2020-21 Kia MVP: Nikola Jokic

Beyond the box score: 4 standout stats from Jokic's MVP season

Nikola Jokic's career season, along with his availability, helped him stand out from the rest of the field.

Nikola Jokic finished third in total assists (599) as he cemented his reputation as the best passing big man in the NBA.

Nikola Jokic made plenty of history when he was named the 2020-21 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player on Tuesday night. He became the lowest-drafted player (41st pick in 2014) to win MVP honors; he became the first Denver Nugget and first Serbian born player to win the award; and he’s the first center to win MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.

Let’s take a closer look at Jokic’s MVP season with four stats that helped him stand out from the rest of the field.

1. 72 Games Played

In addition to his scoring (26.4 ppg), rebounding (10.8 rpg) and playmaking (8.3 apg) abilities — all career-highs — Jokic also showcased a key ability during the compressed and shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic: availability. He was one of only 11 players (out of 540 that suited up in an NBA game this season) to play in all 72 games. Jokic becomes the first MVP winner since Kobe Bryant in 2008 to play in every game of a season.

Jokic finished third in total minutes played (2,488) behind New York’s Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. With Jokic serving as the fulcrum of Denver’s offense (we’ll expand on that shortly) having him in the lineup night in and night out was a huge benefit for coach Michael Malone and the Nuggets — especially after the team lost Jamal Murray to a torn ACL in mid-April.

2. 599 Assists

Jokic finished third in the NBA in total assists (599) and sixth in assists per game (career-high 8.3) as he cemented his reputation as the best passing big man in the game today — and arguably ever. Jokic joins Wilt Chamberlain as the only two players 6-foot-10 or taller to average at least seven assists per game — Jokic has now done it three times to Wilt’s two.

Most assists by a center, NBA history

• Wilt Chamberlain: 8.6 (1967-68)
• Nikola Jokic: 8.3 (2020-21)
• Wilt Chamberlain: 7.8 (1966-67)
• Nikola Jokic: 7.3 (2018-19)
• Nikola Jokic: 7.0 (2019-20)

Whether its finding a cutter beating a defender back door, throwing a cross-court skip pass for a corner three, or launching a touchdown pass from the back court to a streaking teammates leaking out on the fast break, Jokic can make every pass in the book. Over the course of 72 games, Jokic spread the assists to 17 different teammates; his most frequent connections were with Michael Porter Jr. (136 assists from Jokic, 52.7% shooting on Jokic passes), Jamal Murray (93 assists, 49.9% shooting), Will Barton (72 assists, 47.3% shooting) and Paul Millsap (54 assists, 57.1% shooting).

Overall, Jokic’s teammates shot 60.14% on his 996 potential assists this season, which is a testament to them making the shots (part of the reason Jokic emphasized the MVP being a team honor during his acceptance speech to his teammates), but it is also credit to Jokic for delivering passes so accurate that it increases their probability to making the shot.

Best of Jokic from MVP season

Nikola Jokic was the only player in the NBA to rank among the top 5 in total points, rebounds and assists.

3. 7,269 Touches

No player touched the basketball more this season than Nikola Jokic — and it wasn’t even close. Jokic’s 7,269 touches were 1,077 more than any other player. To put that in context, that is nearly the same difference between second-ranked Russell Westbrook (6,192) and 10th ranked Stephen Curry (5,123). Jokic’s 101 touches per game, were 3.6 more than second-ranked Domantas Sabonis (97.4).

Nearly every offensive possession for the Nuggets included the ball going through Jokic’s hands at some point, most often at the high post. But it didn’t stay in his hands for long as he averaged just 2.75 seconds per touch and his 333 total minutes of possession ranked 17th in the league — well behind league-leader Luka Doncic (589). He ranked 19th in usage rate (29.3%) — the lowest mark for an MVP since Steve Nash in 2005-06 (54th). Since Nash’s season, only Dirk Nowitzki (15th in 2006-07) and Stephen Curry (12th in 2014-15) won MVP honors with a usage rate lower than top five.

These numbers showcase his primary instinct as a playmaker rather than a scorer. While he put up a career-best 26.4 points per game, he rarely hunted his own shots. If the best play was to call his own number, he’d shoot; but if he could make an even better play for a teammate, the pass would be delivered.

The Nuggets finished with the sixth-most efficient offense in the league, scoring 116.3 points per 100 possessions. With Jokic on the court, that offensive rating jumped to 120.2, which ranked third among the 265 players that played at least 2,000 possessions this season. Of the 152 players that attempted at least 500 shots this season, Jokic ranked 12th in true shooting percentage as he posted a career-best 64.7%.

4. 3,388 Points Scored or Created

Jokic finished the 2020-21 campaign ranked in the top five in total points, rebounds and assists, and was top 12 in averages in all three of those categories.

Stat Total (Rank) Average (Rank)
Points 1,898 (3rd) 26.4 (12th)
Rebounds 780 (5th) 10.8 (9th)
Assists 599 (3rd) 8.3 (6th)
Steals 95 (11th) 1.3 (22nd)
Blocks 48 (T-55th) 0.7 (T-56th)

He finished the season with 1,898 points he scored himself and another 1,490 he created with his assists. That 3,388 total points scored or created ranked second in the league — just 14 points shy of Washington’s Russell Westbrook (3,402).

The connection with Westbrook runs deeper as Jokic joined Westbrook and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for a season. Westbrook has accomplished the feat twice, while Robertson has done so three times. With Jokic still just 26 years old, expect him to challenge those numbers for years to come.