Denver Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic is a legitimate MVP candidate early into the 2020-21 season.
It’s admittedly a bit absurd to be talking about MVP candidates less a month into the NBA season. It’s even more absurd to be talking about an MVP candidate on a team that’s all but struggled to reach a .500 record.
However, despite the slow start in the early going, there’s plenty to be optimistic about this season; Nikola Jokic’s MVP-worthy play at the forefront of that conversation.
After 10 games, the Joker is averaging 24.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, all career-highs if they were to stand for the whole season. Such a start has allowed the sixth-year veteran to join Hall of Fame point guard Oscar Robinson as the only players to record at least 200 points, 100 rebounds and 100 assists in their first 10 games of a season.
If Jokic can keep this insane pace, he would become just the third player to average a triple-double (alongside The Big O and Russell Westbrook).
As if the triple-double average isn’t impressive enough, he’s also shooting an astounding 58.7% from the field (despite 60.6% of his shots coming from outside of the restricted area) and 43.3% from behind the arc; both career-highs as well.
He’s been efficient at the free-throw line, knocking down 80.3% his freebies but far more important is his taking a career-high 6.1 free-throws per game, highlighting Joker’s aggressiveness early in the season.
Jokic’s defense — which has steadily improved throughout his career — has also been pretty good. Moving with more agility as he maintains his svelte frame from the summertime, the Serbian superstar is averaging 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.
Although those numbers don’t jump off of the page, it’s important to note that last year’s Defensive Player of the year Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged just 1.0 steal and 1.0 block per game.
Numbers that also underscore Jokic’s hustle on the defensive end — which has occasionally been criticized — are contesting 11.0 shots per game (ranked 8th among players with a minimum of 10 games played this season), recovering 62.5% of loose balls on the defensive end and travelling 1.12 miles defensively (4th among centers to play at least 10 games).
So what’s stopping the Joker from becoming the Nuggets’ first MVP since the NBA-ABA merger?
The primary concern for Jokic is Denver’s win-loss record, as his individual numbers are arguably the most outstanding in the league.
Even after battling to 5-5 after a mildly disconcerting 1-3 start, the team has a bit of a hill to climb. However, Las Vegas has the Nuggs’ projected to win approximately 44.5 games by season’s end (out of only 72 games in this condensed season).
If Nuggets should at least finish atop the Northwest Division and manage to find themselves near the top of the Western Conference standings by season’s end, Jokic could be a lock for the MVP.
Extra trivia: Currently, Jokic leads all players in assists as a center! If he were to finish the season as the top assist man, he would join NBA icon Wilt Chamberlain as the second center ever to accomplish this feat.