We're at the halfway point of the 2021/22 NBA season, and the MVP race is heating up. The likes of Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kevin Durant top most peoples' ballots -- the last two headline the latest KIA MVP Ladder -- with little to no mention of Nikola Jokic going back to back. According to Mike Malone, very few other reigning MVPs have ever been treated like this.
"One of the more disrespected reigning MVPs"
"I think he is one of the more disrespected reigning MVPs that I can think of in terms of the attention,"Malone said going into Tuesday's game against the Clippers. "But if you open up the dictionary, look up the word consistency, there's going to be a picture of Nikola there."
Yesterday's 140-108 win over the Trail Blazers epitomized Jokic's best argument for another MVP award, adding yet another all-around, high-efficiency outing to his game column this season. The 26-year-old put up 20 points on 8-for-10 from the field, along with 8 rebounds, and 7 assists in a cut-short performance due to a blowout.
With the Nuggets sitting as the sixth seed after picking up their 21st win of the season against Portland, Jokic is averaging 25.5 points, career-high 14 rebounds, and 7 assists on 56.6% from the field, while leading the NBA in PER with 32.64 -- the highest single-season Player Efficiency Rating of all time. Last season when he won his first MVP, Joker averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and 56.6% shooting.
"I mean, Nikola Jokic is not sexy," Malone said. "He's just not. There is nothing about Nikola ... his wife might disagree. But if you are a true student of the game, then you appreciate him at the level that he should be appreciated at. If you appreciate passing, IQ, reading the game, just what he does every night from a scoring, rebounding, playmaking standpoint, and finally I am starting to hear that he is getting a little more credit as a defender, and it is well deserved."
Charles Barkley's pushback against Malone's comments
This season, in particular, the level of appreciation for Jokic should be at an all-time high -- he has kept the Nuggets in the playoff hunt despite Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. combining for nine games. But instead of giving him credit for keeping his team relevant, people are pointing to a lack of winning as an argument against Nikola's MVP case. Charles Barkley is the latest to do it.
"They're not playing that good. Nobody walks around saying I'm No.6."
Charles Barkley, Inside The NBA
Barkley's logic is a continuation of misunderstanding the MVP award, and it's based on overvaluing the exact number of wins without taking into account the context of those wins. People favor a team’s win-total over everything else, no matter the circumstances. The only way to compensate for coming short of a required winning threshold is by putting up historical numbers — like when Russell Westbrook won the ’17 MVP for averaging a triple-double.
People – voters, in particular – disregard the expectations for the team going into the season. Even in the case of a team overachieving — players with a higher number in their team’s winning column get the edge. As a result, most of the time, the MVP is given to the best player on the best team. And most of the time, that’s fine. But let’s not punish guys whose team’s winning ceiling to start with is lower than those with an elite talent around them.
Forty games into the season, it's safe to say Jokic falls into that category. The fact he's won the award last season only makes his case for going back-to-back even harder. But that should by no means eliminate him from the discussion. What Joker has done so far has been nothing short of impressive. Let's not punish him for it.