Stan Van Gundy takes to Twitter to passionately support Nikola Jokic as the obvious NBA MVP
By most accounts, the MVP run in a parity-filled 2021-22 NBA season is compelling and closely contested.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic throws triple-double after triple-double as he defends last year’s dalliance with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid tries to become first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the scoring title, and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates on every level as he tries to add more material to his ever-growing collection.
Beyond the trifecta, the devastating duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker made a lot of noise for the Phoenix Suns, Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum are rising in the rankings of the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics respectively, and Ja Morant cannot stop producing jaw-dropping highlights for the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. And that’s to say nothing of Stephen Curry, Rudy Gobert and a number of other stars.
But Stan Van Gundy, a man with more than two decades of experience in the Association coaching ranks who is now an analyst for TNT, doesn’t think the race is that difficult to organize. As he made it very clear on Twitter, he has Jokic above the rest of the pitch.
Stan Van Gundy throws his MVP support behind Nikola Jokic
Especially when he’s been employed as a broadcaster or found himself between coaching gigs, Stan Van Gundy hasn’t even been afraid to type in pointed messages on Twitter — both sports and politics related.
He is an engaging following on the social media platform due to his willingness to engage with those interested in what he has to say, knowledge he is able to impart through decades of experience and willingness to challenge conventional notions.
Backing Jokic for MVP during the 2021-22 campaign isn’t exactly that unconventional – not by any stretch of the imagination – but the finality with which he made the request might bring the feeling closer to that territory. A yawning chasm divides a lukewarm statement endorsing Jokic as a justifiable back-to-back MVP and the decision to hit caps lock and say “he CLEARLY is the MVP.”
Van Gundy wasn’t done either, although he was keen to clarify that the MVP race “can be close and clear at the same time”.
A lot of things go into the MVP decision-making process, and it can largely be summarized in three categories: individual success (determined by a combination of sight testing and statistical support), team and narrative elements.
Van Gundy’s case falls into the first camp, and it is eminently justifiable.
Nikola Jokic easily has the statistical argument for MVP
It doesn’t take long to realize how easily Nikola Jokic passes the eye test. Between his impressions of Kevin McHale in the post, his stellar passing in half-court play, which often sees him slipping the rock between defenders on perfectly timed cuts to the hoop, his leaping shot whether face down high or using the patented Sombor Shuffle, and his game save blocks, he’s been a dazzling force of nature for Denver.
Its digital case is still much stronger.
Jokic is averaging 26.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks for the Nuggets while shooting 57.1% from the field, 34.9% from the field. downtown and 80.4% at the strip. As Van Gundy pointed out, that leaves him at No. 9 in the scoring race, No. 2 in the window cleaning competition and No. 7 in the dime rankings.
Turn to advanced numbers and you’ll see he leads the pack in box score based metrics such as win shares, box over/under and value vs. substitute player. His score in the second of those three currently tops Michael Jordan 1987-88 and LeBron James 2008-09 for the best mark in NBA history.
Of course, this requires some caveats.
First, “in NBA history” is a bit misleading because BPM only dates back to 1973-74 and the advent of block and steal numbers in the Association.
Second, Jokic essentially breaks the formula to the point that future tweaks could be used (just like was the case with Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 triple-doubles and BPM 1.0). His mind-numbing combination of rebounds and assists is so anomalous that it didn’t factor into the development of the metric, which disproportionately rewards the passing prowess of the greats and wasn’t designed with the idea of half-court offenses revolving around true 5s.
But even the most advanced catch-all metrics support Jokic’s placement at the top of the league.
FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR WAR has Jokic (18.3) easily knocking out Jayson Tatum (10.5), Giannis Antetokounmpo (10.4), Stephen Curry (10.0) and everyone else. Dunks & Threes’ plus/minus rating sees him add 15.9 wins, which is well above Curry (14.4), Antetokounmpo (13.1) and Joel Embiid (12.7). BBall Index’s LEBRON metric has Jokic (11.9) at No. 1 in added wins, overtaking Embiid (10.0), Antetokounmpo (9.5) and Tatum (9.5).
The story is the same wherever you look. Numerically, whether it’s diving into per-game numbers or the most advanced catch-all metrics, Jokic reigns supreme and validates Van Gundy’s assertion.
What could stop Nikola Jokic from going back-to-back?
Check with just about any betting odds provider, and you’ll see that Nikola Jokic isn’t the clear favorite to win his second consecutive MVP, even though he’s thriving on the stat sheet like no one else. . On many sportsbooks, probably much to the chagrin of Stan Van Gundy, Joel Embiid still holds the top spot.
And this is where the other two elements come into play.
Reigning MVPs still face a bit of voter fatigue, largely because other stories can more easily replace their own cases. Embiid, for example, may have more appeal to decision makers because it tries to enter uncharted territory.
Then there’s this whole winning thing. The NBA’s top individual award usually goes to someone whose team is at or near the top of the conference rather than sitting in the back half of the playoff picture. (That should be a misguided argument because you’re essentially rewarding a player for the quality of their teammates, but let’s save that for another time and place.)
Currently, the Jokic Nuggets, coming off a March 10 loss to the Golden State Warriors, are 40-27 and sixth in the Western Conference standings. The Embiid Sixers and Antetokounmpo Bucks are 40-25 and 42-25, respectively, but raw records seem to matter less than them maintaining the top three spots in an Eastern Conference filled with more than parity.
Jokic has done enough individually to earn SVG’s blessing, and he should currently sits at the top of the vast majority of ballots due to his remarkable importance to a competitive Denver team. In fact, you’ll notice we haven’t yet cited the absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. since the case is clear enough even without that factor entering the equation.
But unless the Nuggets heat up and get closer to the top of the Western Conference, his case won’t be seen as clear — and certainly not the all-caps version of that word.
All stats, unless otherwise stated, are provided courtesy of Basketball Reference and accurately point to games on March 11.
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