Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Jokic wins NBA’s MVP award, his 3rd in 4 seasons. Gilgeous-Alexander and Doncic round out top 3

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Nikola Jokic did it all again. And the MVP trophy is his again.

Jokic, the Denver Nuggets star from Serbia, was announced Wednesday night as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player — his third time winning the award in the past four seasons, a feat that just six other players in league history have accomplished.

He averaged 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists. Others averaged more in each category — and Jokic has had better years in each of those categories — but he was the only player to rank in the NBA’s top 10 in points, rebounds and assists per game this season.

Jokic got 79 of a possible 99 first-place votes from the panel of reporters and broadcasters who cast ballots on awards when the regular season ended.

“It’s got to start with your teammates,” Jokic said on TNT, where the award was announced. “Without them, I’m nothing. Without them, I cannot do nothing. Coaches, players, organization, medical staff, development coaches … I cannot be whoever I am without them.”

Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was second and Dallas’ Luka Doncic was third, both getting into the top three of MVP voting for the first time. With Jokic from Serbia, Gilgeous-Alexander from Canada and Doncic from Slovenia, it marked the third consecutive season that three players born outside the U.S. finished 1-2-3 in the MVP balloting.

This time, the foreign dominance atop the NBA was even more pronounced: Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is from Greece, was fourth — so this became the first time in the award’s 69-year history that international players went 1-2-3-4 in the voting. It also became the sixth consecutive year that a player born outside the U.S. won the award.

Jokic appeared on television for the award announcement wearing a T-shirt commemorating the life of one of his mentors, Golden State assistant coach Dejan Milojević, who died earlier this year after a heart attack on a road trip.

“To be honest, I’m wearing this shirt pretty much every day, especially when I’m in the training facility,” Jokic said. “Deki was the guy who gave me the freedom. He showed me the way how you’re supposed to do things — act, train, workout. … He trusted me and I can just say, ‘thank you.’”

Jokic appeared on all 99 ballots, with 18 second-place votes and two third-place votes. Gilgeous-Alexander also appeared on every ballot, with 15 first-place votes, 40 second-place, 40 third-place, three fourth-place and one fifth-place nod.

Doncic was on all but one ballot and got four first-place votes. Antetokounmpo got one first-place vote on his way to fourth. New York’s Jalen Brunson was fifth, followed by Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis and Phoenix’s Kevin Durant.

“Some people say it’s the best player on the best team,” Jokic said, when asked to define an MVP. “To me, it’s the guy who’s the most valuable, the team couldn’t play without him.”

Jokic is now the ninth player to win the MVP award at least three times. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won it six times, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan each won five, Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James won four, and Moses Malone, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are the other three-time winners.

Jokic’s surprise rise to superstardom has been chronicled time and again over the years: He was the 41st overall pick in the 2014 draft, didn’t even think he had a realistic chance at playing in the NBA when his career was beginning and now has a Hall of Fame resume at 29.

The other players with three MVP trophies in a four-year span are James, Johnson, Bird, Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain and Russell. And Jokic becomes the fifth player to be first or second in the MVP voting in four consecutive years — joining Bird, Abdul-Jabbar, Russell and Tim Duncan.

Gilgeous-Alexander had perhaps the best feel-good story in the NBA this season, helping Oklahoma City to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference by averaging 30.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists. The Thunder won 57 games, 17 more than they did last season and 33 more than they did two years ago, their rise coinciding with Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as one of the game’s elite players.

“There is not a night when I don’t feel like we have the best player on the floor. … There’s no one I’d rather have on our team than him,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault, the league’s coach of the year this season, said last month.

Doncic made a case for the MVP award by posting the first season in NBA history in which a player averaged 34 points, nine rebounds and nine assists per game. There had been 14 instances before this year in which a player averaged that many points and rebounds in a season — of those, five had resulted in MVP wins, including last season when Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid averaged 33 points and 10 rebounds.

And this was the second time ever that a player averaged at least 33 points and nine assists per game. The other was in 1972-73, when Kansas City’s Tiny Archibald averaged 34 points and 11 assists. He finished third in that season’s MVP voting, just like Doncic did this season.

But in the end, it was Jokic who stood above all others — and the vote wasn’t close.

“I think he’s stated his case pretty well,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said. “He does it every night. It’s hard to do what he does and face the kind of pressure that he does each and every game. He does it with a smile on his face. He makes everybody around us better. And he’s a leader on the court and somebody that we expect greatness from every time he steps on the court and he’s delivered.”

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AP Sports Writers Arnie Stapleton and Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

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