This past offseason Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic received the largest raise in NBA history. The former second-round pick signed a five-year, $148 million extension this summer, and all the 23-year-old Serbian has done in 32 games this season is prove that at $24.6 million he still might be underpaid.
He also is proving that he’s got an outside shot at becoming the first second-round pick to ever win league MVP. Let’s jump into what makes him such a viable candidate for fans of NBA betting to back.
He doesn’t the scoring prowess of a James Harden or Russell Westbrook. His 17.7 points rank 47th in the NBA and his 13.5 field-goal attempts are 57th, behind guys such as J.J. Redick and rookie Collin Sexton. His usage barely cracks the top-40 and he’s only topped 30 points three times this season.
So why is he an MVP candidate? He’s the best passing big man in the league and it isn’t close. He broke out last season by averaging 6.1 assists per game, the most by a center since Wilt Chamberlain averaged 8.6 in 1968 (Wilt also averaged 24.3 points and 23.8 rebounds if anyone wanted to know).
But Jokic has taken his passing prowess to a new level in 2018-19, averaging 7.3 helpers per game. That’s 10th in the NBA, and the top-15 consists of 12 point guards, LeBron James, Draymond Green and Jokic.
He’s also averaging 9.8 rebounds, a top-20 mark in the league. The only players in NBA history to reach those numbers – 9.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game – are Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Westbrook. He’s also putting those numbers up in 30.6 minutes per game; the aforementioned three players needed between 34 and 47 minutes per game to reach their numbers.
He doesn’t post gaudy numbers. His team is simply too good and balanced for him to. But Jokic affects the game as much as anyone. He’s the engine that makes the No. 9 offense in the NBA go. If he were to win MVP, he’d be bucking a serious trend of only top scorers winning the award, but the credentials are there.
That, more than any individual statistic, proves Jokic’s worth. He’s been the Most Valuable Player on his respective team.
In the gauntlet of the Western Conference, he’s held together a patchwork rotation and brought them to the top. He’s the type of player whose numbers will only improve as the guys around him return. No, the bulk stats will never be there but the efficiency will be.
He’s +2500 to win MVP at top basketball bookmakers, including 888Sport, because of his scoring limitations. There are simply too many mouths to feed on the Denver offense with guys such as Jamal Murray, Harris, Millsap and Barton.
But we’ve never seen a passer like Jokic, his defense has improved each season in the league and his unique numbers rival only guys like Westbrook and Wilt.
Good company, and two guys who also have MVPs to their names.
No team in the NBA has suffered as many injuries to core players as the Nuggets. Starting shooting guard Will Barton has missed all but two games with a hip injury, starting wing Gary Harris has missed 11 games with a hip injury, and starting power forward Paul Millsap has been out since early December with a broken toe.
Don’t forget: free agent signing Isaiah Thomas and first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. haven’t played this season thanks to hip and back injuries, respectively.
That would seem to spell disaster for Mike Malone’s Nuggets, right? Just the opposite has happened. Behind Jokic’s game managing the Nuggets have the best record in the Western Conference, sitting percentage point above the Golden State Warriors despite dropping their last two games.
They’re the only team in the West with both a top-10 offensive and defensive unit. And only the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, the East’s top two seeds, can say that in the other conference.
In the last month they have wins over the Thunder (twice), Lakers, Blazers, Raptors (twice), and Grizzlies. They’ve played the seventh toughest schedule in the league with an injury-riddled roster and have the fourth best record in the NBA. While we’re here, Malone’s +400 odds on 888Sport for Coach of the Year feel like a steal. He’s got the third best odds, but if Denver manages to keep the West’s top record this won’t be a race.
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