Nuggets' Nikola Jokic Wins 2020-21 NBA MVP over Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2021

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, March 13, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic was named the NBA MVP for the 2020-21 season on Tuesday. 

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Nikola Jokic wins the 2020-21 NBA MVP 🃏 He’s the lowest-drafted player at pick No. 41 to win in NBA history https://t.co/kY4ddBIMdi

The 26-year-old is the first player in franchise history to collect the honor. He beat out Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid, who were the two other finalists.

NBA Communications @NBAPR

With the first Kia NBA MVP Award of his career, Nikola Jokić becomes the first player to earn the honor as a member of the @nuggets. He received 91 of the 101 first-place votes. More ▶️ https://t.co/KFtBBl414B https://t.co/ijRjMBMXFH

Through a combination of attrition and his own performance, the 6'11" center became the runaway favorite for the award. He received 90 of the 101 first-place votes in a straw poll conducted by ESPN's Tim Bontemps in April.

Having won the MVP the past two seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo was battling voter fatigue. Embiid, James Harden, LeBron James, Kevin Durant all dealt with injuries, which put a dent in their candidacies. In the case of Harden, some voters may have been unable to overlook the circumstances leading to his trade to the Nets anyway.

None of that should take away from Jokic's brilliance on the court, though. He averaged career highs in points (26.4) and assists (8.3) while matching his personal best in rebounds (10.8). He also shot 56.6 percent from the floor and 38.8 percent from beyond the arc.

One of his best showings came in a 128-117 win over the Utah Jazz on Jan. 31. He went 17-of-26 for 47 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals.

Jokic's level of consistency also set him apart from the rest of the field. Here are his monthly splits:

  • December: .625 FG%, .400 3PT%, 24.5 PPG. 11.5 RPG, 13.5 APG
  • January: .565 FG%, .381 3P%, 27.3 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 7.3 APG
  • February: .550 FG%, .472 3P%, 26.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8.5 APG
  • March: .585 FG%, .439 3P%, 27.1 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 8.4 APG
  • April: .561 FG%, .372 3P%, 24.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 8.8 APG
  • May: .551 FG%, .185 3P%, 27.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 6.7 APG

The Nuggets, meanwhile, maintained their push for a top-four seed in the Western Conference despite Jamal Murray suffering a torn left ACL in April. They finished third at 47-25.

On April 19, Denver overcame a 12-point deficit with fewer than four minutes remaining and earned a 139-137 victory in double-overtime over the Memphis Grizzlies. With Murray absent, Jokic dropped 19 points across the fourth quarter and two overtime periods en route to a 47-point night.

"Life's about a bunch of little moments," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone told reporters after the game. "I think Nikola's got around 56 moments this year where he's shown he's the MVP."

Jokic's critics will likely point to his defense as the biggest reason why he shouldn't have been crowned MVP. He finished with a real defensive plus-minus of plus-1.96, 14th among centers, per ESPN.com, and he allowed opposing shooters to hit 51.8 percent of their field-goal attempts, per NBA.com.

In general, the Serbian big man wasn't a total liability on that end, and his offensive value more than made up for his deficiencies on the other end of the floor.

One could argue there were stretches of the season during which other players briefly built stronger MVP resumes, but nobody was better from start to finish than Jokic.