Denver’s Nikola Jokic Wins N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award


Nikola Jokic was an afterthought in 2014. A pudgy center from Serbia, he was a role player for a club in the Adriatic League when the Denver Nuggets took a low-risk gamble in the second round of the N.B.A. draft and selected him with the 41st pick — then promptly stashed him in Europe for another season. There was no guarantee that he would ever appear in an N.B.A. uniform.

On Tuesday, Jokic reached the pinnacle of individual achievement by winning the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Basketball is a global game, and Jokic, 26, who had an exceptional season for the Nuggets, became the second straight foreign-born player to win the award after Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is from Greece, won the last two.

Jokic, whose Nuggets trail the Phoenix Suns 1-0 in a Western Conference semifinals series, set career-bests in the regular season by averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game.

Despite his industrial-size bulk at 6 feet 11 inches tall and 284 pounds, Jokic is a nimble, multidimensional player who can shoot from the outside, bang in the paint and pass with flair. His ability to operate at the high post and one-handedly sling passes to cutting teammates opens the floor and causes mayhem for defenders. During the regular season, he shot 56.6 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from 3-point range.

“He’s what basketball players should look like in the future,” Ognjen Stojakovic, the Nuggets’ director of player development, said in a recent interview. “‘If I need to shoot it, shoot it. If I need to dribble, dribble. If I need to post up, I will post up because I am capable of doing everything.’ That is modern basketball.”

Jokic received 91 of the 101 first-place votes and had 971 total points, with 10 points awarded for each first-place vote. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who is from Cameroon, finished second in the voting with 586 points after averaging 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game for the East-leading 76ers.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who won back-to-back M.V.P. awards in 2015 and 2016, finished third in the voting. Curry, who led the league in scoring and dragged a depleted team to the brink of a playoff berth, had the second-most first-place votes with five. Antetokounmpo finished fourth. Members of the news media vote for the award, but The New York Times does not participate.

The race was, in some ways, a battle of attrition in a disjointed season that was marred by a host of injuries and coronavirus-related absences. LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers was a front-runner to win the award for a fifth time — and for the first time since 2013 — before he sprained his ankle in March and missed 26 games. Embiid was also sidelined for about three weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee.



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