Charles Barkley is a huge fan of Nikola Jokic. He has gone out of his way in the past to speak about how great the Serbian is at basketball, but in a conference call with reporters, Chuck says that Denver Nuggets fans are “whiny” and that there’s no disrespect for the league’s MVP.
The Hall of Famer and TNT analyst says that while he has all the respect for Jokic, he doesn’t like that Michael Malone and Nuggets fans are complaining about the lack of respect and MVP buzz for Nikola:
"“The guy won MVP. Why is (Jokic) not getting respect? How the hell do you win MVP and you say you’re not getting any respect? So clearly…“First of all, he’s a terrific player, but I don’t understand what y’all are whining about in Denver.“The dude won MVP, so clearly, people think he’s a (heck) of a player. They just don’t give out the MVP to guys unless they can really play.”"
This season’s MVP race is looking like it’ll be a close one with reasonable arguments for players across the league like Jokic, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetekounmpo, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James to name a few.
On the season, Jokic is averaging 25.8 points, 13.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists while shooting 57 percent from the floor and 37 percent from the 3-point line. He also has the Denver Nuggets ahead of the play in race, sitting in the sixth seed in the Western Conference without Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray.
Yet despite this, Denver Nuggets fans are constantly seeing slights on Jokic’s brilliance. ESPN‘s Kendrick Perkins said in January that he’d take Embiid over Jokic if he had to pick because the former has “no flaws”:
"“I am going with Joel Embiid… It’s nothing that this man (Embiid) can’t do. He can take you on the low block, he got the one leg, Dirk, sidestep 3-point shot, euro step down the lane finish, And One through contact. I’m going with Joel Embiid.”"
An argument in the past for Embiid over Jokic has been the defensive impact. This side of the ball was a real concern for the Big Honey but in the past two seasons, Jokic has made considerable strides in the area, now playing as the defensive hub for a respectable defense this season.
When Nikola Jokic is on the court, the Nuggets are 9.3 points better on defense according to Cleaning the Glass. He’s in the 100th percentile (that’s the best…) among all big men at limiting free throw attempts and opponents shoot below league average across the floor when he’s out there.
He has gone from an uninterested defensive player that was prone to foul to a dominant defensive player that can’t be exploited.
Oh, and he’s getting game-winning blocks now, they’re pretty cool.
When Charles Barkley was asked to explain why he thought Jokic wasn’t an MVP candidate this season, despite putting up similar counting stats to last season, he says it comes down to the team’s record.
Yes, the Nuggets are only the sixth seed in a crowded Western Conference, but where were these slights when Russell Westbrook won the 2016-17 MVP with the sixth seed? It seemed like a no-brainer to some talking heads.
And what about Embiid’s standings? The record argument hardly helps Embiid whose 76ers are fifth in the Eastern Conference with only two more wins than the Nuggets.
Head coach Michael Malone says that Nikola Jokic is being taken for granted. Malone was one of the guys that Barkley called out when saying that the Nuggets are “whiny”. As Malone told Mike Singer, The Denver Post back in January:
"“I think he is one of the more disrespected reigning MVPs that I can think of in terms of the attention that he gets. If you open up the dictionary, and you look up the word consistency, there’s going to be a picture of Nikola there. And that’s going back to the Bubble. That’s going back to a 72-game season last year. And this year …”"
Ryan Blackburn, Denver Stiffs has been covering the Jokic vs Embiid debate for a long time, posting some really telling stats between the two:
When you watch Embiid, he plays a lot like his new teammate in James Harden. He lives at the free throw line and gets plenty of respect from the officials. This isn’t a knock on how both guys play, it takes serious skill to get to the line in the NBA.
But for all the calls Embiid gets, Jokic gets bruises and scratches on his arms.
Zach Lowe, ESPN threw some water on the debate in his most recent podcast, telling his guest that the race between the two is very close and the NBA should make it so that both Embiid and Jokic can make the All-NBA First Team this season.
But back to the original point: are Denver Nuggets fans as “whiny” as Charles Barkley says they are?
Honestly, yes. If by whiny, he means that they complain a lot. Nikola Jokic is playing some of the best basketball the world has ever seen and he’s playing as well as he is while getting double and triple-teamed.
He’s keeping this roster’s offense and defense afloat, helping the role players play above their head, and doing it all without complaining, without any bad press about wanting out of Denver.
The MVP trophy won’t be decided by who can win the most games with the worst roster around them but what Nikola Jokic is doing is incredible. Next season, when the Nuggets are at full strength, when Jokic is still playing at an all-time level, Denver fans won’t be surprised when Nikola is doing this on the biggest stage.