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“Because of you, the big man is back.” Shaq shows love to Nikola Jokić after his MVP win

Nikola-Jokic-Shaquille-O'Neal

In an era of guards and wings, the MVP is a center. With a total of 971 points, winning 91 out of 100 first place votes, Nikola Jokić is the 20/21 NBA MVP. Joel Embiid finished second in MVP voting with 586 points, and Steph Curry rounded up the top 3 with 453 points. 

With the rise of the 3 point shot, giving up on offensive rebounds in favor of good transition defense, and the importance of having five shooters on the floor, the dominant seven-footer has slowly been disappearing from the NBA. Players like Draymond Green and Jeff Green are the prototypical 5s in the modern NBA (having the last name Green isn't a prerequisite, but obviously helps) because they need to be able to defend all the way out to the three-point line. After Jokić's win was announced, the last center to win MVP made sure to let him know how impactful this win is.

“First thing, thank you. Because of you, the big man is back. You're the first big man to win the MVP in a long time. I thank you and I appreciate you very much. Coming from Serbia, as a kid, did you ever say to yourself "I will the MVP of the NBA one day.'?”

Shaquille O'Neal, Inside the NBA

Jokić explained he never dreamed of even playing in the NBA and his hopes were that maybe one day he could play in the Euroleague. To be real, no one predicted anything close to this. If you go back a few years, there was a vibrant discussion about who do the Nuggets keep - Jokić or Nurkić? At that time, you couldn't be successful as a center without being a defensive anchor. It took courage and vision from the Nuggets to trust Nikola he could change the paradigm and be the player we've seen the past few years. 

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The same way Steph Curry changed the way we think about shooting, particularly deep threes and the volume of threes that are taken every game, Jokić has proven a big man can be the fulcrum of a winning playoff offense. He isn't just the first big man to win the MVP since 2000. This is only the fourth time in 36 years that happened. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and there's no one better at visualizing the NBA than Kirk Goldsberry.

mvps-by-position

This isn't the only historical feat Nikola achieved with this award. He is the first 2nd round pick to win MVP in 51 years. The last guy to do that was Willis Reed in '69/'70. This win put Jokić on a path to break another NBA record. By virtue of winning MVP, Nikola is now eligible to sign a super-max contract in either the 2022 or 2023 offseason. 

Knowing his character, all of this won't mean much to Jokić if his team doesn't win the Larry O'Brien trophy at the end of the season. Jokić has always been a team-first guy, and one of his greatest challenges was to be more selfish at times. But even if they don't win the title, he should take a moment to enjoy this individual success. He's more than earned it.

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