2022-23 Kia Season Preview

Can Nikola Jokic become the 4th player to win 3 straight MVPs?

Nikola Jokic is the back-to-back Kia MVP winner. What are his chances for winning the award for the third time in a row?

Wilt Chamberlain.

Bill Russell.

Larry Bird.

Nikola Jokic?

Since the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award debuted in the 1955-56 season, there have been 14 instances (by 12 individuals) in which a player has won the award in back-to-back seasons. However, only three have successfully achieved the MVP three-peat:

  • Bill Russell: 1960-63
  • Wilt Chamberlain: 1965-68
  • Larry Bird: 1983-86

Of the 12 players that have won consecutive MVP awards, Jokic is the only one not featured on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. At the time of the voting, Jokic had one MVP and just six seasons of play on his resume. If that vote was held again today, it would be tough to keep Jokic off that list considering the company he’s now in as a back-to-back MVP winner.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo: 2018-20
  • Stephen Curry: 2014-16
  • LeBron James: 2011-13
  • LeBron James: 2008-10
  • Steve Nash: 2004-06
  • Tim Duncan: 2001-03
  • Michael Jordan: 1990-92
  • Magic Johnson: 1988-90
  • Moses Malone: 1981-83
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1975-77
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 1970-72

So, what kept the likes of Johnson, Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, James and Curry from joining the trio of three-peat MVPs? And what are the chances that Jokic can become the first player in nearly four decades to achieve the feat?

Let’s take a look at this year’s NBA App GM Survey to get a gauge of what the top decision-makers in the league think of Jokic’s three-peat chances.

Who will win the 2022-23 Kia MVP?

  1. Luka Doncic, Dallas – 48%
  2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – 34%
  3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia – 14%
  4. Stephen Curry, Golden State – 3%

The reigning two-time MVP received no votes from the league’s general managers when it came to predicting this year’s MVP winner. And they’re not alone. Whether its debate shows, podcasts or random discussions between NBA fanatics ahead of the season, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that Jokic won’t win three in a row. It’s as if that is somehow not allowed.

“There’s no way they’re going to give it to him three times in a row” is a common phrase heard in these discussions. The “they” being referred to is the 100-member media panel that votes for the end-of-season awards each season. From the debut of the MVP in the 1955-56 season through the 1979-80 season, the MVP award was voted on by the players. It’s noteworthy that the MVP three-peats by both Russell and Chamberlain came during the player vote era. Bird is the only player to ever get three consecutive MVP wins during the media-vote era, which began in the 1980-81 season.

Relive some of the best plays and moments from back-to-back Kia MVP winner Nikola Jokic's 2021-22 season.

A look at historic MVP three-peat bids

Two common arguments against a player winning the league’s top individual award is “voter fatigue” and “narrative.”  The extent to which those arguments hold weight is debatable and will never truly be measurable, but the intrigue of a new star rising up to challenge and dethrone the reigning back-to-back MVP is undeniable.

In the 2010-11 season, Derrick Rose became the youngest player in NBA history to win MVP after his breakout season. His win denied LeBron of becoming the fourth three-peat MVP. Considering LeBron would win the MVP in the two seasons immediately following Rose’s win, he had a chance at a never-before-seen five-peat. Rose’s MVP season also came in LeBron’s first season in Miami after joining the Heat as a free agent. Did the narrative of LeBron building a Big Three in South Beach cost him some MVP votes?

Perhaps the biggest argument against a player winning three consecutive MVPs is the fact that winning three MVPs over the course of an entire career is nearly impossible. Only eight players in NBA history have won at least three MVPs: Abdul-Jabbar (an NBA-record six MVPs); Russell and Jordan (five each); Chamberlain and James (four each) and Malone, Bird and Johnson (three each).

Those players account for nearly half (33) of the 67 total league MVPs in NBA history. Keep in mind, also, that only 35 players in NBA history have won the MVP.

How can Jokic make it 3 in a row?

So, what would it take for Jokic to defy the odds and emerge at the top of the race to the MVP at the end of this upcoming season? Let’s start by looking at what he accomplished in each of his first two MVP seasons.

Jokic’s statistics improved nearly across the board from his first MVP season to his second as only his assists per game, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage dropped. He led the league in win shares both seasons and, in his second MVP season, he ranked in the top 12 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentage.

Can Jokic win a third MVP?

Can Nikola Jokic have another season worthy of a 3rd MVP?

What kind of numbers would Jokic have to post to garner enough MVP votes this season? He’s already the only player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in a single season. And how will Jokic’s stats be affected by the return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to the Nuggets’ lineup after missing all (Murray) or most (Porter) of last season due to injury? If Jokic’s scoring falls out of the top 10, will that be enough for votes to go toward other contenders?

We’ll have to wait until next May to find the answer to those questions. But as the season is set to tip off, what can we learn from the three players that have completed the MVP three-peat to give us some insight into how it can be done?

Bill Russell

Russell was the first player to win three consecutive MVPs as his streak of individual honors came in the middle of Boston’s unmatched run of eight consecutive NBA championships and 11 titles in a 13-season span.

Bill Russell was an 11-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star, but his impact went far beyond the basketball court as he fought for civil rights and social justice.

While he did not put up the gaudy offensive stats of other MVP candidates — including his primary rival in Chamberlain — Russell’s defensive prowess and overall team success pushed him to earn his three straight MVPs. During Russell’s MVP three-peat, Boston finished first in the regular season standings each season and posted a combined 175-64 (.732) record. In 143 career head-to-head matchups in the regular season and playoffs combined, Russell bested Chamberlain 86-57 for a win percentage just above 60%.

Consider the 1961-62 season in Russell’s MVP chase. That season, Oscar Robertson became the first player in league history to average a triple-double (30.8 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game, 11.4 assists per game) and Wilt Chamberlain set the all-time scoring record (50.4 ppg, 25.6 rpg). Yet, it was Russell that finished atop the MVP ballot.

Wilt Chamberlain

Similar to Russell’s run earlier in the decade, Chamberlain’s MVP three-peat was accompanied by team success as the Philadelphia 76ers finished with the best record in the league in each of his MVP seasons. Over that three-season span, the Sixers posted a combined 185-58 (.761) record. The 1966-67 team finished 68-13, which, at the time, was the best single-season record ever (it is the fifth-best finish in NBA history now).

Wilt Chamberlain, an unstoppable player in the paint, won 4 MVP awards, was named to 13 All-Star teams and won the NBA title twice during his Hall of Fame career.

Chamberlain’s first MVP coincided with his seventh consecutive scoring title, but that also happened to be a career-low in scoring for Chamberlain at the time as he continued to expand his game beyond being a dominant scorer and rebounder.

His second MVP came with near matching averages in points (24.1) and rebounds (24.2), while leading the league in shooting percentage (.683) and finished third in assists (7.8). His third MVP saw Chamberlain lead the NBA in assists (702, official leaders were kept by totals until the 1969-70 season), while still maintaining his eye-popping scoring and rebounding averages (24.3 ppg, 23.8 rpg). Chamberlain became the first player in league history to win both a scoring title and an assist title in his career, something that has been done by just six other players since.

Larry Bird

While Russell and Chamberlain won their MVPs in a smaller league — ranging from eight teams in Russell’s first MVP season to 12 teams in Chamberlain’s final MVP season — the NBA had grown to 23 times when Bird pulled off his own MVP three-peat. (Back then, the Sacramento Kings were still in Kansas City, the Washington Wizards were called the Washington Bullets and the LA Clippers were in San Diego.)

Larry Bird was 1 of the NBA's most clutch players ever, amassing 3 MVPs while leading the Celtics to 5 Finals and 3 titles in the 1980s.

If there is one common thread between this trio of MVPs, it’s that individual honors were tied closely with team success. Just as Russell’s Celtics led the NBA in each of his MVP seasons and Chamberlain’s Sixers did likewise in his, Bird’s Celtics posted the NBA’s best record in every season in which he was MVP.

During that run, Boston posted a ridiculous 192-54 (.780) record and averaged 64 wins per season. In his first MVP season, Bird averaged 24.2 ppg (7th in league), 10.1 rpg (9th), 6.6 apg (13th) and 1.8 spg (10th). Amazingly, that was his worst statistical season in his MVP run.

The following season, Bird averaged a then career-high 28.7 ppg (2nd in NBA), 10.5 rpg (8th) and 6.6 apg (19th), while shooting 52.2% from the field (then career-high), 42.7% from 3-point range (career-high) and 88.2% from the free throw line as he flirted with being the first player ever to shot 50-40-90 for an entire season.

His final MVP season was one in which Bird played 82 games and ranked in the top 10 in points (4th), rebounds (7th), steals (8th), 3-point percentage (4th), free throw percentage (1st). He got even closer to the 50-40-90 club, finishing 0.04 percentage points away in both field goal percentage (.496) and free throw percentage (.896). He would break through and found that club the following season en route to posting the first two 50-40-90 seasons in league history.

What does this all mean for Jokic’s chances?

Here are two key potential to-dos for Jokic as he looks to join these three Hall of Famers in NBA lore:

  1. The Nuggets will likely need a much better finish as a team than they had in Jokic’s first two MVP seasons. In 2020-21, they went 47-25, which tied for third in the West and was fifth-best in the NBA. Last season, they were 48-34 (sixth in West, 10th overall). Remember, each of the three players to three-peat led their teams to the top of the standings.
  2. Jokic will need to tie that overall team success with another statistically dominant season. Last season, he posted the first 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound, 500-assist season in league history, led the league in on-court/off-court differential, and posted the highest player efficiency rating in league history.

Those are difficult feats to try to match or exceed, but in order to get those elusive votes for a third straight MVP, history may have to be made once again.