Prior to the season, we posed the question of whether Nikola Jokic could become the fourth player in NBA history to win three consecutive Kia Most Valuable Player awards.
When comparing Jokic to the three previous players that had achieved the feat – Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird – there were two must-do items for Jokic to have a chance to join this exclusive club:
- Post another statistically dominant season
- Couple his individual brilliance with team success
As we near the midpoint of the 2022-23 regular season, Jokic has delivered on both accounts.
As the Nuggets prepare to host the Clippers on Thursday night (10 ET, TNT), Denver sits atop the Western Conference standings with a 24-13 record through 37 games. The Memphis Grizzlies have a matching record, and will also be in action Thursday (at Orlando, 7 ET, League Pass), but the Nuggets beat the Grizzlies in their first head-to-head matchup this season.
In Jokic’s first MVP season in 2020-21, the Nuggets finished 47-25 on the season, which tied for third in the Western Conference and the fifth-best record in the NBA. In his second MVP season in 2021-22, the Nuggets went 48-34, which was sixth in the West and 10th overall. But as he goes for his third straight MVP, Jokic has the Nuggets at the top of a tightly-contested Western Conference and the fourth-best record in the NBA.
Now it’s time to dive into the numbers, which are once again extremely impressive. Jokic enters Thursday’s game with season averages of 25.6 points (17th in NBA) on 61.5% shooting (10th), 10.8 rebounds (7th), 9.5 assists (3rd) and 1.4 steals (15th). Not only is Jokic nearly averaging a triple-double, he leads all players in that category with nine on the season and ranks second in double-doubles with 26.
Below is a comparison of Jokic’s individual stats over the past three seasons, allowing us to compare what he’s doing this season compared to his previous two MVP-winning seasons.
When Jokic won his first MVP in 2020-21, his scoring jumped from 19.9 ppg (30th in the league) the previous season to 26.4 ppg (12th in the league). When he won his second MVP a year later, Jokic upped that scoring to 27.1 ppg (6th in the league). Through Denver’s first 37 games of this season, Jokic’s scoring average has dipped to 25.6 ppg (17th in the league).
A key reason for that 1.5 points per game dip is the fact that the Nuggets got two of their top scoring threats back after missing all (Jamal Murray, torn ACL) or most (Michael Porter Jr. played just nine games before undergoing back surgery) of last season.
The return of Murray and Porter not only raised expectations for this Nuggets team entering the season, but it also took some of the scoring load off Jokic on a night-in, night-out basis. Jokic can still put together brilliant scoring performances – he has four 40+ point games already this season – but having extra scorers to share that scoring burden allows Jokic to facilitate more and score more efficiently.
|GP||72 of 72||74 of 82||34 of 37|
|MPG||34.6 (15th)||33.5 (34th)||33.6 (44th)|
|PPG||26.4 (12th)||27.1 (6th)||25.6 (17th)|
|RPG||10.8 (9th)||13.8 (2nd)||10.8 (7th)|
|APG||8.3 (6th)||7.9 (8th)||9.5 (3rd)|
|SPG||1.3 (22nd)||1.5 (12th)||1.4 (15th)|
|BPG||0.7 (56th)||0.9 (33rd)||0.6 (72nd)|
|WS||15.6 (1st)||15.2 (1st)||7.3 (2nd)|
|FG%||56.6 (14th)||58.3 (8th)||61.5 (10th)|
|3P%||38.8 (75th)||33.7 (120th)||35.4 (102nd)|
|FT%||86.8 (26th)||81.0 (63rd)||81.2 (62nd)|
|ON/OFF DIFF||8.9 (17th)||16.3 (1st)||24.3 (1st)|
|DBL-DBL||60 (1st)||66 (1st)||26 (2nd)|
|TPL-DBL||16 (2nd)||19 (1st)||9 (1st)|
|EFG%||60.2 (23rd)||62.0 (7th)||64.3 (6th)|
|TS%||64.7 (15th)||66.1 (4th)||68.7 (3rd)|
|USG%||29.3 (19th)||30.9 (12th)||27.5 (29th)|
Jokic has always been an efficient shooter that can score from anywhere on the court – 3-point range (35.4%), mid-range (54.9%), in the paint (60.9%) and in the restricted area (73.3%) – but he is on pace to post the highest field goal percentage of his career as he’s making 61.5% of his shots on nearly 16 field goal attempts per game.
While he has never shot this good from the field overall, he has been slightly better in previous seasons from beyond the arc (see the 38.8% from his first MVP season) and from the free-throw line (career-best 86.8% in his first MVP season). It’s scary to think that he could actually post better numbers than he’s producing right now.
There have been some great passing big men throughout the history of the NBA. Names like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton, Arvydas Sabonis, Vlade Divac, the Gasol brothers, Wes Unseld and Draymond Green immediately come to mind. But there may not be any better than Jokic, who is averaging a career-best 9.5 assists per game, which would be the most ever by a center, topping Wilt’s 8.6 apg when he won the assist title in 1967-68 with 702 total assists.
Jokic leads the NBA in both total front-court touches (55.4 per game) and elbow touches (9.9 per game), where he often orchestrates the Nuggets’ offense, looking for cutters and shooters for easy baskets. Jokic ranks fourth in the league in points created by assists with 24.1 ppg, which is on pace to be a career high.
So, while Jokic is scoring 1.5 points per game less than he did last season, he is creating 4.4 more points per game with his assists than he did last season, which means he’s been an even better offensive creator (49.7 ppg) – either scoring himself (25.6 ppg) or setting up his teammates (24.1 ppg) – than he’s been in any season of his career – including his two MVP seasons.
A key piece of Jokic’s MVP resume last season was his on-court/off-court differential, which measures the impact of a player by looking at how his team performs in the minutes he’s on the court, and compares that to the minutes he’s off the court.
Last season, Denver posted an 8.4 net rating (outscoring their opponents by 8.4 points per 100 possessions) in 2,476 minutes with Jokic on the court. In his 1,485 minutes off the court, Denver posted a minus-7.9 net rating (outscored by 7.9 points per 100 possessions). That 16.3 differential in net rating is the highest among 272 players with at least 1,000 minutes played this season.
Through Denver’s first 37 games of this season, Jokic has raised that on/off-court differential to 24.3 as the Nuggets have been 24.3 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the court (10.6 net rating in 1,143 minutes) than when he’s off the court (minus-13.7 net rating in 643 minutes). Once again, this is by far the best mark in the league, with only Golden State’s Draymond Green (18.8) within 10 points of Jokic.
On Dec. 18, Jokic put on a performance not seen in the NBA in over 50 seasons as he finished with 40 points, a career-high 27 rebounds and 10 assists in Denver’s 119-115 win over Charlotte. He became the first player since Wilt in 1968 to post at least 40 points, 25 rebounds and 10 assists in a game.
It was one of Jokic’s league-leading nine triple-doubles so far this season. Considering, Denver is still four games away from the midpoint of their season, Jokic is well on his way to surpassing his career-best in triple-doubles for a season, set last year when he posted a league-high 19.
Jokic already has more triple-doubles than any center in league history – he surpassed Chamberlain (78) back in November – and ranks sixth all-time with 85 for his career. How high can he climb on this list if he continues to rack up 20 triple-doubles a season?
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In a season filled with jaw-dropping numbers, there will be plenty of competition when it comes time to vote for the MVP at the end of the season. Right now, Jokic’s resume is as strong as any other candidate as he leads the latest edition of the Kia MVP Ladder. If he can maintain this level of play over the course of the season and lead the Nuggets to the top seed in the West, then he could become the first player in 37 years to win three straight MVPs.