Nikola Jokic Haters Don’t Have a Leg to Stand On

Jokic is a clear favorite to win his third consecutive NBA MVP award, and people are pissed about it. They point to things like him being drafted second-to-last in the All Star Game (thus showing that he’s not truly the best player in the league or perhaps even top-5), and the lack of postseason success over the past two years.

JJ Redick had some great things to say about all the people trying to discredit the Joker:

Jokic is already one of just 13 players in NBA history dating back to 1956 (when they first handed out a regular season MVP award) to win two straight MVPs:

  1. Nikola Jokic (2021-2022)
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019-2020)
  3. Steph Curry (2015-2016)
  4. LeBron James (2009-2010, 2012-2013)
  5. Steve Nash (2005-2006)
  6. Tim Duncan (2002-2003)
  7. Michael Jordan (1991-1992)
  8. Magic Johnson (1989-1990)
  9. Larry Bird (1984-1986)*
  10. Moses Malone (1982-1983)
  11. Kareem Abdul Jabbar (1971-1972, 1976-1977)
  12. Wilt Chamberlain (1966-1968)*
  13. Bill Russell (1961-1963)*

And now he will likely become just the fourth player in league history to win three straight MVPs, something which only Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell have ever done, and something which hasn’t been done since 1986.

People feel, somewhat justifiably I might add, that Jokic simply should not be added to that short list of names, and the main reason they cite is that he will possibly be the only one of those four players to not win a Championship in the midst of his MVP three-peat. Bill Russell won his three straight MVPs when the Celtics were in the middle of an 8-peat (1959-1966), Wilt led the 76ers to the Championship in 1967, and Larry Bird led the Celtics to Championships in 1984 and 1986. Bird’s Celtics made the Finals all three years he won MVP, too, losing in 6 games to the Lakers in 1985.

Jokic is already 0-2 trying to turn his regular season MVP awards into postseason success, and very few–if any–in the basketball community are bullish on the Nuggets’ chances to win the whole thing this year despite the fact that they are comfortably the #1 seed in the Western Conference (up 5.5 games on Memphis with 20 games to play).

Last year the Nuggets lost in the first round, the year before they were swept in round 2 by the Suns.

The problem is that MVP is a regular season award. It’s voted on before the playoffs even begin. And so until the rules change, it doesn’t matter what happens in the postseason–not this year, not last year, not the year before.

Also, MVP does not mean “best player in the league.” It’s about who had the best season.

But the fact that people are holding the Nuggets’ lack of postseason success against Jokic is the real problem here. Yes, it’s true that they lost in 5 to the Warriors last year. But the Nuggets were also without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Jokic was out there with Aaron Gordon, Will Barton and Monte Morris trying to beat Steph, Klay, Draymond and Wiggins. That ain’t happening.

In that series against Golden State last year, Jokic averaged 31ppg, 13rpg, 6apg on 64% true shooting. He actually did have a positive net rating over those 5 games, 119 ORtg and 117 DRtg for a net rating of +2. He was the only Nuggets player that got major minutes in the series to have a positive net rating. He led his team in points, rebounds, assists and steals in the series, and the next-best scorer on the Nuggets was Monte Morris who averaged 14ppg. The Warriors, on the other hand, had 3 players average 20+.

What more was Nikola Jokic supposed to do in that series? I’d really like to know. Would any other player in the league have been able to lead their team to victory against Golden State in the playoffs last year with a supporting cast of Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris and Will Barton? No chance.

This also points to a major problem in the basketball community, in terms of just how broken the discourse is: we blame players for team failures far too often. This is, of course, an off-shoot of the “RINGZZZZ” obsession, which itself comes from the toxic and disingenuous GOAT “debate,” where we purposely omit context, exculpatory evidence and other relevant details in order to blatantly peddle agendas based on which players we are already predisposed to liking (or hating.)

In other words, because LeBron MUST be slandered for losing in the Finals, even though most of the time it wasn’t his fault at all, this “No excuses! If you don’t win a Championship you’re trash!” mentality really took root and ruined a lot of the basketball discourse.

I also think the fact that Jokic’s game doesn’t look like a true “hooper” gets held against him, too. There is a large contingent of the basketball community–the “Tween Hesi Splash” merchants, “Eye Test” merchants, or “Bag Twitter”–who basically think there’s only one acceptable way to play basketball, and that is, more or less, exactly like either Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving, Jamal Crawford or Kevin Durant. If you are not dribbling the ball between your legs a bunch of times and then pulling up to shoot fadeaway jumpers, then you simply are not a Real Hooper™, you have no Bag™, and you are unskilled, etc.

Personally, I think this obsession with “Bags” and having an aesthetically pleasing game is yet another poisoned fruit to fall from the Jordan Industrial Complex’s tree, in which we measure all players up against Michael Jordan not only in terms of (team) accomplishments and accolades, but we also expect them to look like Michael Jordan as well–to have the same look to their game as him. If you have a different style of play than Mike, then you aren’t a real basketball player.

LeBron James gets dismissed by these people as just a freak athlete with little to no actual skill–they think all he does is just bully his way to the rim and has little to no #Bag. It’s even worse with Giannis, who #BagTwitter also claims has no skill.

These people look at Jokic and see an unathletic white guy with a goofy form just think he’s a stat-padder because from looking at him, there’s no way he can be legitimately good. There’s just no way.

But what they miss is that it doesn’t matter how it looks, it matters if it works. Nikola Jokic is one of the most efficient producers in NBA history, flat out. The dude is absolutely incredible. He’s averaging a triple double as a center. That is just unheard of. His true shooting percentage this year is 70.4%. That is efficiency that no other superstar in league history has ever approached.

People deride the advanced stats numbers that show Jokic as the best player in the league, but the advanced stats numbers are all based off of actual things he does on a basketball court: score, rebound,

Now, in the sweep against Phoenix in 2021, he was pretty good, but not elite. And the Nuggets did have MPJ in that series, although they were missing Jamal Murray. You can knock Jokic a little bit for that series against the Suns in 2021, but he still played well. Plus Denver went up against a really good team that made it to the Finals. There’s no way you can say that series somehow showed us that Jokic is a fraud or something.

A lot of the hate for Jokic is centered on the fact that he’s “deprived” Joel Embiid of at least one MVP trophy, probably two after this year, and that Embiid is “better” than Jokic so it’s B.S. that Jokic is getting the MVP over Embiid.

But is Embiid actually better than Jokic? Forget about the “eye test.” Yes, Embiid is more athletic than Jokic, but that doesn’t mean he’s a better basketball player than Jokic. Statistically, Jokic clears Embiid this year in just about every category other than points per game:

Embiid is averaging about 8 more points per game than Jokic, but he’s also getting to the free throw line 5.5 more times per game than Jokic is. Embiid has one of the most favorable whistles in the league, Jokic really doesn’t even though his arms look like this pretty much all the time:

In terms of actual scoring efficiency, Jokic has him cleared: Jokic has made 509 field goals this year to Embiid’s 525, but Jokic has done it on 804 field goal attempts to Embiid’s 987. That’s way higher efficiency for Joker.

And then, again, when we look at the “advanced” stats, Jokic has him beat in everything: PER, Win shares, BPM, VORP–plus Joker’s usage rate is way lower than Embiid’s, at only 27.3% vs. Embiid’s 37.2%. 37.2% is a really high usage rate.

Jokic has a net rating of +26 compared to Embiid’s +13. That’s not just some silly made up “analytic” stat, that’s simply how many points better these players’ respective teams are than opponents per 100 possessions.

Look, I like Joel Embiid, I think he’s an awesome player, and I do think he’s a worthy candidate for MVP. He’s having an incredible season and I wouldn’t be mad at all if somehow the voters gave the award to him. But he is not having a better season than Jokic, no matter what the “Eye Test” tells you.

It doesn’t really matter how phyiscally impressive a guy is, or how aethstically pleasing his game is compared to another play. Embiid is more physically impressive than Jokic, but it’s the production that matters. Or, I should say, the production accompanied with winning.

And Jokic’s production is translating to winning. Now that the Nuggets finally have Murray and MPJ healthy, they’re first in the West. Wow, imagine that: Jokic’s team is doing great now that his best teammates are finally healthy.

A lot of the hate for Jokic stems from the fact that he’s winning these MVPs without them translating to postseason success, as well as from the fact that he doesn’t look like the most dominant player in the league.

But the lack of postseason success these past two years wasn’t his fault, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the aesthetics of his game. The guy produces at an unbelievable level, and his efficiency is something we’ve really never seen before, especially out of a center.

I really do hope Denver goes on a strong postseason run this year now that Murray and MPJ are finally both healthy, because Jokic really deserves it. He deserves to actually have a chance in the playoffs, because he’s truly one of the very best players in the league.

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