It’s not uncommon for an NBA Most Valuable Player to win the award in consecutive seasons. In the 21st century alone, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, Steve Nash, and Tim Duncan have all accomplished this feat — and LeBron James has done it twice, notching his first back-to-backer with the Cleveland Cavaliers and another with the Miami Heat.
Do-it-all Denver center Nikola Jokic is coming off his first MVP season, averaging a stunning 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists during the 2020-2021 campaign. The Nuggets seemed destined to contend for an NBA title before losing their second-best player, Jamal Murray, to a season-ending knee injury in April. From there, Jokic put the team on his back, but he couldn’t push the Nuggets past the Western Conference semifinals, where they were swept by the surprising Phoenix Suns.
Murray’s not expected to return to action until sometime in 2022, which means Jokic can be as ball-dominant as he wants to be, giving him a reasonable chance to match last year’s statistical gluttony. But in terms of his chances of repeating as the league’s MVP, oddsmakers aren’t seeing it: PointsBet has Jokic as a distant seventh favorite to win the award at odds of +1400, trailing Luka Doncic (+400), Kevin Durant (+700), Antetokounmpo (+800), Curry (+800), James (+1000), and Joel Embiid (+1000). DraftKings and FanDuel are offering similar odds.
“It’s very difficult to win back to back unless you’re an all-time great,” said Jay Croucher, PointsBet’s head of trading. “The MVP is very subjective as an award and I think there was a little lack of respect for Jokic. His numbers just became too irrepressible to ignore. I think there’s still some sense in the league that guys like Durant, Giannis, and LeBron are a tier above Jokic. He’s a center, and the fact that he’s not a dominant defensive player like Embiid, that weighs against him as well. He’s never made the finals and he doesn’t look like an MVP, which unfairly works against him because he’s about the best offensive player in the league.”
Porter Jr. expected to ‘take that next leap’
Another thing working against Jokic’s back-to-back bid is the continued emergence of forward Michael Porter Jr., who made enormous strides last season — especially after Murray bowed out. Porter increased his scoring average nearly 10 points per game to 19.0, while averaging a respectable 7.3 rebounds and improving as a defender.
We already know Michael Porter Jr. can create his own shot, but what else does he need to add to his repertoire? @KevinOConnorNBA, @jkylemann, and @JonathanTjarks break it down on #RingerNBAU: https://t.co/mM9qtrYhkQ pic.twitter.com/BpRhvppKZw
— The Ringer (@ringer) February 1, 2021
He wound up finishing third in last year’s Most Improved Player voting behind the Knicks’ Julius Randle and former Nugget Jerami Grant. This coming season, Porter (+1000 at PointsBet) is favored to win the award over Rocket Kevin Porter Jr. (+1400, no relation) and, way down the list, fellow Nugget Bol Bol (+15000).
“What is most likely to trip him up is the inherent nature of the award,” said Croucher. “That award is about who surprises us the most, who makes the leap. And it’s difficult by nature to predict who the surprise is going to be.
“Porter has both the underlying talent and the increased opportunity. Jamal Murray will be back at the end of the season at best, so Porter’s gonna have a lot more opportunity — so expect his scoring to really take that next leap. This award is often about who makes the biggest leap in PPG average. If he can add a bit more passing, defense — his defense has gotten better — he’s very much in the mold of someone who does win that award.”
In light of Jokic’s unselfish disposition and Porter’s evolution as a sort of super-sized Klay Thompson, sports bettors might want to take a flyer on the latter winning the NBA scoring title at odds of +15000. Jokic boasts odds of +10000 to average the most points, while he’s at +3000 to lead the league in rebounding and +1000 to dominate the doling of dimes (i.e., claim the assist title).
Photo: Kyle Terada/USA Today