Nikola Jokic is expected to receive his second consecutive NBA MVP award sometime in the near future.
And when he does, his season will have already been over.
Jokic and the Denver Nuggets were eliminated in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs with a Game 5 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.
With yet another historic performance in 2021-22, Jokic admirably led a Nuggets team that got nine combined games out of Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray to the sixth seed in the Western Conference. But, even with the Joker posting 31 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game on 58% shooting against Golden State, the shorthanded Nuggets were bounced in Round 1 via a gentleman’s sweep.
So, assuming he’s named MVP, would Jokic be making history with a first-round exit in the same season he won the award?
Has the NBA MVP ever failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs?
Jokic wouldn’t be the first MVP to be eliminated from the postseason this early. But he would be joining pretty rare company.
Since the first round was introduced with the expansion from eight to 10 total playoff teams in 1975, an MVP has failed to make it past Round 1 just four times.
The same player actually accounted for the first two times it happened. Moses Malone captured his first MVP in 1978-79 before the No. 4 Houston Rockets were upset by the No. 5 Atlanta Hawks 2-0 in a best-of-three Round 1. Malone’s second MVP season ended in a first-round exit as well, with the No. 6 Rockets falling 2-1 to the No. 3 Seattle SuperSonics in the 1982 playoffs.
The Hall of Fame big man won MVP again the following season with the 76ers and went much further than Round 1, leading Philadelphia to a championship.
There have only been two MVPs who lost in Round 1 since first-round byes were done away with in 1984 -- both within the past 20 years. MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks piled up a league-best 67 wins in 2006-07. Then, the Mavs went down in NBA infamy as one of the few No. 1 seeds to ever be defeated by a No. 8 seed as they were stunned by the “We Believe” Warriors in six games.
Russell Westbrook was the most recent MVP to bow out in the first round. In 2016-17, Westbrook became the first player in over 50 years to average a triple-double for an entire season en route to winning MVP. His Oklahoma City Thunder suffered the same playoff fate as Jokic’s Nuggets though, falling in five games to the No. 3 Rockets.
Even if you go back further than 1975, there was only one other MVP who lost in the opening “division semifinals” round. Wes Unseld’s MVP rookie campaign powered the Baltimore Bullets to the top seed in the Eastern Division in 1968-69. However, Baltimore couldn’t muster up a single win against the New York Knicks in the opening round of the playoffs, being swept 4-0 by Willis Reed and Co.
Finally, it should be mentioned that there has been one MVP who didn’t even reach the postseason. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar claimed the award in his first season with the Lakers, but Los Angeles missed the 1976 playoffs after finishing with a losing 40-42 record.