2024 PBT NBA Awards: Nikola Jokic for MVP

Injuries held Joel Embiid back from repeating as NBA MVP — he put up better numbers than a year ago when he played but only appeared in 39 games, which was too few before the NBA's 65-game mandate — but that doesn't mean we're getting a first-time winner.

I will be sharing my awards ballot over the course of this week, and we'll start at the top with the 2024 NBA MVP.

1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
5. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

For the past 10 days or so, feeling like picking him was just too obvious and too much the conventional wisdom, I have been trying to poke a hole in Jokic's MVP case. In the end, I came back around to him being the choice. It wasn't simply statistics, although Jokic's numbers are MVP-worthy: 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 9 assists a game, shooting 35.9% from 3 — and the advanced stats love him more than the conventional ones.

It was watching him play this season — in person and on television — that sealed his case. Jokic isn't just the best player in the game right now, he controls the game like a puppeteer — and he does not by dominating the ball but by moving it. Jokic's passing, IQ, and court mapping awareness lift good players such as Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to new levels. Jokic is the clear MVP to me.

Gilgeous-Alexander and Doncic were almost a coin toss for me in second and third, but a few things pushed me to put SGA second. First, he is a much better defender (Doncic isn't as bad at that as his reputation is when he's focused and not yelling at the referees, but Gilgeous-Alexander is tied for the league lead in steals with De'Aaron Fox). The other separator was clutch play — Doncic has his clutch moments, but Gilgeous-Alexander was better during the regular season and the Thunder have the top seed in the West because of his clutch play.

(As a side note, I put less value on team seedings in these votes than many others, unless the gap is massive, which we will get to in a second. I didn't factor the Mavericks' No. 5 seed into this choice in the same way I didn't factor the Thunder's No. 1 seed into comparing SGA and Jokic, although the Thunder and Nuggets tied so there is no meaningful gap there.)

Doncic was brilliant this season, particularly in the final couple of months, and with Dallas playing quality defense now, he and the Mavericks could make waves this postseason. I feel like Antetokounmpo is shorted here being fourth, I think he has a legitimate case to be higher on this list because of the load he had to carry on a team that saw a coaching change and plenty of turbulence during the season. Plus, Antetokounmpo is the best defender of this group. In the end, I just could not put him in front of Jokic/SGA/Doncic, so he came in at a close fourth.

The fifth and final spot may have been the most difficult — Jalen Brunson has a legitimate claim to this spot. Leaving him off hurt. He had to carry a massive weight for the Knicks, particularly after Julius Randle went down. However, Jayson Tatum had standout statistics of his own and to dock him because Brad Stevens did a great job building out a roster is unfair. In general, I am not a fan of the "best player on the best team" argument for picking an MVP, but when you have a guy playing at a top-five level on a team that finished 14 games in front of Brunson's Knicks, he gets the nod.