The Denver Nuggets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA at the moment and are led by reigning two-time Most Valuable Player winner Nikola Jokic. Jokic has been crucial to the team’s success and is putting up comparable numbers to each of his two previous MVP seasons. Despite that, he faces an uphill battle to win a third straight MVP.
There are a number of factors at play here, but perhaps the strongest is NBA history itself. Only four players have ever won three straight MVPs, and Jokic winning a third would send a strong message about his place in history. Jokic, even in year number eight, is already a historic player who is putting up unprecedented numbers.
However, voting for him again would put him in the same company as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, and LeBron James, who are widely considered to be among the greatest players ever, have only ever won two in a row.
Jokic will no doubt be an all-time great player. However, given many NBA fans’ seeming ambivalence toward Jokic, they may scoff at the notion of him winning more consecutive MVPs than those greats. In fact, many questioned why he was chosen over other candidates each of the last two seasons.
Jokic has plenty of competition for the award.
With the dramatic increase in talent in the NBA, it’s a fair question. That isn’t to say that Jokic wasn’t deserving, but with players like Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and Joel Embiid all putting up incredible, MVP-caliber numbers this season, it’s getting harder and harder to determine who’s really most valuable. Jokic’s numbers are equally impressive, and while one could argue that bolsters his case, others may take the field over him.
There’s also been a shifting of precedent. The MVP was generally thought of as the best player on the best team, but that rarely ever happened. Instead, it went to the best player on the best team, who also had the best story. Many NBA fans now agree that Steve Nash shouldn’t have won the MVP twice, while Derrick Rose’s MVP has also long been criticized. Still, both players were the best players on great teams and also had great stories.
The Nuggets may finish as the best or second-best team in the NBA, and Jokic’s amazing rise from being a second-round pick to one of the best players in the league is movie-worthy. Despite that, maybe voters have already applied the latter narrative when voting for him the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, Doncic has carried a mediocre roster to relevance while putting up huge numbers. Could voters latch on to his candidacy? What about Embiid, who has been a bridesmaid twice but never the bride? Narrative matters just as much as stats or team records, and that’s what remains a threat to Jokic’s MVP 3-peat.
Overall, historical precedent matters a lot in the MVP race, as does narrative. And, despite another brilliant season, Jokic could come up just short of winning his third MVP award through no fault of his own.