Nikola Jokic has won the 2020-21 Most Valuable Player award, the league announced Tuesday night. Jokic, born in Serbia, is the third European player to win the award, following Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), and the fifth player to win it from a foreign country, as Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) and Steve Nash (Canada) are prior winners as well. In addition, Jokic also became the lowest-drafted player ever to win the award. He was the No. 41 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, making him the first second-round choice ever to be named MVP since Willis Reed in 1970. It should be noted, though, that Reed was the No. 8 overall pick in the 1964 NBA Draft, so he was not the lowest-drafted MVP of all time. Antetokounmpo and Nash, both picked No. 15 overall, previously held that distinction.
That underscores just how unlikely Jokic's ascent has been. He entered the NBA as an unathletic center that could barely stay on the floor defensively. He survived because of his gift for passing, and eventually, that helped him develop into one of basketball's most dangerous offensive weapons. Jokic became the first player in NBA history this season to average at least 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on better than 52 percent shooting. He made 56.6 percent of his field goals, dwarfing those who approached his raw numbers. His 8.3 assists per game just barely missed Wilt Chamberlain's record of 8.6 for most by a center in a season, and he came only three 3-pointers and 13 free throws away from becoming the first center ever to join the 50-40-90 club. He did all of it without missing a single regular-season game.
Denver needed him for every one of them. The Nuggets tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 3 seed at 47-25, and needed the tiebreaker to secure the better positioning. Virtually every other member of the Nuggets was either injured or out with COVID-19 at some point this season, and the team's championship hopes were devasted by Jamal Murray's torn ACL in April, but Jokic's steady hand kept the Nuggets afloat. Denver went 13-5 after Murray went down, essentially securing the award for Jokic.
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Jokic is the first Nuggets player to win an MVP award in the NBA, but not in all of basketball history. Spencer Haywood won the MVP award of the ABA during the 1969-70 season playing for the then-Denver Rockets, the team that would one day become the Nuggets. Denver is now the first team to have produced MVP winners in both the ABA and NBA.
Jokic didn't even earn a full-time starting job until the 2016-17 season. Two years later, he made his first All-Star Team, and two years after that, he's grown into an MVP. At 26 years old, he still has most of his career ahead of him, and on a young Nuggets team with unlimited potential, the sky is the limit for the 2021 MVP.