Denver Nuggets: Is Ja Morant pushing Nikola Jokic for MVP?

Nuggets, Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant, Will Barton (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Nuggets, Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant, Will Barton (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

The Memphis Grizzlies are sitting pretty with a 43-20 record and the current rights to the third seed in the Western Conference, all thanks to a young explosive roster led by 22-year-old dynamo Ja Morant out of Murray State. The Denver Nuggets have found a diamond of their own in 27-year-old reigning MVP Nikola Jokic out of Serbia. Jokic currently has the Nuggets thriving as the sixth seed in the West with a 36-26 record.

Both stars have shined their brightest in 2022 and built on their impressive numbers from last season, etching themselves clearly into the MVP conversation as we enter the back half of this year. A top five of leading candidates has emerged, including Morant, Jokic, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Steph Curry, with honorable mentions to DeMar DeRozan and Luka Doncic.

The MVP bar has constantly been set higher and higher with each contest these game-changers complete, and Morant just went up and over with his performance against the San Antonio Spurs, dunking on seven-foot Jakob Poeltl, hitting a wild buzzer-beater off the full-court feed from Steven Adams, and notching a career-high 52 points on his way to another staple game in his MVP-worthy 2022 resume.

Morant’s problem is the competition he is up against in 2022 if he hopes to win MVP. At 32.2 PER, Antetokounmpo just surpassed Jokic at 32.0 this year and Wilt Chamberlain at 32.1 in 1961-62. Embiid is getting to the free throw line at a higher rate in 2022 than any player has in history, and Curry continues to be the biggest ticket in town, averaging 25.8 points per game and drawing 674 million views across NBA social media this season. Morant fans do get to argue that Memphis has a better record than Jokic’s Nuggets and Embiid’s 76ers, a fact many wouldn’t have predicted entering the 2021-22 campaign.

The next step for Morant will be willing his team through some tough matchups in the playoffs and continuing to prove the Grizz are no fluke. Youth is on their side, but might hurt Morant’s chances at MVP glory as the world becomes familiar with his wild talents. Comparisons have been drawn recently to Morant’s 2021-22 performance and Derrick Rose’s 2011 MVP season when Rose became the youngest ever to win MVP at 22 years old.

Morant possesses it all. The sassy charisma of Allen Iverson, the bounce of 2011 Rose and the tenacity of 2016-17 Russell Westbrook. In fact, Iverson recently tweeted at the superstar, simply posting a photo with Morant’s jersey hung over the MVP trophy with the caption “sooner or later.”

Jokic continues to hold down the fort for the Nuggets while lethal scoring threats Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. inch closer to a return from injury, and Denver’s continued success sans two of their top three talents keeps hope alive for those believing Jokic can repeat as MVP, but Morant is creeping in and should at least be mentioned in the conversation after the Grizz have seemingly caught lightning in a bottle in 2022.

The two superstars have very different games. Morant’s game is leaving fans in awe while Jokic continues to make difficult plays look easy. Morant adds flash while Jokic adds a humble flexibility to the traditional big man role. Both have us wondering what they could possibly do next to stand apart from the rest of these MVP hopefuls, but so far both have been worth the price of admission every night. Here’s to looking forward to tomorrow.

Next. The Denver Nuggets are finding a bench identity. dark