This NBA offseason has been absolutely wild. Not only did we witness the demolition of the Utah Jazz with blockbuster trades involving both Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, but Dejounte Murray also became a Hawk, Kevin Durant nearly became a Raptor, while LeBron James lit up Pro-Ams across the country. All within the span of three months.
Now that the offseason dust has settled, ESPN recently held their annual survey to see how some of the biggest movers and shakers in the league view the current NBA landscape. Using a panel of 15 NBA coaches, scouts, and executives, various questions were asked to see where everybody stands. Including MVP and rookie debates, offseason winners and losers, and other predictions for what lies ahead.
Throughout the latest offseason survey, league personnel were asked questions like, “Who is the best player in the NBA right now?”, “Who will be the best player in the NBA in five years?” and “Who will win MVP this season?”. While most of the players mentioned we all expect to see in the conversation (Giannis, Curry, LeBron, etc.), one name, in particular, was left out of just about every debate; Nikola Jokic.
That’s right, not only was Jokic’s name not even brought up once throughout the entire article but neither was the Denver Nuggets. With the exception of the eighth question on the list, asking which team had the worst offseason. So, then the conversation becomes, is it possible that the back-to-back MVP of the greatest basketball league on earth is STILL getting slept on?
Is Jokic being slept on as the league’s best player?
Now, to be fair, for Jokic to continue his streak of dominance and win a third straight MVP, he would have to put up some pretty exceptional numbers in 2022-23. I would also imagine that the Denver Nuggets would have to win more than 50 games and make it past the first round of the playoffs, at the very least. However, to not even have him mentioned in the conversation is the epitome of disrespect.
What’s even worse is that his name wasn’t even brought up in the debate for who the best player in the league is right now, despite winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards. Instead, Giannis Antetokounmpo (who Jokic beat out to clinch the award) took home the nod for the second straight year as the leading vote-getter.
Tim Bontemps, ESPN writes in the survey that:
“He’s healthy, you can put the ball in his hands or play off the ball as a screen-and-roll guy, and his defensive effectiveness,” a Western Conference scout said of Antetokounmpo’s impact. “I think Durant is the most talented guy because of his shooting and scoring ability (but) Giannis’ will, the human, the winner, the mentality, the everyday effort, raising the effort of guys around him… it’s hard to top that.”
Now, what I find interesting about these comments is that they almost perfectly describe Nikola Jokic. In fact, if Giannis hadn’t been mentioned first, you’d think he was talking about The Joker and not The Greek Freak.
First off, in terms of health, Jokic has played in more regular season games than not only Giannis, but other key names mentioned throughout the article as well, such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Luka Doncic. In fact, Nikola Jokic played in 72 games for the Denver Nuggets in 2020-21 and then 74 games in 2021-22, while none of his counterparts even cracked the 70-game threshold either season. Which is especially impressive given that Jokic is a 7-foot, 280-pound center playing over 33 minutes a night.
In terms of his versatility, I think almost any NBA fan would argue that there’s no player more versatile than the Serbian center. Which is why he became just the sixth player in league history to lead his team in points (27.1), rebounds (13.8), assists (7.9), steals (1.5), and blocks per game (0.9) this past season. He was also the first player ever to record at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in a single season. Something that none of the aforementioned superstars were able to accomplish.
Of course, none of this would really matter if he was playing for a losing franchise, but the truth is that the Denver Nuggets have had moderate success almost solely because of Nikola Jokic. The fact that the team went 48-34 without both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. for the entire season is a sensational feat for Jokic. It’s also something that no other player in the league can contend with. Giannis and Curry had their supporting cast right alongside them basically all year, while LeBron captained a team that won just 33 games.
You want to talk about “the human, the winner, the mentality, the everyday effort,” well, that’s Nikola Jokic to a T. Not to mention how much he improved the other players around him on the Denver Nuggets. Will Barton, who finished third on the team in scoring, had his best statistical year since 2017, while Aaron Gordon reinvented himself as the second-best player on a winning franchise. Oh, and Monte Morris set career-highs across the board as well.
Truthfully, I think that from a pure talent perspective, there’s a legitimate argument to be made between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic. However, if the argument here is about impact, versatility, sustainability, and “raising the effort of guys around him”, then I don’t see how you can vote against the man who just won back-to-back MVPs and almost 50 regular season games without both of his superstar teammates.
So, is Jokic being slept on as the best player in the NBA? You’re damn right he is.