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Malone confident Jokic can match Larry Bird’s feat

Nikola Jokic is trying to become the third NBA player to win three MVPs in a row -the first since Larry Bird, and his coach believes he deserves it.

Feb 23, 2023; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David RichardUSA TODAY Sports

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is in no doubt that Nikola Jokic is the most valuable player in the NBA. The Serbian center, who picked up the award during the past two years, has a chance to become the first player since Larry Bird (1984-1986) to win three consecutive MVPs. Just two other players have managed the feat - Bill Russell (1961-1963) and Wilt Chamberlain (1966-1968).

This season, Jokic has taken his already spectacular playmaking to a new level, averaging a career-high 10.2 assists per game while also shooting career-best percentages for his 24.7 points and 11.6 rebounds. No center in league history has ever averaged more than Chamberlain’s 8.6 assists per game in the 1967-68 season.

Crunching the numbers

Among players attempting at least 10 field goals per game this season, Jokic leads the league with his 63.2 field goal percentage, while his true shooting percentage of 70.4 per cent (which takes into account his 40.2 per cent three-point clip and 82.5 per cent from the free throw line) leads all players averaging at least 25 minutes per game. He also sits fifth in rebounds per game (11.6), his 1.3 steals per game leads all centers, and his average plus/minus of plus 10.5 also leads the entire league.

Jokic piled up 24 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in a tough 115-109 road win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, keeping the Nuggets a perfect 22-0 in games their superstar has posted a triple-double in this season.

Jokic on course to make history

Speaking to reporters after the victory, Malone made it clear that he believes Jokic should be honoured for the third year in a row. “He’s the MVP,” he said. “When the MVP goes out and puts up a triple-double, that means that he’s impacting the game at a high level across the board. I think the most important stat – and he’s going to set the record this year – for most assists per game by a center in NBA history. He’s going to blow it out of the water, because he’s going to average 10-plus assists per game. But his playmaking ability, to generate the shots, and the quality of shots he does every night, is just remarkable. There are a lot of guys who can score, there are a lot of guys who can rebound, but the playmaking, and the ability to make everyone around him better, is what makes him truly a historically great basketball player.”

With a record of 42-18, the Nuggets are six games clear atop the Western Conference standings. Jokic and the Nuggets are next in action on Saturday, facing the second-placed Grizzlies in Memphis.


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