Seven years ago, the Denver Nuggets put the 41st pick in the NBA draft against an unannounced center from Serbia.
On Tuesday, Nikola Jokic became the sixth national player to win the NBA MVP.
“To be honest, I didn’t even think about being in the NBA,” Jokic said on TNT’s “Inside The NBA” after winning the award. “My goal when I played basketball at home was to play in the EuroLeague because that was the highest league that was closest to my country. I could play in some big clubs in Serbia and climb my way. But then the Denver Nuggets drafted me. ” , and it was an opportunity for me to become an NBA player. “
Jokic received the news during a team meeting at the Nuggets Hotel ahead of Game 2 of their second round series with the Suns in Phoenix on Wednesday, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver making the announcement via video conference.
“It’s a great achievement,” said Jokic. “But it’s something that, like I said to the boys, isn’t just me. I couldn’t do it alone. It’s something that is an individual award, but it’s the effort of everyone who is part of the Denver Nuggets- Organization are. “
Jokic was the overwhelming winner of the award with 91 out of 101 votes for first place and 971 total points. He played all 72 regular season games that season, one of only 11 players to accomplish the feat in this pandemic-shortened campaign, while putting together one of the best statistical seasons in NBA history.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Golden State Warriors Guard Stephen Curry finished second and third, respectively, behind Jokic in the final vote, followed by Milwaukee Bucks striker Giannis Antetokounmpo, winner of the previous two seasons, and Phoenix guard Chris Paul.
“The difference to this year was that I started this season really well,” said Jokic. “I’ve played pretty well all season in terms of statistics. I think this has been the best season of my life and the icing on the cake is the trophy I got. This is the best season of my life.”
He was also the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 to win the league’s top individual honor.
Jokic was not only available for Denver every night, but also ended the season with a career high of 26.4 points and 8.3 assists and a career high averaging 10.8 rebounds. He also shot 56.6% from the field, 38.8% from the 3-point range and 86.8% from the foul line. He led Denver to the second round of the playoffs despite three of Denver’s guardians – Jamal Murray, Will Barton and PJ Dozier – being injured – a feat none of the other teams that made it to the conference finals in last year’s playoffs were in the Orlando, Florida bubble – the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics – kept up.
The combination of Jokic’s play and availability gave him an unassailable argument for the award in the eyes of the voters. He becomes the first player to be drafted in the second round to win the league’s highest individual honor in the joint draft era and joins Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Antetokounmpo as international winners of the Award to.
Winning the MVP also means Jokic is eligible to sign a Supermax contract extension with the Nuggets after the 2021-22 season – a five-year deal that would be well over $ 250 million.
Jokic said the thought of winning the award never crossed my mind this season.
“I never thought about it. Even when the season was over, I was on the Portland series so my focus wasn’t on that,” he said. “I didn’t want to think about it because it’s just a trophy and the season isn’t over. So I tried to focus on the games.”
When asked if he was happy not to be asked about the potential of winning the award again, Jokic said with a smile: “To be honest, yes.”
Shortly after Jokic finished his press conference, Nuggets trainer Michael Malone spoke to the media wearing a bespoke t-shirt with a cartoon image of Jokic surrounded by many of the criticisms he has faced over the years. On the back of the shirt was the phrase “MVP, and the joke’s on you.”
“I think the best I can say about Nikola is that he fully represents the culture that we have created here in Denver,” said Malone. “I’ve been here for six years to see our program grow and that definitely coincides with the growth of Nikola Jokic. In the past three years in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets have had the most wins in the Western Conference . [with] 147.
“It doesn’t happen without Nikola improving, and more importantly, since he’s improving, everyone around him has improved and you’ve just heard me say it countless times. The reason Nikola is a great player is that he makes everyone around him better. We saw that. ” We’ve seen that all season for six years, we saw that in the first round against Portland. If Nikola just turned around me, me, me, we would not have had the success and I don’t know if he would have. I had the success. He’s completely selfless, one of the more reluctant superstars lately and as I told him today I love him and I feel really lucky not only to coach him but also to have the relationship I have with him because it’s something A special one is a relationship and one that I like to have with him. “
It could have been Embiid who would have won this award if he hadn’t bruised his knee in March. He had the best season of his career, leading Philadelphia to the highest record in the Eastern Conference, but missed 21 games in the regular season.
That was about the only thing that could slow him down, as he achieved his career highs in points per game (28.5) and all three shot rates (51.3% overall, 37.7% from 3-point range, 85, 9% from the free throw line).
Like Jokic, Embiid would have qualified for the Supermax – which he will be allowed to sign after this season – if he had won MVP. Embiid will instead qualify for overtime if he is elected to one of the league’s All-NBA teams at some point in the next few weeks.
That deal, if Embiid signs it, would be a four-year extension worth $ 186 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
Curry, a two-time winner of that award, finished third on the vote after missing all but three games after breaking his hand last season. He led the NBA in scoring for the second time in his career, averaging 32 points per game while shooting 42.1% out of 3-point range with a career high of 12.7 behind the bow per game .
If there were doubts that Curry, 33, was still among the game’s elite, he was quick to dispel them. He kept the Golden State offense afloat this season almost single-handedly, without Klay Thompson, who missed his second straight season due to injury, this time with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Curry is also eligible for extension this summer. He can sign a four-year $ 215.3 million deal to stay with Golden State through his late 30s, according to Marks.
Antetokounmpo got a first place in fourth and Paul got two votes in fifth. This was followed by Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Portland Trail Blazers security guard Damian Lillard, New York Knicks striker Julius Randle and guard Derrick Rose – who received the only remaining first place via the fan vote – and Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert in 10.
LeBron James got a fifth place, which he finished with James Harden and Ben Simmons in 13th place. James had never finished less than 11th in the MVP vote prior to this season.
Like last year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA has reverted to its traditional awarding of awards during the playoffs rather than holding a grand awards show at the end of the postseason.
ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.