CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 20: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34, Nikola Jokic #15 and Luka Doncic #77 of Team LeBron talk during the NBA 75 Group Photo as part of the 2022 NBA All Star Weekend on February 20, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images)

In Winning Second MVP, Nuggets Star Nikola Jokić Represents Europe's Influence On Today's NBA

Writer and Digital Content Specialist

On Wednesday, Denver Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokić was officially named the NBA's Most Valuable Player. After an incredible season that saw him lift an injury-depleted team to 48 wins and a playoff berth, Jokić more than earned this historic honor.

In winning this award, Jokić became just the 13th player in NBA history to secure back-to-back MVP wins, joining the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James in the process. All of these players are widely considered to be among the greatest to ever grace the hardwood.

Jokić's 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game on a career-high 58.3% shooting from the field show the level of excellence he reached this season. But his league-leading 13.7 box plus-minus, 9.8 VORP, and 15.2 win shares to go along with an NBA-record 32.8 Player Efficiency Rating paint a picture of truly historic efficiency and output.

But Jokić -- a routinely quiet and humble figure -- is not one to parade his successes in that way. Perhaps the more meaningful accolade was the ability to represent his home nation of Serbia as he accepted the award Wednesday night. Jokić's Serbian pride is one of his defining characteristics.

And that's exactly what makes this MVP -- in a year where Jokić was disappointed in his team's final result -- unique. Because, in a way, it illustrates not just the Serbian superstar's personal dominance, but the imprint that Europe is making on the modern NBA game.

Yes, all of this success could be chalked up to Jokić simply being a unicorn, the first of his kind that the NBA has never seen before. But the way that Jokić can take over not just a game, but two entire seasons, signals a larger trend of European success in this league.

Take Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example. Although he was taken in the first round of the NBA Draft -- unlike Jokić -- it's bordering on silly to think that 14 teams passed on him. A 6-foot-10 forward with elite post skills, strong ball-handling abilities, and an unmatched work ethic is exactly what the modern NBA promotes. He was the 12th player to win back-to-back MVPs in 2019 and 2020.

Jokić, a center with a mean mid-range game, Hall of Fame Point Guard-level court vision, and all the post moves one could think of, was selected 41st overall during a commercial break. And yet, these two players have combined to win the last four Most Valuable Player awards.

What do these two stars have in common beyond an unmistakable stranglehold on the NBA's most prestigious award? Both hail from Europe and were criminally underrated as they entered the league.

Antetokounmpo (Greece) and Jokić (Serbia) were drafted largely as developmental prospects. At the time of their drafting, Antetokounmpo was viewed as an incomplete player who wasn't strong enough and didn't face enough high-level competition to be a surefire success in the NBA.

Jokić was seen as a slow, lumbering big man with minimal post skills who would struggle to adjust to the size and speed of this league. But despite narrative after narrative holding them back, the 2019-2022 MVPs have belonged to them and them alone.

Antetokounmpo and Jokić are just the second and third European players in NBA history to win the MVP. Dirk Nowitzki was the first, winning his lone award in 2006-07, making Antetokounmpo and Jokić the first and second European players to win two MVPs, respectively.

They are just the third and fourth players, respectively, not from North America to win the award, with Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) being the first.

So how did the NBA go from just two non-North American winners in 63 seasons to four in four seasons? It's at least in part because the dream of coming to the world's greatest basketball league from Europe is more accessible than ever. Jokić is instrumental in that change.

For many years, players like Nowitzki were seen as an outlier for European success in the NBA. Each time a European prospect was selected higher in the draft -- Darko Miličić, Andris Biedrinš, Andrea Bargnani, Kristaps Porzingis, and many others -- they were held under a harsh microscope as teams attempted to see the future viability of scouting players from similar countries.

It's a big reason why Antetokounmpo and Jokić fell as far as they did, and were so underrated on draft day.

But now, thanks to Jokić and Antetokounmpo, the opportunities for European players are better than ever. The prime example being Luka Dončić, who was selected with the third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and is poised to one day win an MVP award of his own.

In this upcoming June's NBA Draft, Serbian forward Nikola Jović is slated to be a first round pick. And if the names being almost identical wasn't enough, his offensive skillset matches up very similarly to the strengths of the Nuggets superstar when he first entered the league. It's possible that had it not been for Jokić's success, Serbian players like Jović may not have had as good a chance.

How about 2023, when one of the most highly-touted prospects since LeBron James becomes eligible. French superstar Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-2 phenom, is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick. Before the likes of Jokić and Antetokounmpo, taking a European player with the top pick in the draft was unheard of. Now, it almost feels expected. Another projected late first round pick in 2023 is Serbian forward Nikola Durišić.

Moving forward, teams might also be more willing to take a chance on a player from Europe to fill a limited bench role, as opposed to the NBA G League. Players like Miloš Teodosić, Tomáš Satorańsky, and others could become more of a norm on NBA benches than an outlier.

Unsurprisingly, Jokić was completely humble when the idea of him being a role model for future European basketball players was brought up at his MVP press conference. "I don't know that I Inspire, I never thought about that," Jokić said. "But If you work hard or try hard you can do whatever you want to do. I guess I'm not a bad person to look up to, I was the 41st pick and all those stories."

There's no doubt that Jokić is a prime example of a player that future generations of basketball stars can look up to. He hails from Sombor, Serbia, a city with a population of about 47,000 as of 2011. At the time he was drafted, he had played in only the Serbian and Adriatic Leagues. And as Jokić revealed during his press conference, he was asleep when his name was displayed on ESPN's screen during an advertisement for Taco Bell.

Jokić and Antetokounmpo represent something much greater than just elite basketball players who have taken over the NBA. They also represent a shift in the league's demographics. Not just at the top, but throughout the draft and 30 team rosters.

If you ask Jokić, he'll naturally downplay his impact, and likely use it as an opportunity to praise other players or his teammates. But take a look through the immense humility displayed by the Nuggets Serbian superstar, and you'll see a player who may have changed the game forever.