Fiddling with a strap on his backpack, reigning Kia MVP Nikola Jokic stopped his interviewer short of asking about pressure entering a potential repeat campaign.
“Brother, I could not care less, for real,” he said.
We do. Otherwise, why else go through the trouble of exploring this diverse field of early candidates for the 2021-22 Kia MVP Award just a game into the season for most teams?
Interestingly, just like last season, the Las Vegas oddsmakers give 22-year-old Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic the early edge on the field to capture his first MVP. Doncic dazzled again in his third season, but he failed to move Dallas past the LA Clippers in the opening round of the postseason for the second consecutive season. The DraftKings Sportsbook on Oct. 15 pegged Doncic, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the favorites to win the MVP, while Jokic was nowhere to be seen among the top five.
The NBA.com 2021-22 GM Survey revealed a similar trend, as the league’s GMs predicted Durant (37%), Doncic (33%), and Antetokounmpo (13%) among the top three, followed by Embiid (7%), James Harden (7%) and Stephen Curry (3%).
Again, no Jokic to be found.
Surely, that’s fine by Jokic, who opened the season with a 27-point, 13-rebound performance in Denver’s season-opening win over the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns. Besides, Jokic like the rest of us, understands the recent history of the MVP chase, not to mention the depth of the field, which contains plenty of established former MVP winners, newcomers, longshots and perhaps a surprise player or two that will play their way into the conversation.
The late, great Sekou Smith (we all miss you tremendously by the way) pointed out going into last season that the MVP had changed hands between just seven players (eight now) since the 2008-09 season. The diversity and talent level of the current field likely takes us away from those days of sheer dominance from the usual suspects.
We saw a fresh face in Jokic take the award last season, and 2021-22 might yield yet another new MVP.
Six of the eight active MVPs (Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Durant, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, and James Harden) factor heavily into this year’s chase, but don’t count out new Laker Russell Westbrook, who didn’t make our initial list of candidates.
In advance of next week’s first edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder of 2021-22, here’s a closer look at 21 names who will factor into what’s sure to be a lively debate as the season progresses.