2020-21 Kia MVP: Nikola Jokic
41 reasons Nikola Jokic is one of the most unique MVPs ever
Recap the All-NBA season from Nikola Jokic with a mix of facts, stats and highlights.
Corey Guy and Khari Arnold
The most unique and unprecedented fact about Nikola Jokic, at least in terms of his status as a Kia MVP, is where he landed in the Draft.
A total of 40 players went ahead of him, making Jokic the lowest Draft pick in NBA history to win the Most Valuable Player award. In a nod to his Draft spot, we created a compilation of 41 fun facts, interesting stats and incredible plays to help explain the narrative of Jokic’s uniqueness.
1. Discovered in Serbian newspaper. Jokic was playing for a small club in Serbia when European’s most famous basketball manager, Miodrag ‘Misko’ Raznatovi, took notice of him through a box score in a newspaper. Jokic signed with Raznatovi‘s agency and became a professional shortly after.
2. Professional. Jokic was 17 when he became a pro, leaving home to join KK Mega Basket.
3. Late start to rookie season. Jokic is the first MVP winner to spend the year he was drafted playing in another basketball league. The second-round pick continued to play overseas after the Nuggets selected him in the 2014 draft.
4. Live Mas. Name another MVP that was drafted during a Taco Bell commercial.
Nikola Jokic was picked 41st…
during a Taco Bell commercial.
Now, he’s the MVP 🏆pic.twitter.com/NueEkIjQKT
— The Association (@association) June 8, 2021
Jokic, as he recalls, was asleep during the moment.
5. Sodas in Serbia. It’s not common for a future NBA superstar to drink three liters of Coke every day before practice. The carbonated beverage was Jokic’s addiction, which he quit while on his flight to Denver.
6. Injured hand because of autographs. Jokic has been durable throughout his NBA career, but he once missed a week of practice and a couple of games overseas due to inflammation in his right hand — a quirky cost of signing too many autographs for fans.
7. Almost pulled from NBA Draft. Roughly two weeks before the 2014 NBA Draft, Jokic’s name was temporarily removed from the pool of candidates, a decision his agent tweeted about at the time.
Nikola Jokic, 95, withdraw his name from the draft. He will play next year for Mega Vizura!
— Misko4Raznatovic (@MiskoRaznatovic) June 16, 2014
The Nuggets would subsequently promise to select the Serbian prospect at pick 41 if he reentered the Draft pool.
8. Almost skipped the NBA again. While continuing to play in Europe as an NBA Draft pick, Jokic nearly signed with another professional basketball club instead of joining the team that drafted him. “A deal with Barcelona was in place,” Jokic’s agent said. “An unfortunate event happened in his last game before signing the contract, which proved to be a blessing in disguise. He played before Barcelona representatives and the signing of the contract was postponed.”
9. Point center. In the eyes of many, Jokic is the best passing big man the league has ever seen. This season he accounted for over 40% of the field goals his teammates made while he was on the court, which is the highest assist percentage in NBA history from a center.
10. Pick-and-roll. The 6-foot-11 Serbian can score in the interior — he finished second in points scored via post-ups — but he skillfully operates as a playmaker in Denver’s offense. Finding a center who runs effective pick-and-rolls as the ball handler isn’t something you see every night, unless you’re in the Mile High City:
11. Body transformation. It’s uncommon for an MVP to transform his body in the way Jokic did, reportedly shedding around 30 pounds when he first came to the states, then slimming down even more during the NBA stoppage. “He sent me a picture,” Nuggets president Tim Connelly said last June. “No shirt on. He’s got abs. I’ve never seen him have abs before.”
12. Mascot mugger. If only there was footage, but Jokic once ripped the head off a Koala mascot and wore it during a spirited child basketball game. Who knew he had a little Robin Lopez in him.
13. “Somber shuffle.” How many MVPs created their signature move because of an injury? While rehabbing his left ankle, Jokic tried not to put weight on his compromised foot as he got shot ups in practice. He ultimately developed a new unorthodox move that would later torment defenses.
14. Marvelous in mid-range. Those plays also illustrate his mid-range touch, which is among the best in the NBA. Jokic shot 121-for-235 (51.5%) from that distance during his MVP campaign. To put that into context: Only 16 players made at least 100 mid-range shots this season, and only elite point guards Kyrie Irving (54.4%) and Chris Paul (51.6%) connected at a higher clip.
15. Limited-time dunker. Jokic ranked 60th in the NBA in dunks this season with 45, the lowest total for a frontcourt MVP since Dirk Nowitzki (20) in 2006-07.
16. GOAT comparisons. Not to Jordan or LeBron, but Tom Brady. Jokic has been referenced to TB12 by his teammates because of his elite passing and signal calling as the quarterback to Denver’s offense. Brady was a sixth-round NFL draft pick, which is practically equivalent to Jokic being selected at No. 41. Furthermore, neither of them are athletically gifted and received doubts from pre-draft scouts because of their physique. None of that matters when you can deliver touchdowns.
17. Answered the call. Jokic received significant playing time at the start of his career following an injury to Jusuf Nurkic (There it is again: Brady-Bledsoe?). He took advantage of the opportunity by averaging 10 points per game on 51.2% shooting and making the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
18. Rare superstar personality. Jokic is one of the most taciturn MVPs since Tim Duncan. He stays to himself and off social media platforms. Unlike the other MVP finalists, Jokic never voiced his desire to win the award. Duncan loves watching him play, but his quiet disposition is likely admired, too.
19. ‘I want to come off the bench’. How many MVPs have ever volunteered to be a reserve? When Nurkic became healthy and coach Mike Malone wanted to experiment having him and Jokic in the same lineup, Jokic thought the pairing wasn’t effective and asked Malone to let him come off the bench. Eventually, Denver traded Nurkic, who the team had drafted 25 spots ahead of the Joker.
— Jusuf Nurkić (@bosnianbeast27) June 8, 2021
20. Already a Nuggets pioneer. He is not only the first MVP in franchise history, but Jokic is already the team’s all-time leader in career double-doubles and triple-doubles.
21. Leader. Jokic became the first player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists for four straight seasons.
22. Water-polo aficionado. Jokic often pins the ball with one hand — away from defenders — and keeps his upper body straight when making passes. These are two unique techniques that likely stem from his upbringing around water polo, one of the top sports in Serbia.
23. Deflections. For a player not known for his defense, Jokic’s active hands allowed him to rank top five in total deflections (199) during his MVP season. Tracking data for deflections did not become available until 2016, but none of the five prior MVPs reached the feat during their respective award-winning campaigns. He finds ways to touch the ball.
24. Touches. That brings us to this point. Nothing emphasizes Jokic’s “value” to his team more than his gargantuan number of touches on offense. Denver’s system is run through Jokic, who touched the ball 7,269 times this season, over a thousand more than the next player (Russell Westbrook, 6,192).
25. Dancer. He’s in competition with LeBron’s salsa moves, no?
NIKOLA JOKIC IS YOUR 2021 NBA MVP! pic.twitter.com/jN7GLV0Tfs
— Denver Stiffs (@denverstiffs) June 8, 2021
26. Clutch. Jokic finished the season with 4.2 points in clutch situations, which is when the score is within five points in the final five minutes. The last time a center averaged at least four points in clutch time (min. 25 games) was when Hakeem Olajuwon did so in 1996-97.
27. Double-digit dimes. In April, Jokic recorded his 81st career game with at least 10 assists, passing Wilt Chamberlain for the most such games in NBA history among centers.
28. Horsepower. Jokic was once stuck between wanting to race horses or play basketball. In fact, as a pre-teen, he once quit basketball and left a game at halftime for a chariot horse race.
29. Historic. Jokic is one of three players in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for a season, joining Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.
30. Didn’t grow up watching the NBA. It wasn’t until YouTube came into Jokic’s life at age 14 that he discovered NBA talent. He began with watching highlights of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, then eventually drifted to the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon and Magic Johnson.
31. No-look Nikola. Judging by the footwork and pass, those Olajuwon and Magic highlights stuck with him. The average MVP doesn’t make this flashy of a pass when double teamed.
32. Advanced metric king. Jokic ended his MVP campaign as the league leader in player efficiency rating (PER), win shares, offensive win shares, box plus-minus, offensive box plus-minus and value over replacement player (VORP).
33. European star. Jokic is the first player from Serbia to win the league MVP award (much to the delight of fellow Serbian NBA players) and the third European to do so, joining Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nowitzki.
34. Pot of gold. Jokic puts a rainbow arc on his shots like no other, and it often requires the camera to adjust.
35. Young Olympian. As the youngest player on the Serbian National Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Jokic led the team in rebounds and helped secure a silver medal for his country.
36. Elite company. This season Jokic became the first center with at least 50 points and 10 assists in a game since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Jan. 19, 1975.
37. Floaters. Another tool in Jokic’s bag of tricks: Because opponents respect his perimeter shooting (39% this season), Jokic has mastered the pump-fake that allows him to drive in the lane and knock down silky floaters.
He makes close outs an unenviable task.
38. Triple-doubles. Jokic logged his 50th career triple-double this season, joining four-time MVP Wilt Chamberlain as the only centers in history to reach such a milestone. It took Chamberlain 703 games, while Jokic accomplished the feat in 416.
39. Mamba mentality. The last Most Valuable Player to suit up for every contest was Kobe Bryant during the 2007-08 season. Two years ago, Kobe gave Jokic a challenge: Win MVP.
40. Big man back. At a time when the game began to drift away from big men, Jokic became the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the MVP award. “Because of you, the big man is back,” O’Neal told him.
41. This highlight mixtape. Nuff said.