Whether or not Nikola Jokić deserves to become just the fourth player in NBA history to win three consecutive most valuable player awards is a hot-button topic on sports talk shows.
Writers and broadcasters vote for the award, not players. But Nikola Vučević offered his opinion in advance of the Chicago Bulls’ Wednesday matchup with Jokić’s Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets.
“I think he deserves to get another one, the way he’s playing. I think you take him out of that team, it’s not even close to the same team,” Vučević said. “The things that he does, you look at his stats, the efficiency he’s playing at, it’s very impressive.
“And it’s not like he’s putting up numbers and they’re not winning. They’re (25-0) when he has a triple-double. And he plays in a winning way. He makes the right play. He doesn’t force. He doesn’t try to do something just to do it. It’s all within the flow of the game. It’s winning basketball.”
Jokić is vying to join Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird, who last accomplished the feat from 1983-86, to win three straight MVP awards. He’s currently averaging a triple double of 24.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Nuggets lead the Western Conference at 46-19, which includes an NBA-best 30-4 mark at home.
“You can tell when he plays basketball, it’s just joy for him. It’s easy. It just comes natural to him. That’s what makes him so unique,” Vučević said. “He enjoys winning and playing for his teammates. So it’s fun to watch.
“They do such a great job of playing off him. Everybody fits in their role. That’s what makes them such a great team. And he’s one of the best players in the league and the best player on that team. He can score in different ways. You never know what to expect when he has the ball. He’ll be looking one way and throw a crazy pass to the other side of the floor. Obviously, a helluva player who we have to game plan for very well.”
This team success has obviously eluded the Bulls, who are fighting for a mere play-in chance and currently on the outside looking in. Beating Denver on the road will be a tall task.
“The whole season hasn’t really been the way we thought it would be. And I think the most frustrating part is whenever we’d get to a place where we’re like, ‘Oh, we just one game out of .500. Maybe that’s it. Get a couple wins in a row. We’re playing better.’ And then it kind of goes backwards again,” Vučević said. “It’s frustrating. But you have to deal with it. We all have to be professional and stick the course and fight to the end. You never know what can happen. We have the talent. That gives us belief.”
Vučević has become close with Jokić, who he first jokingly said is “pretty OK” and “a stat-padder.” As a fellow European player, Vučević first heard of Jokić’s skill level as he rose through the youth ranks in Serbia. They met in 2015, Jokić’s first year in the league. And they spent time together in the Orlando Bubble and occasionally see each other overseas.
“You could tell the natural talent he has, the natural feel for the game,” Vučević said. “It’s just not something you teach. It’s something you’re born with and obviously he has gotten better at it as the years have gone on.”
Vučević admitted there’s a brotherhood shared among European players. From playing against each other at EuroBasket or FIBA World Cup events or club teams before coming to the NBA, the bond is genuine.
“It’s just that automatic connection,” Vučević said. “You see someone from Europe, especially someone from kind of the same region you were from, you feel like you already know each other. It’s special. We all enjoy it. We hope that we’re opening the path for more and more people to come.”