Stan Van Gundy Takes to Twitter to Passionately Support Nikola Jokic as Obvious NBA MVP
By most accounts, the MVP race during a parity-filled 2021-22 NBA season is a compelling, closely contested one.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is throwing up triple-double after triple-double as he defends last year’s dalliance with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is attempting to become the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the scoring title, and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is dominating across the board as he attempts to add more hardware to his ever-growing collection.
Beyond the leading trifecta, the devastating duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker has made plenty of noise for the Phoenix Suns, Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum are surging up the leaderboard for the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics, respectively, and Ja Morant can’t stop producing jaw-dropping highlights for the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. And that’s saying nothing of Stephen Curry, Rudy Gobert, and a number of other stars.
But Stan Van Gundy, a man with over two decades of experience in the Association’s coaching ranks who now serves as an analyst for TNT, doesn’t think the race is actually that tough to call. As he made abundantly clear on Twitter, he has Jokic standing above the rest of the field.
Stan Van Gundy throws his MVP support behind Nikola Jokic
Especially while he’s been employed as a broadcaster or found himself between coaching gigs, Stan Van Gundy hasn’t been even remotely afraid of typing out pointed messages on Twitter — both related to sports and politics.
He’s an engaging follow on the social media platform because of his willingness to engage with those interested in what he has to say, the knowledge he’s able to convey through decades of experience, and his willingness to challenge conventional notions.
Supporting Jokic for MVP during the 2021-22 campaign doesn’t exactly quality as unconventional — not by any stretch of the imagination — but the definitiveness with which he made the claim might push the sentiment closer to that territory. A yawning chasm divides a lukewarm statement propping up Jokic as the justifiable back-to-back MVP and the decision to hit caps-lock and say “he is CLEARLY the MVP.”
Van Gundy wasn’t done there, either, though he did make a point to clarify that the MVP race “can be close and clear at the same time.”
Plenty goes into the MVP decision-making process, and it can largely be boiled down into three categories: individual success (determined by a combination of the eye test and statistical backing), team success, and narrative elements.
Van Gundy’s case falls into the first camp, and it’s eminently justifiable.
Nikola Jokic easily has the statistical argument for MVP
Little time investment is required to understand just how easily Nikola Jokic passes the eye test. Between his Kevin McHale impressions in the post, his remarkable passing within the half-court set, which often sees him slip the rock between defenders on perfectly timed cuts toward the hoop, his jump-shooting whether facing up or using the patented Sombor Shuffle, and his game-saving blocks, he’s been a dazzling force of nature for Denver.
His numerical case is still that 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 downtown, and 80.4% at the stripe. As Van Gundy highlighted, that leaves him at No. 9 in the scoring race, No. 2 in the glass-cleaning competition, and No. 7 in the dime-dropping standings.
Turn to the advanced numbers, and you’ll see that he leads the pack in box-score-driven metrics such as win shares, box plus/minus, and value over replacement player. His score in the second of those three is currently displacing 1987-88 Michael Jordan and 2008-09 LeBron James for the top mark in NBA history.
Of course, that requires a few 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 is essentially breaking the formula to the point that future adjustments could be employed (much as was the case with 2016-17 Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles and BPM 1.0). His mind-numbing combination of rebounds and assists is so anomalous that it wasn’t accounted for in the metric’s development, which inordinately rewards passing prowess from bigs and wasn’t designed with the thought of half-court offenses revolving around true 5s.
But even the more advanced catch-all metrics support Jokic’s placement at the top of the league.
FiveThirtyEight‘s RAPTOR WAR has Jokic (18.3) easily clearing Jayson Tatum (10.5), Giannis Antetokounmpo (10.4), Stephen Curry (10.0), and everyone else. Dunks & Threes‘ estimated plus/minus has him adding 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 wins added, outpacing Embiid (10.0), Antetokounmpo (9.5), and Tatum (9.5).
The story is the same wherever you look. From a numerical perspective, whether diving into per-game figures or the most advanced catch-all metrics, Jokic reigns supreme and validates Van Gundy’s claim.
What could prevent Nikola Jokic from going back-to-back?
Check in with just about any provider of betting odds, and you’ll see that Nikola Jokic isn’t the overwhelming favorite to win his second consecutive MVP even though he’s thriving on the stat sheet like no one else. On many sportsbooks, presumably much to the chagrin of Stan Van Gundy, Joel Embiid still holds the No. 1 spot.
And that’s where the other two elements come into play.
Reigning MVPs always deal with a bit of voter fatigue, largely because other narratives can more easily supersede their own cases. Embiid, for example, might hold more appeal with the decision-makers because he’s attempting to break into uncharted territory.
Then there’s that whole winning thing. The NBA’s most prestigious individual award typically 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 faulty argument because you’re essentially rewarding a player for the quality of his teammates, but let’s save that for another time and place.)
Right now, Jokic’s Nuggets, coming off a March 10 loss to the Golden State Warriors, sit at 40-27 and in sixth place within the Western Conference standings. Embiid’s Sixers and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are at 40-25 and 42-25, respectively, but raw records seem to matter less than them holding down top-three spots in an Eastern Conference filled with more parity.
Jokic has done enough individually to earn SVG’s blessing, and he should currently sit atop the vast majority of ballots because of his remarkable importance to a competitive Denver squad. In fact, you’ll notice we have yet to cite 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 go on a heater and push closer to the top of the Western Conference, his case won’t be perceived as clear — and certainly not the all-caps version of that word.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference and accurate heading into games on March 11.