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Denver Nuggets

How Nikola Jokic can win MVP in the 2019-20 NBA season

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Nikola Jokic (NBA Getty Images)

There are eight players who have better odds to win MVP next season than Nikola Jokic.

That doesn't make any sense.

It's not that I necessarily think Jokic should be the favourite - I picked Giannis Antetokounmpo to repeat as MVP when we made our predictions earlier this offseason - but he is a clear No. 2 in my eyes and has a legitimate shot at becoming only the third European player in NBA history to win the award.

Here's why.

Jokic is already in the MVP discussion

Jokic is coming off of a breakout season in which he averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. He led the Nuggets to 54 wins, giving them the second-best record in the Western Conference and the fourth-best record in the league.

There's more to the Nuggets than just Jokic, but they were a completely different team when he was on the court. According to NBA.com, Denver's offence improved by 7.1 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup last season, a massive margin that represented the largest differential on the team. While the Nuggets were better defensively when he was on the bench, Jokic still finished the season with the sixth-most win shares in the league behind only Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Rudy Gobert, Damian Lillard and Paul George.

The combination of his personal success and the team's success earned Jokic a number of accolades - his first All-Star appearance and an All-NBA First Team selection to name a couple - as well as the fourth-most votes for MVP.

Having already established himself as one of the best players in the league and a legitimate MVP candidate, the question now becomes what Jokic needs to do to take the next step.

As is the case with anyone who has ever taken home the award, it starts with wins and losses.

The Nuggets are built to contend

The West is going to be a season-long slugfest, but the Nuggets have something almost every other team in the conference doesn't - continuity.

Whereas the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors each made blockbuster trades this summer that changed the makeup of their team, the Nuggets have doubled down by bringing back an almost identical roster. The biggest move they made was trading a first-round pick in next year's draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jerami Grant, a defensive-minded role player who should fit in perfectly with Denver's existing core, to replace backup power forward Trey Lyles.

MORE: Grant acquisition is the best offseason move nobody is talking about

That continuity should work in Denver's favour because the Nuggets are positioned to pick up from where they left off while the aforementioned teams figure out how their new pieces mesh.

The Clippers, for example, have to work not one, but two superstars into their system in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Complicating matters further is George is expected to miss the start of the season as he continues to recover from undergoing shoulder surgery this summer. It could take several months or perhaps the entire regular season before the Clippers are firing on all cylinders.

The Lakers, Rockets, Jazz and Warriors are in a similar position. They each acquired a perennial All-Star or All-Star calibre player this offseason and each of those players are going to a situation in which they will have to share the ball far more than they've grown accustomed to, which could lead to some growing pains.

MORE: Why the Harden-Westbrook partnership will and won't work

There's also reason to believe the Nuggets will be better than they were last season.

Despite having the fourth-youngest roster in the league, they came within five points of advancing to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in a wire-to-wire Game 7. Jokic and Jamal Murray proved in the playoffs that they both have another level they can go to, the likes of Gary Harris and Will Barton should be healthier than they were last season and the Nuggets could get a boost out of Michael Porter Jr., the No. 14 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft who missed all of his rookie season with a back injury.

In running it back, there is a strong possibility that this Nuggets team hits the ground running and finishes the regular season with one of the top seeds in the West. They're projected to do just that with an over/under of 53 wins, putting them in the conversation with the Rockets, Jazz and Clippers for the best record in the conference.

Just as it was last season, Jokic's name will be featured prominently in the MVP race by virtue of him being by far the best player on one of the best teams.

MORE: How Jamal Murray can live up to his max extension

The cannibalization of votes

Another factor that is going to boost Jokic's chances of winning MVP is that many of the other heavy hitters joined forces this offseason. In addition to George and Leonard, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are now on the same team, as are Harden and Russell Westbrook.

That won't preclude them from being MVP candidates, but it could lead to them cancelling each other out.

MORE: Which L.A. duo is better?

Several of those players could also be on rest programs in 2019-20, further impacting their case.

Leonard famously sat out 22 games last season due to "load management" and could be on a similar - albeit less extreme - version of if with the Clippers.

It might be in the Lakers' best interest to do the same for James and Davis - James because of his age and the groin injury he suffered last season, Davis because of the injuries he has suffered in the past. The Rockets might even look to decrease Harden's workload to ensure he is as fresh as possible for the postseason, where he and the team have fizzled out on the heels of historic regular season workloads.

Then there's Stephen Curry and Joel Embiid, both of whom have battled injuries throughout their careers. Curry has missed a total of 44 games over the last two seasons compared to 37 for Embiid. Even if they were to miss 13 games next season, history shows they're unlikely to win the award.

MORE: Are the Warriors a lock to make the playoffs next season?

Jokic, on the other hand, has never missed more than nine games in a single season. Given his age (24) and run of good health, he's a safe bet to play in almost every game for the Nuggets next season, all while having the offence run through him as the team's lone superstar.

The only other MVP candidates that can be said with absolute certainty are Antetokounmpo and Lillard.

There's no doubt that Antetokounmpo poses as the greatest threat to Jokic, but the Milwaukee Bucks not living up to the sky-high expectations of being the best team in the Eastern Conference - a possibility given they lost one of the most important players, Malcolm Brogdon, in restricted free agency this offseason - could give Jokic the slight edge.

The bar has also now been set incredibly high for Antetokounmpo after he put together one of the most dominant all-around regular seasons we've ever seen. Any form of drop off or stagnation could therefore cost him some votes.

As for Lillard, he carried Portland to one fewer win than Denver last season, but there's far more uncertainty surrounding the Blazers entering this season due to the injury of Jusuf Nurkic and their reliance on unproven or inconsistent players such as Hassan Whiteside, Anfernee Simons, Rodney Hood and Mario Hezonja.

Brilliant as Lillard is, it's going to be difficult for them to win 50-plus games again, which is often a prerequisite for MVP.

MORE: Is Giannis only at 60% of his potential?

Making history

What could put Jokic over the edge? History.

According to Basketball-Reference, the 7.3 assists he averaged per game last season were the third-most ever by a centre. Wilt Chamberlain is the only other centre to have averaged more, doing so with 8.6 assists per game in the 1967-68 season and 7.8 assists per game in the 1966-67 season.

Furthermore, Jokic's 12 triple-doubles last season were the third-most ever by a centre in a single season, once again trailing only Chamberlain, who finished with 31 triple-doubles in 1967-68 and 22 triple-doubles in 1966-67. He now has 28 career triple-doubles, moving him past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the second-most all-time for his position.

Jokic will obviously have to do far more than continue to rack up assists and triple-doubles to win MVP, but with him not being a score-first type of player, it's the biggest way in which he distinguishes himself from both his peers and those who have come before him.

Prior to last season, our NBA.com Staff weighed in on whether or not Jokic was already the best passing big man of all-time. I'm not sure it's much of debate anymore, especially if he continues to progress at the rate he is, but the clearer that becomes, the more attention Jokic will get for how unique he is and how valuable his passing is to a potential title contender.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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