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Player Grades: Nikola Jokic and his path to league MVP

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Evaluating the 2020-21 season of the best player in the NBA, Nikola Jokic.

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets - Game Three Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

It was a season to remember for Denver Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic as he not only became the first player in franchise history to win the leagues most valuable player award, but he also became the lowest draft pick in league history (41) to win MVP. Jokic received 91 first place votes and won in a landslide — 971 to 586 — over Joel Embiid who finished in second place. Jokic became the first Serbian born player to win MVP and the third player from Europe to win alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

MVP was not the only award Jokic was honored for throughout the season as he also was named to his third consecutive all-star team. As if that wasn't enough, Jokic was named Western Conference Player of the Month twice and Player of the Week three times.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Availability was Jokic’s greatest ability this season in a year that saw a ton off injuries happen throughout the NBA. Jokic found a way to play in all 72 regular season games averaging career-highs in points (26.4), rebounds (10.8), and assists (8.3) per game.

Jokic then went on to put up some insane numbers in the postseason averaging 29.8 points, 11.6 rebounds, and an even five assists per game. Not only did he score the ball with ease, but he did it efficiently shooting 50 percent from the field and 37 percent from three.

Nikola Jokic 2020-21 per game stats

A lot of the stats were mentioned above, but just to bring to light how awesome they were we’ll go over them again: Jokic averaged a career-high 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game while playing in all 72 of the Nuggets regular season games. Jokic then went on to play in all 10 of the Nuggets playoff games averaging 29.8 points, 11.6 rebounds, and five assists per game. Jokic shot a career-high 56 percent from the field in the regular season along with shooting an insane 60 percent on 2-point field goals all while averaging a career-high 34.6 minutes per game.

What Happened

Even as the Nuggets struggled to begin the season, Jokic did just the opposite as he looked better than ever over the first month of the NBA season. That pushed Nuggets fans to head to their local sportbooks and place bets on Jokic to win MVP at some pretty favorable odds. It all felt like a pipe dream at the time because it just felt like there was no way a center from the Nuggets could win MVP over some of the other big names that were also gunning for the award.

New Orleans Pelicans v Denver Nuggets Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images

Well, the injury bug started to bite a lot of those players like Embiid, Steph Curry, and James Harden, which opened the door wide open for Jokic to cease his opportunity. Jokic did just that as he got even stronger as the season went on, which allowed him to run away with MVP when it was all said and done.

Best Moment — 47 point, double overtime victory against Memphis

This was a tough choice because Jokic had an MVP season, which meant there was roughly a million awesome highlights to choose from. The 50-point game against Sacramento was a close second place, but his 47-point game against the Memphis Grizzlies was a performance unlike any other.

It was an electric game from start to finish that saw the Nuggets pull off a double-overtime victory behind the play of Jokic and Will Barton III. Jokic went for 47 points on an extremely efficient 20-of-31 shooting from the field, 2-of-6 from three with one of those triples coming in the final minute of double-OT to secure the victory for Denver.

Jokic also hauled in 15 rebounds and dished out eight assists as he fell just shy of another triple-double. The craziest thing about that game was just how back and fourth it was as Ja Morant did everything he could to help the Grizzlies secure a win with 36 points.

It was all for not though as Jokic led the Nuggets to yet another improbable win, which became a theme throughout the year. When the Nuggets need a bucket in the clutch, Jokic was there to answer the call and this game was a prime example of that.

Player Grade — A+

It’s impossible to not give Jokic a perfect score after the season he put together. Not only was he the best player in the NBA consistently throughout the season, but it was easily the best season any player has put together in Nuggets franchise history. As injuries continued to mount up for the Nuggets one thing remained the same and it’s that you could count on #15 being in the lineup each and every night.

When the Nuggets were on the outside looking in on the playoffs after the first couple months of the season, Jokic was there to push them back up the top of the standings. Then, even with injuries still at an all-time high for the Nuggets, Jokic led Denver to a first round series win over a pretty solid — at least offensively — Portland Trail Blazers squad.

The season did not end how any of us wanted it too with the Nuggets being swept by Phoenix and Jokic being ejected in Game 4, but that doesn't take away from all the incredible things he did in the games leading up to that. It truly was a season to remember by Jokic and hopefully he can build on it next season because how cool would it be to see him repeat as league MVP.

Offseason Outlook

Jokic declined to play with his home country of Serbia in the Olympics, which is a welcomed sight for Nuggets fans because it means he will finally get the rest he deserves this offseason. With the Nuggets making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals in the bubble it really condensed their offseason, especially for a player like Jokic that played in every single game and averaged a career-high in minutes this season.

Although it’s tough for all the Serbian fans that wanted to see Jokic dominate the Olympics and hopefully lead them to a gold medal, it’s really going to help his chances of putting together another MVP type season next year. This offseason is even a little shorter than normal, so any extra rest Jokic can get is huge going into a year where he’s going to have to carry a ton of the load again with Jamal Murray likely to miss some time to begin the year.