NBA: Nuggets' Jokic scoops third Most Valuable Player award

AFP , Thursday 9 May 2024

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was named NBA Most valuable Player for the third time in four seasons on Wednesday.

Nikola Jokic
(FILES) Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets brings the ball down the court against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first quarter during Game One of the Western Conference Second Round Playoffs at Ball Arena on May 04, 2024, in Denver, Colorado. Photo: AFP

 

The 29-year-old Serbian star, who won the award in 2021 and 2022, finished runner-up in the voting in 2023 but had the satisfaction of leading the Nuggets to a first NBA title.

This season he averaged 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists in the regular season and beat out Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks in final voting for the award.

In another season in which Jokic managed to make brilliance almost look routine, he became the second player, after Oscar Robertson, to record 2,000 points, 900 rebounds and 600 assists in a season.

His 25 triple-doubles and 68 double-doubles were both second in the league.

Jokic enters elite territory with a third MVP crown. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's six MVPs are the most ever. Bill Russell and Michael Jordan won five apiece and Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James four.

Jokic joins Moses Malone, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as three-time winners after earning 79 first-placed votes compared to 15 for Gilgeous-Alexander and four for Doncic.

"We've got to start with the teammates. Without them I cannot do anything," Jokic said in the MVP announcement broadcast on TNT when asked to reflect on yet another MVP.

"Coaches, players, organization, medical staff, across time coaches, development coaches -- it's all one big circle that I cannot be wherever I am without them."

Behind Jokic, the 57-25 Nuggets matched the franchise high for victories in a season -- although they were tied for the best record in the West with Oklahoma City and ended up with the second seed behind the young Thunder team.

As always, the MVP award offered plenty of scope for argument.

Gilgeous-Alexander, a 25-year-old Canadian, averaged 30.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game for upstarts Oklahoma City and had a league-high 51 30-point games.

Slovenia's Doncic led the league in scoring with 33.9 points per game and ranked second in assists with 9.8 per game. He averaged 9.2 rebounds per game and became the third player to average a 30-point triple-double after the All-Star break after Oscar Robertson (1961-62) and Russell Westbrook (2016-17).

But Nuggets coach Mike Malone was in no doubt that Jokic's third MVP was richly deserved.

"I don't know if I can put that into words what his greatness means to every team," Malone said last month, adding that he particularly admired the fact that winning the award was "not his motivation."

"When he gets up in the morning ... he's not doing it for the individual accolades and recognition," Malone said. "He's doing it for the collective to win and hopefully win another championship. That's what he's all about."

Excellence every night
 

Malone said Jokic was a classic example of a player who makes the rest of his team better.

"That is what I marvel at, most importantly with Nikola as a player. Just the consistent greatness and how he finds ways to every single night, no matter who is available around him, to bring that level of excellence every night," Malone said.

"Basically, put that team on his back and make each and every one of his teammates that much better."

When Jokic won the 2022 MVP he was already back home in Sombor, Serbia, in the wake of the Nuggets' playoff exit.

Whether Jokic will be able to combine an MVP award and the title this season remains to be seen.

The Nuggets dropped the first two games of their Western Conference semi-final series to the Minnesota Timberwolves and face the tough task of trying to claw back on the Timberwolves' home court starting on Friday.

Jokic's victory marks the sixth straight season that the MVP award has gone to a player born outside the United States. The last US-born player to win was James Harden in 2018.

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