Hughes: Why Jokic won MVP over Embiid

Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid

I did not have an official vote for the NBA's most valuable player award this season, but I did have one in a straw poll conducted by a national outlet that I cannot name in the interest of anonymity. Okay, it was ESPN and I voted for Joel Embiid of the Sixers.

He didn't win. Instead, it was Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who took home the award on Monday, per ESPN, and has now won the award in back-to-back years. He became just the 13th player in league history to go back-to-back.

While I thought Embiid was the MVP because of his two-way dominance and how he kept the Sixers afloat during the Ben Simmons saga, it's not hard to see why Jokic ended up the winner. He had a monster season averaging 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game. 

Jokic was the sixth player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in a season. And he was the first player ever to record at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists.

That distinction caught the attention of many, as it singled Jokic out as having a historic season and also showed his widespread impact on the Nuggets. It wasn't just the numbers, either. The fact Denver went 48-34 without Jamal Murray for the entire year and only had Michael Porter Jr. for nine games is a remarkable feat for Jokic. They lost their second and third best players due to injury and were still 14 games above .500.


Murray was an especially big loss. He was a key figure on the 2019-20 Nuggets team which made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the eventual champion L.A. Lakers.

Based on the reaction of some on social media, you would think Embiid got robbed of the award, that Jokic wasn't deserving. Though I would have voted for Embiid, that's far from the case. This is a matter of two great players having exceptional seasons and not a whole lot separating them.

Embiid won the scoring title, shot a higher percentage from three and blocked more shots. Jokic, meanwhile, grabbed more rebounds, had more assists and steals. While Embiid has long been an elite defender, Jokic has made significant strides on that end of the floor, to the point some advanced metrics suggest he too is among the better rim-protectors in the league.

Embiid's case may have been hurt by him simply having more help, at least in the eyes of the voters. The Simmons situation was a disaster, but Tobias Harris was available all season, Tyrese Maxey emerged in their backcourt and they acquired James Harden at the trade deadline. If the Nuggets had instead traded for a player like Harden, maybe that would have tipped the scale towards Embiid.

The irony of this debate, which has become one of the more contentious NBA debates on Twitter in recent months, is that most would probably argue neither Jokic or Embiid is the best player in the league. That nod would likely go to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who like Jokic now also has two MVP awards. He's also the reigning Finals MVP and is the only one of the three with a ring.

One thing seems certain and that is this MVP race between Jokic and Embiid (with Antetokounmpo in third) is going to go down as one of the closer and more memorable in recent years. Maybe it will stand the test of time in that regard. The fact Philly sports fans never seem to forget a slight probably helps the cause there.

But regardless of that, Jokic is the official MVP and whether you would have voted for him or not, he's deserving of the award.