Nikola Jokic: Early Season MVP

Nikola Jokic has taken his game to the next level this season averaging a triple double of 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10 assists. Jokic is shooting 57.3% from the field and 35.4% from three point range. Jokic also has a league high PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 31.89 and is second in the league in assists at 10 per game.

James Harden is first in assists, with 10.9 per game. If Jokic can keep up these ridiculous passing numbers he could become the second center in league history to lead the league in assists. Wilt Chamberlain lead the league in assists with 8.56 per game during the 1967-68 season. Jokic is putting up MVP type numbers and defenses have yet to figure out a way to slow him down.

Jokic is leading the league in field goals made with 133 two-point field goals made with 116, total assists with 140, Win Shares with 3.2, Box Plus/Minus at 11.7 and Value Over Replacement Player at 1.7. What these counting stats and advanced stats show is that Jokic is the early season favorite for MVP.

The Denver Nuggets run most of their offense through Jokic and it has resulted in some great wins for the team. The Nuggets have gotten off to an uneven start, with a 7-7 record. Part of their early season struggles are due to only having Michael Porter Jr. play in 4 games due to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols.

Porter Jr. should return soon and give the Nuggets another option as he continues to blossom into a three level scorer and possible future All Star. Jamal Murray has also gotten off to an inconsistent start, averaging 19.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists. In the 13 games Murray has played in thus far he has scored under 15 points 5 times and over 30 only twice. If Murray can find his scoring punch more often, there will be less pressure on Jokic to do everything for the team to win.

Jokic has all the tricks of the trade to draw fouls in the post has has a deft touch around the basket to make floaters, midrange jumpers and can even extend out to the three point line. With Jokic seeing everything on the court doubling him is a scary proposition for the defense since he can hit cutters for backdoor layups or find open three point shooters. The return of Will Barton from injury has also given the Nuggets another versatile scorer, but the true potential of this team won’t be fully realized until Porter Jr. and Murray are both averaging about 20 points and staying in their starting lineup.

Facundo Campazzo has had some decent moments, but has yet to fully adjust to the NBA game after being one of the best point guards in the EuroLeague with Real Madrid. The addition of JaMychal Green (11.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) has helped offset the loss of Jerami Grant who is leading the Detroit Pistons with 25.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

The Nuggets are coming off a terrific postseason where they reached the Western Conference Finals, but couldn’t get past the Lakers. Jokic and Murray proved to be a lethal duo that could beat teams because of their great two man game which gives the Nuggets an identity and a way to play down the stretch of close games.

Jokic will need to continue to provide consistent production with his scoring, rebounding and passing for the Nuggets to have similar success come the postseason. Because of Jokic’s well rounded game and ability to not get sped up and play at his own pace he is reading the defense and exploiting the spaces that opposing teams leave open for him.

Jokic is my pick for MVP thus far and could become the first center to average a triple double and lead the league in assists. Jokic is making a case as the best big man in the game and the next step in his improvement is becoming a better rim protector and defensive player. The Nuggets will go as far as Jokic can take them and he remains the most versatile player in the game capable of getting 20 rebounds or 20 assists in a game.                      

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