Nikola Jokic is SN’s NBA Player of the Year: Where Nuggets MVP Now Ranks in Center GOAT and Player Discussions

Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic was denied the MVP award last season in part because some voters didn’t think he deserved to be in that hallowed circle of three-time winners. Only eight players have won three or more, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s ridiculous six.

It is no longer possible to refuse this price to Jokic: he is simply too good.

The six-time All-Star proved definitively during last year’s championship that he was the best player in the league, and he maintained his level of play this year. He has a deadly jump shot, perhaps the best floater in league history, he is the best passer of all time and he is unstoppable in the post.

When it comes to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic, Jokic is our Sporting News NBA Player of the Year. You don’t need fancy numbers to show why he’s at the top of the mountain, as we highlighted when he won our award in 2022. Watch him play and you’ll immediately understand why he’s so special.

The only question left for Jokic is where he will end up in the historical debate. The middle position is absolutely stacked, but he’s slowly climbing the rankings.

When we compiled our 2023 all-time rankings, we had Jokic as the No. 19 overall player and the No. 7 center. Here’s how much another year as the NBA’s best player propels him up the list.

MORE: Nikola Jokic Could Lead the NBA in Scoring If He Wanted

Nikola Jokic’s ranking among the best NBA centers

Rank Player Securities MVP All-NBA
1. Kareem Abdul Jabbar 6 6 15
2. Bill Russell 11 5 11
3. Wilt Chamberlain 2 4 ten
4. Shaquille O’Neal 4 1 14
5. Hakeem Olajuwon 2 1 12
6. Nikola Jokic 1 2* 5*
7. Moses Malone 1 3 8
8. David Robinson 2 1 ten

* Jokic will likely make his sixth All-NBA team and win his third MVP award at the end of the season.

Jokic’s incredible season in which he averaged 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists for one of the best teams in the league is enough to move him up one spot in our ranking. He is now rid of Moses Malone. Hakeem Olajuwon is next.

Getting into the top five centers of all time is an extremely high bar to clear. We wrote last year that for Jokic to be considered, he would need to add another MVP and another championship. He might just do that. He is a heavy favorite to win the MVP award, and the Nuggets are the second team behind the Celtics to win a ring based on NBA title odds via BetMGM.

MORE: TSN’s Steph Noh shares his All-NBA expert picks

Central debate between Nikola Jokic and Hakeem Olajuwon

A year ago, this would have been a fairly simple exercise. Today, you could easily flip Jokic or Olajuwon between fifth and sixth center all-time.

Olajuwon has consistency going for him right now. He made a ridiculous 12 All-NBA teams, compared to Jokic’s six after this season’s awards were announced. Olajuwon also has one more title, although that could be evened after this year.

The biggest difference, of course, is in defense. Olajuwon is on the short list of all-time greats. He made nine All-Defensive teams, won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and was a top shot blocker, averaging 4.6 blocks in 82 games in 1989- 90.

The only weakness in Olajuwon’s game was that he was not a good passer. He could make basic reads, but he could also struggle to pass out on double teams. Jokic has a huge advantage there.

If Jokic ends up winning another title and playing a few more seasons as an All-NBA player, then he will surpass Olajuwon.

This probably won’t implicate The Dream given that he’s a big fan of Jokic. “I love the Joker!” Olajuwon told SI’s Chris Ballard in 2023. “That’s him.”

MORE: 2024 NBA Awards Odds Tracker: Updated favorites and sleepers’ best bets for MVP, ROY, DPOY and more

Ranking Nikola Jokic among the best players in NBA history

Rank Player Securities MVP All-NBA
1. Michael Jordan 6 5 11
2. LeBron James 4 4 19*
3. Kareem Abdul Jabbar 6 6 15
4. Bill Russell 11 5 11
5. Magic Johnson 5 3 ten
6. Wilt Chamberlain 2 4 ten
7. Larry Bird 3 3 ten
8. Tim Duncan 5 2 15
9. Shaquille O’Neal 4 1 14
ten. Kobe Bryant 5 1 15
11. Hakeem Olajuwon 2 1 12
12. Stephen Curry 4 2 9*
13. Kevin Durant 2 1 ten*
14. Julius Erving 1 4 7
15. Nikola Jokic 1 2* 5*
16. Giannis Antetokounmpo 1 2* 7*
17. Kevin Garnett 1 1 9
18. Moses Malone 1 3 8
19. Oscar Robertson 1 1 11
20. Jerry West 1 0 12
21. Dirk Nowitzki 1 1 12
22. Karl Malone 0 2 14
23. David Robinson 2 1 ten
24. Charles Barkley 0 1 11
25. Elgin Baylor 0 0 ten

*Totals may change after 2024 awards are announced

Jokic moves from 17th to 15th on our all-time list, passing Kevin Garnett and Antetokounmpo.

Nikola Jokic vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo debate

This will be a hotly debated topic all summer, especially if Jokic wins the title.

Jokic will likely eclipse Antetokounmpo in MVP, with three to two for Greek Freak. Both are easily top-four players in the league, and they’re only separated by 10 months in age. They will continue to struggle in terms of professional success until they retire.

Giannis has a clear defensive advantage. He won Defensive Player of the Year once and finished in the top six in voting the last five seasons.

Both are great scorers, in different capacities. Teams must build a wall to keep Giannis out of the paint. If you don’t bring two defenders to Jokic in the post, then you’re done. While Antetokounmpo has improved as a passer every year and has thrown some nice dimes this season, Jokic is in best territory ever.

The tiebreaker between the two could end up being rings. Their teams should be in contention for the next few years at least. It will be fascinating to see how many each player gets.

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