Nikola Jokic is SN’s NBA Player of the Year: Where Nuggets MVP now ranks in GOAT center and player debates

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

It’s no longer possible to deny Jokic the award — he’s simply too good.

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

With respect 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 outlined when he won our award in 2022. Watch him play and it is immediately evident why he is so special. 

The only question remaining for Jokic is where he will end up in the all-time debate. The center position is absolutely stacked, but he is slowly climbing up the rankings.  

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

MORE: Nikola Jokic could lead the NBA in scoring if he wanted

Nikola Jokic’s rank among best NBA centers

Rank Player Titles MVP All-NBA
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 6 6 15
2. Bill Russell 11 5 11
3. Wilt Chamberlain 2 4 10
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 10

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

Jokic’s unbelievable 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 good enough to move him up one spot in our rankings. He’s now clear of Moses Malone. Hakeem Olajuwon is next up. 

Breaking into the top five centers of all-time is an extremely high bar to pass. We wrote last year that in order for Jokic to be considered, he would need to add another MVP and championship. He might just do that. He’s a huge favorite to win MVP, and the Nuggets are the No. 2 team behind the Celtics to win a ring based on NBA title odds via BetMGM

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

Nikola Jokic vs. Hakeem Olajuwon center debate

One year ago, this would have been a pretty easy exercise. Today, you could easily flip-flop Jokic or Olajuwon between the fifth and sixth all-time center spots. 

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

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

The one weakness in Olajuwon’s game was that he was not a great passer. He could make basic reads, but he could also have trouble passing out of double-teams. Jokic has a massive advantage there. 

If Jokic does end up winning another title and playing another few seasons as an All-NBA player, then he will pass Olajuwon.

That probably won’t phase The Dream given that he is a huge fan of Jokic. “I love the Joker!” Olajuwon told SI’s Chris Ballard back in 2023. “He’s the one.” 

MORE: NBA awards odds tracker 2024: Updated favorites and sleepers best bets for MVP, ROY, DPOY and more

Nikola Jokic’s rank among best players in NBA history

Rank Player Titles 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 10
6. Wilt Chamberlain 2 4 10
7. Larry Bird 3 3 10
8. Tim Duncan 5 2 15
9. Shaquille O’Neal 4 1 14
10. Kobe Bryant 5 1 15
11. Hakeem Olajuwon 2 1 12
12. Stephen Curry 4 2 9*
13.  Kevin Durant 2 1 10*
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 10
24. Charles Barkley 0 1 11
25. Elgin Baylor 0 0 10

* Totals may change after 2024 awards are announced

Jokic moves up from 17 to 15 on our All-Time list, passing Kevin Garnett and Antetokounmpo.

Nikola Jokic vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo debate

This is going to be a hotly debated topic all summer, particularly if Jokic does win the title. 

Jokic is likely going to eclipse Antetokounmpo in MVPs, with three to the Greek Freak’s two. Both are easily among the league’s top four players, and they are only separated in age by 10 months. They will continue to go blow-for-blow in career achievements until they retire. 

Giannis has a clear edge defensively. He’s won the Defensive Player of the Year award once and finished top six in voting over the past five seasons. 

Both are great scorers, in different ways. Teams have to build a wall to keep Giannis out of the paint. If you don’t bring two defenders at Jokic in the post, then you’re cooked. While Antetokounmpo has gotten better as a passer each year and thrown some beautiful dimes this season, Jokic is in best-of-all-time territory. 

The tiebreaker between the two might end up being rings. Their teams should be contenders over at least the next few years. It will be fascinating to see how many each player ends up with. 

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