Nikola Jokic continues to be the best player in the NBA this season. Over the first three months of the season, Jokic has carried the Denver Nuggets to a 20-15 record, which is good for seventh in the Western Conference and percentage points away from fifth.
Jokic is currently averaging career-highs in points (27.2), rebounds (11), and assists (8.6) per game. Not only has Jokic been unbelievable offensively, but he’s also averaged 1.7 steals per game and has 58 steals total on the entire season. What’s even crazier about Jokic’s steal numbers is that he's tied with Toronto’s Fred VanVleet for the most steals in the NBA.
[Editor’s note: this article was written before T.J. McConnell decided to grab 10 steals in one basketball game and overtake the rest of the league in the steals title.]
Durability is also one of Jokic’s greatest traits, which is evident in his 35.9 minutes per game average. Jokic has played a total of 1,256 minutes this year, which is second in the entire NBA trailing only Julius Randle.
When comparing Jokic to other MVP candidates it’s tough to see anyone really challenging him at the moment. Joel Embiid is arguably Jokic’s greatest competition for the award, but when you really compare the two, the numbers simply favor Jokic.
Embiid is a great player who is averaging more points (30.2) and rebounds (11.6) per game than Jokic, but the assist numbers are not even close. Jokic is averaging 5.3 assists per game more than Embiid, while also averaging 0.5 more steals per game.
Defense has always been the argument when people try and say that Embiid is a better player than Jokic, but is there really that huge of a gap between them? Embiid is one of the best defenders in the NBA, but Jokic has easily stood his ground on that end of the floor all season long. His steal numbers are just one reason why. He’s tied for sixth in the NBA in deflections per game, and opposing defenses, though they finish at a high rate at the rim against Jokić and Denver, Jokic helps prevent shots on the perimeter in Denver’s high ball screen defense that impacts defenders in drop coverage like Embiid.
The big difference between the two is where their teams are in the standings as the 76ers currently sit at 24-12 and first place in the Eastern Conference, while the Nuggets are just five games over .500 and sit at seventh in the West. Denver has to make the playoffs for Jokic to win the award and if their play as of late is any indication of what the future has in store than it should be no problem to secure a nice playoff seed.
Finally, one last comparison between Embiid and Jokic and it has to do with durability. Embiid has missed six games this season and has played a total of 990 minutes. That’s 266 less minutes and five less games than Jokic has played this season, which should definitely be a talking point when discussing MVP.
Sometimes a player’s best ability is availability, and Jokic may be the most available player in the NBA. I mean, he ranks second in minutes played this season! Now, this isn't meant to be a bashing of Embiid article; he’s a great player and Jokic respects him a ton. When you compare the two players and what they have done this season, Jokic has simply been the better player statistically.
There are still over 35 games to be played this season, so Jokic is going to have to keep dominating if he wants to bring him his first MVP award. Jokic’s 31 double-doubles and nine triple-doubles through 35 games has made for a great start though, and if the second half of the season produces more of the same, then hopefully that MVP trophy will follow.