Nikola Jokic repeating as MVP? Why these NBA analysts think Nuggets center can pull it off

Stan Van Gundy has Nikola Jokic’s back. On the block. On the wing. And on Twitter.

Especially on Twitter.

“Everybody’s locked up on him the entire game,” the former NBA coach and Turner Sports analyst told The Denver Post late last week. “The other team is trying to stop him. And he’s still producing.”

With that, Van Gundy laughed, incredulously and helplessly. There’s a long way to go yet, and a season that’s already featured more twists than a bag of pretzels, thanks to injuries and COVID protocols, no doubt has more curveballs left to throw.

Could one of those curves be Jokic, the Nuggets’ star center, repeating as NBA MVP?

“You’ve got to remember: Jokic is doing all this without (help),” Avery Johnson, the former NBA guard and coach, currently an analyst with CBS Sports HQ, said of the Denver All-Star. “Batman needs Robin. And Robin (guard Jamal Murray) is injured.”

Which makes the performances from a guy who’s on a pace for 19 triple-doubles this season — Jokic collected 16 a season ago — even more impressive.

“(It) requires even more discipline,” Johnson said. “(Because) he’s drawing even more attention, and through it all, he continues to play at an elite level that makes opposing coaches lose sleep the night before games.”

As a former coach, Van Gundy is as much in awe of the mental side of the Joker’s game — the Serbian 7-footer was averaging 25.9 points, 13.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists heading into Friday’s tussle with Memphis — as he is the numbers.

So much so, in fact, that the analyst went to Twitter on Jan. 14 to declare Jokic as his No. 1 choice for NBA MVP, followed by LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. The replies from fans outside the Front Range were not, as you would expect, kind.

Although Van Gundy’s getting some company on the bandwagon:’s Michael C. Wright this past Friday slotted the Joker as No. 1 in the latest Kia “Race to the MVP Ladder,” ahead of Antetokounmpo, Embiid and Durant. And Wright’s argument was largely the same as Van Gundy’s — with no Murray (zero games) and very little Michael Porter Jr. (nine games) around to take feeds and occupy defenders, few players, statistically or aesthetically, have done more with less.

“Anytime you have suspect shooting around you, it’s going to make it easier to load up, defensively, on him, and that’s what has happened,” Van Gundy said. “The intensity steps up a notch. So the season he’s had is phenomenal.”

The Nuggets had to do without Jokic’s services for four games in late November, a stretch that featured the Bulls and Bucks at home and the Suns and Blazers on the road. Denver lost all four contests, by an average of 16.3 points per game.

“If you tell me Nikola Jokic isn’t the MVP, then who is?” Malone said after the Joker’s NBA-best 10th triple-double of the season this past Wednesday against the Clippers, a 10-assist evening that ended with a cross-court pass, over a double-team, to Aaron Gordon for a game-winning trey. “That guy can beat you with his passing, his scoring, his rebounding.”

Johnson said his MVP vote at the regular season’s midway point would likely go to the Warriors’ Steph Curry “for his overall body of work,” but that the Joker is in “the top 3, for sure, the way he’s played … it’s not like anybody’s really running away with it at this point.”

And if you don’t think Jokic can win another MVP award on a team that could miss out on a top-4 seed, Van Gundy’s got two words for you:

Russell Westbrook.

“Westbrook, when he got his one in Oklahoma City (in 2016-17), when (Kevin) Durant was out, the (Thunder) weren’t great that year,” Van Gundy said. “We’re in a league now where the best teams have two and even three stars.

“So for a guy (in Jokic) to be doing it as the only star and keeping the team above .500, I’d like to think the voters are smart enough to recognize that.”

Five seasons ago, Westbrook averaged a triple-double — 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists — for an Oklahoma City squad that wound up as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

If the postseason had begun this weekend, the Nuggets would’ve been the sixth seed in the West.

“With the way the voting goes, (the Nuggets) definitely have got to stay in that top 6 (in the postseason bracket),” Van Gundy said. “I can’t see them climbing into the top 4 with what they have now. And I certainly can’t predict how people will vote. But I can just say what I think will happen.”

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By :