and impacted their teams toward play-off or play-in runs.