After a six-game losing streak that pushed the Denver Nuggets to the brink, they have found some sense of stability. The return of reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic is a major reason why.
After losing six straight, Denver is 2-2 in its last four games and has found a recipe for success despite all of the injuries it is still dealing with — Jokic being simply masterful and the Nuggets finding it within themselves to play strong defense when it counts. It is not always consistent — which is why the Nuggets defensive rating has fallen all the way to 108.4, 15th in the league — but they are doing just enough to come away with victories.
But none of this works without Jokic, who’s MVP resume looks more brilliant by the game. For fans looking for Nuggets betting value, Jokic’s MVP odds are a great place to start.
Nikola Jokic’s path to repeat NBA MVP awards
Despite being 11-12 after 23 games and being without two of their best three players in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Jokic has been even better than last season when he won MVP. He is averaging a mind-bending 25.6 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in just 32.5 minutes per game. And he is doing all of that while taking dramatic steps forward as a defender individually and in a team construct.
His scoring is just barely below his points per game last season and his assists are down due to the drop-off in talent around him, but he is on an entirely different level as a defender. Jokic has long been a fan of playing an aggressive style of defense and playing at the level off the screen — even if that screen is 30 feet from the basket. Now, Jokic is dropping with regularity and thriving in that role. He has been able to switch on the perimeter and handle himself isolated on smaller and quicker wings or guards. He has done a good job of all-out blitzing ball handlers to get the ball out of their hands quicker.
If Jokic can sustain his production — no one in NBA history has averaged the stat line he is currently posting after 23 games — and continue to impact the game in meaningful ways on defense while leading the Nuggets to home-court advantage without either of Murray or Porter, Jokic’s resume would be set to become just the 13th player to win consecutive MVP awards.
Jokic is currently the owner of the 4th best odds to win MVP at this season. That trails Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at DraftKings Sportsbook. What those three players have done this year is incredible, but anyone would be hard-pressed to find a better value bet than Jokic at +1,500 to win MVP.
Who has stepped up with the Nuggets’ roster decimated by injuries?
As widely reported, the Nuggets are more than likely going to be without both Murray and Porter for the rest of the season while Dozier is sure to miss the rest of the year. In addition, the Nuggets are without Bol Bol, Bones Hyland, and Austin Rivers due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. So with so many contributors out for the foreseeable future, who has stepped up in their place?
Aaron Gordon has done so in a major way with Porter out. His 3-point shooting over the last eight games is up to 38.5% and he is averaging 15.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. Gordon has never attacked the rim with such intent and that has helped open things up for the rest of the offense. This is the Gordon that Denver needs for the rest of the season if it hopes to grab a top-four seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets currently sit at to win the West.
Off the bench, Zeke Nnaji has taken dramatic steps forward as a contributor for the Nuggets. He has been a regular rotation member for the last six games and his performance against the New York Knicks perfectly illustrates just how impactful he can be. In that game, he posted three career highs in minutes played (33.7), points scored (21), and 3-pointers made (5) on his way to a 21-point, eight-rebound, and two-steal performance on the road in Madison Square Garden. Nnaji was drilling every open 3-pointer with confidence, his rolls to the rim collapsed the defense, he was able to defend multiple positions, was snatching rebounds with ease, all while never doing too much or too little. He knew exactly what his role was and played it to perfection. Expect to see a lot more of Nnaji going forward.
Nuggets vs Spurs
The last time the Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs met up, it was in Denver and Keldon Johnson nearly led the Spurs to an upset victory over the Nuggets. Denver still had Michael Porter Jr. and PJ Dozier at the time. Now the Spurs will have their chance to rectify their loss or the Nuggets can use the two-game set against the middling Spurts on Thursday and Saturday night.
Still, Jokic had his way with Jakob Poetlel in that contest to the tune of 32 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals and there is no reason to expect anything different from the league’s reigning MVP. From an NBA betting perspective, taking the over on good value player props is a must when Jokic plays a slower-footed big man and both upcoming games against San Antonio are no different.
There could be value depending on what the over is set at as well. The Nuggets have hit the over in four of their last five games and have averaged 114 points per game against the Spurs over their last five meetings. With the slow pace the Nuggets play at and their inconsistent offensive play, their over/under lines have been lower than expected and that could lead to strong value for bettors.