NBA Awards Rankings: MVP race heats up with Joel Embiid DQ'd

Joel Embiid won't repeat as league MVP, which leaves the door wide open for new arrivals and familiar faces.

Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander / Richard Rodriguez/GettyImages
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Nuggets. . Nikola Jokic. 2. player. C. 73. 2. . Nikola Jokic

26.2 PPG | 12.2 RPG | 9.0 APG | .583 FG% | .365 3P% | .819 FT%

The Denver Nuggets are back in the No. 1 seed mix and Nikola Jokic is back on MVP radars. His case only gets stronger with the Embiid news, and while voters are generally hesitant to award a player his third MVP trophy, Jokic is a generational talent. He, more than anybody else not named LeBron James or Stephen Curry, has earned the right to etch his name in NBA history with historic levels of recognition.

Denver continues to go as Jokic goes. The Nuggets have placed a great team around Jokic, but none of it works without the lumbering 7-footer from Serbia. He's the NBA's greatest passer — not only for his creativity, but for the speed of his processing and the accuracy of his deliveries. Jokic will constantly leave defenses baffled with volleyball-tap passes to open shooters or no-look dimes to a cutting teammate. He manipulates a defense with his eyes better than any NBA player. That ability to fracture coverages with his mind, before he even dribbles or catches the ball, is singular.

Of course, Jokic can do plenty of damage when he does dribble, too. He is the NBA's most efficient post scorer and a truly underrated iso threat. Because he gets so much love for his passing and efficiency, folks tend to forget — or simply not realize — the extent to which Jokic can dominate his defender one-on-one. The combination of strength, footwork, and touch is reminiscent of the great big men of yore. He can kiss shots off the rim from the strangest of angles. Even when he appears bottled up and out of options, Jokic has a knack for locating the basket and offering up a solid attempt. He is probably the NBA's best improv scorer.

The defense isn't a severe weakness either. Jokic probably doesn't get bonus points for his rim protection, but he's a fundamentally sound anchor with magnetic hands in passing lanes. Jokic gets the job done on that end, and he is the NBA's most consistently positive influence on offense. He has stiff competition this season, but don't be surprised if Jokic walks away with his third trophy in four years.