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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Jokić vs. Dončić: a battle of basketball brilliance in MVP race

Zachary Zinman
Luka Dončić and Nikola Jokić race for the NBA regular season MVP title.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić sprinted down the court on a fast break against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 6. Mavericks 6-7 point guard Luka Dončić raised his hands helplessly as the 6-11, 284-pound Jokić galloped through the paint, stumbling through contact to score a signature floater. After a back and forth game, though, the Mavericks won 116-115.

Jokić’s ability to score close to the basket and Dončić’s lethal step-back 3-pointer make the two nearly unguardable. They both make great candidates for the 2022-23 NBA MVP award, but Jokić has a slight edge over Dončić, the 23-year-old originally from Slovenia, to win his third consecutive MVP.

Only three players have won three MVP awards in a row: NBA legends Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell — all of whom are widely considered top 15 players of all time.

Although it’s not always clear what reasons voters use to choose the MVP each year, individual performance and team success undoubtedly play a huge part. Jokić, much like in the last two years, checks both boxes playing elite basketball for the top seeded team in the Western Conference.

Jokić, the Serbian product whom fans have dubbed as “The Joker,” almost never fails to surprise his crowd with excellent performances. As one of the most versatile players in basketball, Jokić, 27, is averaging a triple-double this season with 24.9 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10.1 assists per game — something almost unheard of, especially for a center. He also leads the league in triple doubles this season at 20, though Dončić is second at 10. With only eight seasons in the NBA, Jokić has the sixth most triple doubles of all time.

On top of possessing the physical dominance of a bulky center, Jokić remarkably has the skills of a highly skilled point guard and may already be one of the best passers in the history of the game. He is third in the league in assists per game and is on pace to break his own record in the 2021-22 season for most assists per game by a center, which is 7.9.

Along with his brilliant passing, he is also a great shooter. Though his jump shot may look a little wonky, he nails most of his shots, with a highly efficient field goal percentage of 63.2%. To top it off, his 3 point shooting percentage is great at 39.1% this season, which is not too far off from the all-time best 3-point percentage from a center: Karl-Anthony Towns’s 41% in 2021-22.

As for Dončić, his superb athleticism and almost supernatural basketball ability has earned him the nickname “Luka Magic.” This season, Dončić leads the league in points per game with 33.2, also averaging 8.9 rebounds and 8.1 assists.

It is important to point out, however, that Dončić is among the league leaders in minutes per game with 36.8, while Jokić’s 33.6 minutes is not even in the top 50 most minutes per game. Dončić’s stats are undoubtedly remarkable, but the playing time numbers need to be accordingly considered.

Jokić’s individual excellence and the Nuggets’ standing as first in the Western Conference makes him the favorite to win his third straight MVP award. However, voter fatigue is real — we’ve seen it occur with many great players like Lebron James, Stephen Curry and even Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even though Dončić is having a phenomenal individual season, the Mavericks are fifth seed in the Western Conference, which may swing the award in favor of Jokić.

Regardless of the MVP outcome, the race between The Joker and Luka Magic is a historic battle of basketball brilliance.

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