During the first quarter of the NBA regular season, Warriors star Stephen Curry jumped to become one of the first favorites to win the NBA MVP.
Rumors surrounded players like Curry and Nets forward Kevin Durant, as well as a newfound – and legitimate – crush on Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan.
Maybe it’s the ridiculous standard he’s set for himself, but Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t getting much MVP consideration, though that has changed since Milwaukee’s recent streak of success.
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All of those stars have built solid cases for the league’s most prestigious individual award, but what about the guy who took home the hardware last year?
Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic has been just as good, if not better, than he was during his 2020-21 MVP season. And yet he hasn’t received as much attention as some of the other players mentioned.
Take Saturday December 11 as the perfect example.
All eyes were on Curry to break the NBA’s all-time 3-point record and even when he was well behind the goal, it was all that was talked about.
MORE: Curry is set to surpass Ray Allen as the NBA’s all-time 3-point leader
Meanwhile, that same night, Jokic posted a dominant 35 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists to lead his meager Nuggets to an road win over the Spurs and was hardly heard of about it.
35 pts | 17 REB | 8 AST
No words to describe Nikola’s dominance. pic.twitter.com/lOwjwZlZQu
– Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 12, 2021
If Curry, Durant or LeBron James put up a stat line like that, the highlights would be looping for days. But when it comes to Jokic, his crazy acting is just put aside.
It’s time to stop overlooking what the reigning MVP is doing and start considering the fact that he is building a resume to become the 13th player in NBA history to win the award in back-to-back seasons.
Jokic and the Nuggets began the season with their second-best player, as star guard Jamal Murray is still out of the game as he recovers from his torn ACL he suffered last April. Things got worse for Denver just nine games in the year when rising star forward Michael Porter Jr. suffered a back injury, and is now expected to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery.
MORE: Nuggets Injury Updates: Jamal Murray | Micahel Porter Jr.
Without their next top two players, it would be easy for the Nuggets to take a cautious route, look to the future, and give Jokic a few nights off. Instead, he has taken his game to another level, keeping Denver competitive in the Western Conference.
So far this year, Jokic is averaging 26.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists. There are only two players in the NBA this season who are averaging at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game, the other being Antetokounmpo.
If that doesn’t impress you, his productive start to the season has only been seen one more time in NBA history.
In his first 20 games, Jokic posted a total of 521 points, 267 rebounds and 144 assists. According to Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference, joined Oscar Robertson (1961-62) to be the second player in NBA history to record 500 points, 250 rebounds and 125 assists in the first 20 games of a season.
In his last 12 games since Porter’s absence, Jokic has elevated his game even further, rejoining the elite company in NBA history.
In that 12-game span, Jokic has 327 points, 163 rebounds and 105 assists. For Kubatko, joins Larry Bird and Russell Westbrook as the only players to add 300 points, 150 rebounds and 100 assists during a 12-game stretch.
It’s also more than just individual stats. His in / out splits are more drastic than any player in the NBA this season, further demonstrating how valuable it’s for your team.
According to NBA statistics, the Nuggets have a net rating of +13.4 when Jokic is on the court and -15.7 when he is not on the court. That means Denver is 29.1 (!) Points per 100 possessions better when Jokic is on the floor, the biggest differential for any player in the league. (According to StatMuse, Antetokounmpo is second with a differential of +22.5 points).
In terms of offensive and defensive rating, the Nuggets own what would be second-place offense and defense in the NBA when Jokic is on the court, compared to the worst offense and defense in the NBA when he’s off the court.
If those numbers don’t scream MVP, I don’t know what does.
This is not to discredit what players like Curry, Durant and Antetokounmpo are doing; It’s more to shed light on a player who should already get more attention, as it is with his position as the reigning MVP.
Jokic’s campaign to repeat is underway and it’s time to take notice.