Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic becomes lowest draft pick ever to win MVP award – ‘I didn’t even think I’d be in the NBA’
The Nuggets’ big man was revealed as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for 2020-21 on Tuesday, making him by far the lowest draft pick ever to win the award. “The Joker” now has his name etched alongside the greatest players in league history, which surely seemed unlikely when he was that unheralded prospect out of Sombor, Serbia in 2014.
“To be honest, I didn’t even think I would be in the NBA,” the 26-year-old Jokic said. “My goal when I started to play basketball back home, it was playing in Euroleague because that was kind of the closest top league to my country.”
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Jokic was the runaway winner, getting 91 of the 101 first-place ballots cast ” 100 of them from a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league, the other being an aggregate first-place ballot compiled from fan voting.
That fan vote was the outlier: It went to 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks, the only vote Rose got.
Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid was second, Golden State’s Stephen Curry was third, 2019 and 2020 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee was fourth, and Phoenix’s Chris Paul was fifth.
“It’s a big accomplishment, but it’s something that like I said to the guys, it’s not just me,” Jokic said. “I came here six years ago and I was growing, the organisation was growing, the coaching staff was growing, the players next to me were growing.”
The previous record-holders for lowest draft picks who became MVPs were Steve Nash and Antetokounmpo, who were both chosen 15th overall. Antetokounmpo won the MVP award each of the last two seasons.
Greece now cedes the bragging rights to Serbia ” the fifth nation outside of the US to claim an MVP, joining Canada (Nash), Greece (Antetokounmpo), Nigeria (Hakeem Olajuwon) and Germany (Dirk Nowitzki).
The news came in a team meeting on Tuesday, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver appearing on a video screen to deliver the word.
“First of many,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. He wore a T-shirt on Tuesday night with some of the knocks that Jokic has heard over the years, including “Can’t Jump,” “Flopper” and “Poor Defender.”
The back of the shirt told a different story: “MVP. Joke’s On You,” it said.
Jokic had a league-high 60 double-doubles and added 16 triple-doubles ” second-most in the NBA behind only triple-double king and former MVP Russell Westbrook ” this season. Jokic’s scoring average jumped from 19.9 points per game last season to 26.4. He tied his career high with 10.8 rebounds per game and his average of 8.3 assists was just shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time season average (8.6) for a centre. He shot 56 per cent from the field and 39% from 3-point range.
“The Denver Nuggets drafted me, it was an opportunity for me to become an NBA player,” Jokic said. “I think I did a good job of using that opportunity.”
A year after leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in the Walt Disney World bubble in Florida, Jokic steered his team through a trying season marked a rash of injuries, most notably to fellow star Jamal Murray, who tore his left ACL in April.
Amid all those injuries ” not to mention a jampacked season where virtually everyone got some rest along the way ” Jokic was a rare everyday player, a big man who logged big minutes. He’s the only player to start all of his team’s regular-season games in the last two seasons, being on the floor for tip-off all 145 times. Others have also played in every game, but no one else has started them all.
Including play-offs, Jokic has logged 5,766 minutes in the last two seasons. That’s nearly 300 more than anyone else; he’s one of only six players to eclipse 5,000 minutes in that span.