Damian Lillard Says Nikola Jokic Deserves 2021 NBA MVP Over Joel Embiid, Steph Curry

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 20, 2021

DENVER, CO - MAY 12: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers congratulates Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets after the game during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

With the regular season now over, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard weighed in on the NBA's MVP race.

Speaking with The Athletic's Sam Amick, Lillard brought up Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry and Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid as contenders but put Nikola Jokic at the head of the pack.

Lillard cited durability as one of the things working in the Denver Nuggets center's favor:

"But I think when you really look at it, and you see that Jokic has played in every game and he’s dominated the way he has, they’ve had injuries with so many guys out and missed games and he’s kept them rolling. He’s kept them where they are. And Embiid has missed a lot of games. And even when he got hurt, they just kept going, you know? So I would say Jokic. But yeah, I’m not going into the series worried about injuries or nothing. They’re still a great team. We’re going to have our hands full either way."

Any discussion about the MVP is bound to be subjective, but the majority of those who follow the NBA share Lillard's opinion.

ESPN's Tim Bontemps conducted a straw poll of media members in April, and 90 of the 101 respondents had Jokic atop their MVP ballot. Oddsmakers have similarly coalesced around the 6'11" Serbian. He's the runaway favorite (-7000) on FanDuel, with Curry (+2700) and Embiid (+3000) some distance behind.

Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists while appearing in all 72 games for Denver. The Nuggets finished third in the Western Conference (47-25) despite Jamal Murray tearing his ACL on April 12 and missing their final 18 games.

As Lillard referenced, Denver had more team success than the Warriors, finishing eight games up in the standings. Despite Curry's obvious value to Golden State, that put a dent in his MVP candidacy.

Embiid, meanwhile, was out for 21 games, which is difficult to overlook even though the Sixers owned the East's best record (49-23).

Lillard will have a chance at the likely MVP-to-be on Saturday when the Blazers tip off their first-round playoff series in Denver.

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