Jokic is coming off an incredible sophomore campaign. The 22-year-old averaged 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, but his numbers ballooned to 19.2 and 10.9 after Dec. 15, when Denver re-inserted Jokic into the starting lineup at center. Jokic also finished with the fourth-best Real Plus-Minus and the eighth-best Player Efficiency Rating, both higher marks than Antetokoumpo and out triple-doubled Giannis 6-3.
To his credit, the Bucks’ swingman earned his first All-Star appearance last season.
But will Jokic garner enough votes to take home Most Improved Player? Harrison Wind and T.J. McBride discussed.
Harrison: Nikola Jokic was named a finalist for the league’s Most Improved Player award today, along with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert. Does Jokic have a legitimate shot to win it?
T.J: I truly think he has a legitimate argument to win. His impact on the floor offensively is just astounding. The past two seasons Denver has struggled mightily to make shots and the second that Jokic was integrated into the starting lineup as the focal point of the offense, everything changed. Most Improved Player is usually based on individual development but based on how much Jokic’s play has developed the offensive identity of the Nuggets I think he may hold his own in the voting.
Harrison: He deserves to be in the conversation, no doubt. Jokic tops Antetokounmpo is almost every advanced statistic and killed him in +/- (Nuggets were a +298 with Jokic on the floor while Milwaukee was just a +46 when Antetokounmpo played). But Giannis had that All-Star bid which I think will be the deciding factor here. Hey, Jokic could have sniffed an All-Star spot of his own if he had started the entire year but I think that’s what ultimately puts Antetokounmpo over the top. That extra exposure with that significant of an accolade sends the trophy back to Greece.
T.J.: The fact that both the Bucks and the Jazz made the playoffs doesn’t help Jokic’s chances either. For me, what tilts the scale back towards Jokic is that his style of play is so unique and flashy, yet insanely efficient. His numbers per 36 minutes since re-entering the starting lineup on Dec. 15 have never been seen before. Even saying that a player was able to average 23.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, and seven assists per 36 minutes for any stretch is outlandish. To do it for five months is bewildering. So for the raw production alone, I think he will steal a few votes.
Harrison: Jokic’s game is so sexy and watchable, but the problem is, so is Antetokoumpo’s. If Jokic was up against any of the recent award winners, like C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler, or Goran Dragic, I think this it’s his award to lose.
T.J.: I think it would be a landslide against those guys. I feel like so much of this award has to do with how fun the highlight package is and what the raw numbers look like. Jokic owns all of that and then some.
Harrison: What we’re really being robbed of here is a chance for Jokic to accept the award from Drake, the host of the league’s first awards show. There’s no way Jokic actually listens to Drake, right?
T.J.: You don’t think Gary Harris or Will Barton force him to? We heard Gary listening to Drake after games on more than one occasion if I remember correctly. But the comedic factor of Jokic potentially not even knowing what Drake looks like and unknowingly accept the award from him is monstrous. His acceptance speech would be the absolute greatest.
Harrison: I’m fairly certain Jokic thinks Drake, Future and Migos are the same person, but yes, his speech would be a classic.
T.J.: Overall, I think Jokic has a better chance to win Most Improved Player than Gobert. Beating Giannis would be impressive.
Harrison: Back to basketball. Jokic also got one vote for All-NBA first-team and 12 total votes. Is All-NBA third team a realistic goal for Jokic next season? I think so. And was the one first-team vote a typo?
T.J.: I’m not sure if it was a typo but I do think it is a bit insane. Jokic will have his time to rightfully receive votes for first-team All-NBA but this year is not that. When it comes to next year, I don’t think it is crazy to think he could push for second-team All-NBA. If the Nuggets continue to get better around him and he comes back in better shape who knows how good he could be?
Harrison: I agree. Second or third-team All-NBA is a legitimate possibility, but the Nuggets will again have to push for the playoffs for him to get that recognition around the league.
T.J.: If you had a vote which way would you be voting?
Harrison: It’s a really tough choice, and I don’t think there’s a wrong answer, but I’m going Giannis. He took a huge leap this year, just as big of a one that Jokic did and you can look at him clearly as someone who could be the best player in the league in 2-3 years. We’ll look back at this season when he’s winning MVP’s down the line.
T.J.: I think I have to agree. Some players “do a bit of everything” but Giannis literally does everything for the Bucks. It has been incredible watching his growth this season. That being said I think Jokic makes it one heck of a tight race. I am expecting the votes to be much closer than people think.