Opening night NBA MVP Power Rankings

The NBA is back! Here's how we expect the MVP race to shake out.

Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid
Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages
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Center. Nikola Jokic. player. 1. . Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic. 73. 1.

It's extremely uncommon to win three MVPs in a four-year span. That said, Nikola Jokic is good enough to make it happen. He has been the runaway best player in the regular season for a while. Now, he has the postseason resume to back up his reputation and the newfound respect of half the voting body who previously sided against the "analytics" candidate.

Of course, ever considering Jokic the "analytics" candidate was categorically ridiculous. Simply watching the Nuggets and checking the box score was enough to make clear his absolute stardom. There simply isn't a more impactful offensive talent in the association. Jokic scores with supreme efficiency at all three levels. He has an extremely credible argument for the mantle of best scorer and best passer. He manipulates defenders with bullish strength and balletic footwork. His touch is unmatched. Let him find the angle — any angle — and he will rifle a pass few others in basketball history have even thought to attempt. It generally lands right in the shooter's pocket.

The Denver Nuggets' offense was an absolute buzzsaw last season. The departure of Bruce Brown impacts Denver's depth, but Christian Braun looks more than ready to assume the sixth-man mantle, while young pieces like Zeke Nnaji and Peyton Watson should be able to step into more consistent roles. Even rookie Julian Strawther looks ready-made for Denver's system. The Nuggets are the favorites to finish atop the West again. So long as Jokic is on the floor, the Nuggets will maintain a sizable advantage over most teams night-to-night.

What makes Jokic special is the extent of his influence. Giannis and Embiid both elevate their teammates considerably by their sheer presence. The Sixers get a ton of open shots off of Embiid's gravity. Giannis generates plenty of looks by slicing down the lane and drawing the attention of all five defenders. Jokic is similarly front of mind for opponents, but he also makes a consistent effort to improve his teammates. He has mastered two-man actions with Jamal Murray. He will make the right pass, the extra pass, at every possible opportunity to land Denver the best possible shot attempt. The Nuggets' offense flows because of Jokic, and he's equally capable of the star-making, one-man takedowns when necessary.

Jokic averaged a truly absurd 24.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 9.8 assists on .632/.383/.822 splits last season. The big knock against him is defense, but Jokic is honestly a rock-solid defender. He takes plays off in the regular season (so does Embiid), but Jokic can leverage his strength in the post and his instincts never wane. He has great hands in passing lanes (1.3 steals) and he's a great defensive communicator. So, even his big flaw is greatly overstated most of the time.

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