Why Jokic is in Perfect Spot for MVP Race

Since mid-November, the narrative for the Denver Nuggets’ season became one of tragic proportions. Yet the trajectory might be perfect to give Nikola Jokic the best chance he’s got for an MVP repeat. As with Coach Michael Malone, overcoming adversity would be an ideal ingredient to leave voters with a memorable taste when it comes time to cast their ballot.

Denver Nuggets: The Hero’s Journey

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone pulls center Nikola Jokic (15) away from a scrum in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat at Ball Arena on 8 Nov. 2021. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

Jokic started this season off stronger than his MVP campaign. He’s leading the Denver Nuggets in almost all statistical categories. Even after his injury, Jokic still ranks at No. 4 in the KIA MVP Ladder on Dec. 3.

We all know, however, that Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones or the Black Panther wouldn’t be who they are without adversity.

First, came the run-in with Markief Morris and the Miami Heat, which resulted in a one-game suspension. Then came an injury, the Jokic wrist sprain at the tail-end of a nightmare loss to the depleted Philadelphia 76ers.

It seemed like Jokic might only miss one game, but he missed more than a week. The Nuggets lost every game without him. Hopefully, for Nuggets fans, that’s the nadir of this hero’s journey.

In Miami, Jokic made a triumphant return, along with Bones Hyland, and all hope is restored in Nuggets Nation. Not so fast. The Nuggets fall to the Orlando Magic and drop below .500.

Here’s the thing, the Nuggets will need to have a winning record. No NBA MVP has ever won on a team with a losing record. Overcoming that history might be impossible.

Denver Nuggets: The Frontrunners Jokic Must Vanquish

Right now, Jokic’s competition is stiff. He’s looking at rivals with an MVP resume as well. Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo have each won it twice. Kevin Durant has also won it. Others without the big-time hardware yet could also contend, including Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Trae Young.

However, unlike Jokic’s Nuggets, his main competitors are on teams who have been winning from the get-go. Jokic could significantly benefit from an against-all-odds comeback story. Voters have already seen how the team struggled without him. That might never be the case for the others.

I could also make the argument it’s good for voters to see an off-night from Jokic now and again. It makes him seem more, um, human. For instance, he had an “off-night” against Orlando. In the crucial waning minutes, he had his shot blocked and a costly turnover (among five on the night).

But, on this “off-night,” Jokic also had 18 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists. Most NBA players–the best ballers in the world–would die for that stat line.

Denver Nuggets: Strong Finish Could Make the Difference for Jokic

Dec 1, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony (50) shoots over Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second quarter at Amway Center. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Voters also experience recency bias. It’s human nature based on our faulty memory. A concrete example comes from baseball’s 2020 MVP voting. Fernando Tatis Jr. was on fire for the first half, but his play and his team cooled off significantly. Bryce Harper and his team went the other way, picking up momentum in the second half. I can see Harper getting the nod for MVP, but the vote wasn’t even close.

In the Jokic story, the Nuggets would get hot toward the end of the season. This is especially feasible if Jamal Murray comes back in the spring and ends up serving as the side-kick Jokic needs for the final stretch.

As long as the Nuggets stay within reach of the playoffs , it’s worth paying attention for Nuggets fans. Yes, it’s a team sport, but the MVP race matters. Other star players want to play with an MVP. Coaches want to coach an MVP. Referees (eventually) give calls to an MVP.