By Terrance Turner
May 9, 2022
Denver Nuggets center Nicola Jokic has been named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the second straight year, according to ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. A formal announcement is expected later this week.
Jokic becomes the second straight player to win back-to-back MVP awards, following Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (who won the award for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons). Antetokounmpo was in the running this year, along with Philadelphia 76ers star center Joel Embiid. But Jokic ultimately prevailed, winning his second consecutive MVP.
Jokic triumphed last year after claiming 91 out of 101 first-place votes for 2021. He played all 72 regular-season games (one of only 11 players to do so amid the COVID-19 pandemic) and finished the season with career-best averages in points (24.4), rebounds (10.8), and assists (with 8.3) per game. According to ESPN, Jokic became the first center to win the MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.
Jokic improved on multiple levels this season. According to CBS Sports, Jokic managed to improve upon his per-game averages in every major statistical category during the regular season. He finished with career highs in points (27), rebounds (13.8), and steals (1.5) per game. He shot 58.3% from the field (another career high) and made a total of 379 free throws and 97 three-pointers. He also finished with a league-best 19 triple-doubles. (He now has a total of 76, more than any other center besides Wilt Chamberlain.) Per ESPN, Jokic is the first player in NBA history with 2000 points, 1000 rebounds, and 500 assists, all in one season.
That accomplishment came after a gritty game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Early in the game, Jokic took an accidental elbow to the forehead from Jaren Jackson, Jr. and was covered in blood. He had to retreat to the bench twice to stop the bleeding. But instead of leaving the court, Jokic donned a red headband for the remainder of the game, scored 35 points and helped Denver clinch a playoff berth.
“The MVP isn’t even a competition,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone declared afterward. “There’s other great players. I’m not saying they’re not great players. But what Nikola Jokic has done this year — with this team, everything we’ve had to go through — is just incredible.”
Jokic did it all without teammates Jamal Murray (who missed the season with a torn ACL) and Michael Porter, Jr. (who had a back injury). He powered the Nuggets to a 48-34 record and to the playoffs, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
After being eliminated from the playoffs — he averaged 31 points and 13.2 rebounds in the first-round series — Jokic was asked how he might celebrate, should he win MVP. “Probably with some music, beer, friends around, family,” he told ESPN. “Like how you’re supposed to do, probably.”
“But if I don’t get it, I’m not going to die. I’m just going to keep playing, keep trying to play the right way, like I did my whole life.”
Jokic is the only member of the Denver Nuggets to ever be named MVP. He is also the first player taken in the second round of the NBA Draft to win. (Born in Serbia, Jokic was drafted by the Nuggets in 2014, after playing for years for his native team Mega Basket.)
This honor only augments what could be a significant offseason for Jokic. He is eligible for a “supermax” extension that could guarantee him nearly $254 million over five seasons starting with 2023-24. He’ll make $32.4 million next season. (As SBNation explains, a “supermax” is a special provision that allows teams with a franchise player to pay him a larger sum of money than any other team can offer. The supermax involves 35% of the salary cap in the first season of the contract with 8% increases in each subsequent year.)
“There’s nothing more important” than keeping Jokic, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly recently said. And Jokic appears open to staying in Denver. He’s already verbally committed to the supermax deal. “If offer’s on the table, of course, I’m gonna accept it because I really like the organization,” Jokić said. “I think we have something that we are building.”