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Is Nikola Jokic a Top 5 player in the NBA?

ESPN’s Player Rankings are out and the MVP is not where you’d think he would be...

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

The NBA season is less than a month from tipoff, but the media festivities are already underway. One of the annual preseason traditions is the player rankings produced by ESPN. Basketball writers look at various factors, stats and unknown assumptions and then choose and rank the Top 100 players in the NBA, resulting in a highly subjective output that serves nothing other than to drive web traffic and create much consternation among fan bases.

So, how did the Nuggets fare in this year’s edition?

ESPN Player Rank 2021

Player Rank
Player Rank
Will Barton 97
Aaron Gordon 69
Michael Porter Jr. 41
Nikola Jokic 6

Will Barton making the list was fun though one could argue he’s a little low, and I don’t really have any complaints about Aaron Gordon’s nice number or Michael Porter Jr.’s placement. At those higher numbers it’s even more of a crapshoot and in general the area they landed seems somewhat appropriate.

Nikola Jokic at six, though? That’s a different story, especially for the reasons given:

Jokic and the Nuggets got blown off the court by the Suns in the second round. Why? They couldn’t get stops when it mattered most. With Jokic on the floor in the postseason last year, the Nuggets logged an embarrassing defensive rating of 123.5. That just won’t get you wins against the best teams out west. Make no mistake, Jokic deserved the MVP last year, but if he wants to climb higher on lists like this, he needs to find ways to become a more complete two-way star.

Jokic had one of the best statistical and most efficient seasons by anyone ever but sure let’s put all the weight into playoff results instead while ignoring the context. Denver was decimated by guard injuries and it turns out putting two-way players and guys pulled off the street against Chris Paul and Devin Booker has a lot to do with the outcome.

ESPN hasn’t released ranks 1-5 quite yet, but by process of elimination that list will be some order of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Steph Curry and Luka Doncic. Giannis, KD and LeBron are mainstays and Steph probably deserves to be there too but I can’t really find a reason that Doncic should be placed higher than Jokic, especially when defense is the reason and Luka is yet to make it out of the first round in his career.

Meanwhile, Jokic and the Nuggets are the only team in the West to be a top three seed in each of the last three seasons and have made it out of the first round in each of those years. Doing so without Jamal Murray last year was more than impressive regardless if they got swept by Phoenix.

ESPN couldn’t even throw the reigning MVP a bone and say something positive about him but instead offered some laughable advice: “become a better two-way player and maybe you’ll crack the top 5!”

Jokic clearly doesn’t care about rankings, and honestly we shouldn’t either since rankings are meaningless, yet here we are. Damn.