Depending on where you stood, you met the news of the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić claiming a second straight Most Valuable Player award with either acceptance or derision. Even as the Maurice Podoloff Trophy was still in his mantel, he could not be deemed not a fashionable choice; that distinction belonged to the likes of the Sixers’ Joel Embiid and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, in part because of the way those around them performed — or, to be more precise, did not perform — in their absence.
Yet, it’s precisely because Jokić was a steady and steadying presence that his name proved to be the first on the ballots of majority of voters for the honor. He played the highest number of games of the three candidates, and he wound up with the best numbers in terms of advanced statistics. In other words, his impact became clear once the figures were parsed — in addition, of course, to the fact that he led the Nuggets to a 48-34 slate, good for an outright playoff berth, despite the absence of vital cogs Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr.
Don’t tell that to Embiid supporters, though. The Process was in the process of garnering momentum as the postseason drew closer; he wound up with the scoring title while burning rubber in a career-high 68 matches. And, make no mistake, the Sixers needed every bit of him, the arrival of formed MVP awardee James Harden notwithstanding. The same goes for Antetokounmpo, the engine that makes the defending champions running smoothly.
Ironically, Jokić is as close to an objective choice as any. He had the best sabermetrics numbers of any bona fide candidate — make that of any player in the National Basketball Association — by far, and he continually filled the lines every time he suited up. Meanwhile, the Sixers and Bucks have, without question, gone only so far as Embiid and Antetokounmpo have taken them. Supporters need look no farther than their second-round set-tos to buttress the contention.
That said, longtime habitués know that: 1) the MVP award is for regular season exploits; and 2) justifications for votes can cut any number of ways. There can be no arguing against subjective decisions, period. And if Jokić emerged the winner, it’s only because more of the panelists and broadcasters tasked to make the choice had him on their ballots. It’s not a knock on Embiid, or on Antetokounmpo. It’s just an acknowledgment of the singular efforts of the lone player in league history to amass 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in a single season — all while sharing the court with relatively less illustrious teammates.
Bottom line, each of the three would have been deserving of the MVP award. That Jokić emerged with it when the battlesmoke cleared is, for lack of a better term, what it is. Even casual observers know the NBA has more than enough examples of bad choices throughout its history. This isn’t one of them.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.