Nikola Jokic is about to start his pursuit of something that hasn’t been done in nearly 40 years.
A player to win consecutive NBA MVP awards is rare, something that has only happened 13 times in the history of the league. And after doing that last season, Jokic – the cornerstone of the Denver Nuggets – is now trying something even more unusual: winning three years in a row.
The only players to have achieved that feat are Bill Russell (1961, 1962, 1963), Wilt Chamberlain (1966, 1967, 1968) and Larry Bird (1984, 1985, 1986).
The Nuggets are not keeping that fact a secret from Jokic.
“No, I challenged him,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who flew to Serbia last summer to surprise Jokic with his second prize in a row.
Jokic is clearly one of the favourites. Until this past season, there had never been a run of four consecutive international MVPs in the NBA. Jokic changed that, winning each of the last two awards after Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) won in 2019 and 2020.
And at this point, it seems almost likely that the MVP roster for non-US-born players will move to five in a row, with Jokic, Antetokounmpo, Dallas’ Luka Doncic (Slovenia) and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid among the favorites. Embiid was born in Cameroon and has French and now American citizenship.
FanDuel Sportsbook says Doncic is the favourite, just ahead of Embiid and Antetokounmpo. Jokic is fourth in terms of lowest odds, level with Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and just ahead of Memphis’ Ja Morant, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
Gregg Popovich of San Antonio has met 163 different coaches in his storied career so far. That list should reach at least 166 this season, with him slated to face Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham for the first time, Boston interim coach Joe Mazzulla and former Spurs assistant Will Hardy — now the Utah coach. .
There have been 322 coaches in NBA history, with the exception of Popovich, who has coached at least 10 games. Popovich, the all-time leader of NBA wins, has dealt with more than half of them: 50.3% or 162.
Popovich turns 74 on January 28 and is the oldest active head coach in the NBA.
It’s no secret that Popovich likes to talk about and, of course, enjoy good wine. But six of the players on San Antonio’s season-opening roster probably won’t have much to say on that subject; Jordan Hall is 20 and the Spurs have five other players – Joshua Primo, Blake Wesley, Dominick Barlow, Malaki Branham and Jeremy Sochan – who are still 19 this season.
The Spurs’ group of 19-year-olds, incidentally, includes five of the NBA’s 17 youngest players who have made rosters or signed two-way deals to start the season.
Miami’s Erik Spoelstra — whose tenure with the Heat is the second longest of any current coaches in his current job, behind only San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich — should move to the top 20 on the NBA’s all-time win list this season. .
Spoelstra starts the season with 660 wins, behind No. 22 Mike Fratello (667), No. 21 Mike D’Antoni (672) and No. 20 Red Holzman (696). No. 19 John MacLeod (707) is also within the legitimate reach of Spoelstra this season.
Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers enters the year No. 9 on the list with 1,043 wins, which is 55 behind No. 8 Larry Brown. Indiana’s Rick Carlisle has 861 wins, three back from No. 14 Jack Ramsay.
GOOD TO BE FOUND
For the second time in the past 23 seasons, the Western Conference failed to win the season-long series against Eastern Conference teams.
In the regular season, the East went 226-224 against the West – bolstered by a 3-0 record on the final day with Chicago topping Minnesota, Boston past Memphis and Atlanta beating Houston.
Throw Golden State’s 4-2 point against Boston in the NBA Finals, and the last games won for the full season were West 228, East 228.
The only other time since 1998-99 that the East has lost the regular-season series vs. the West won, 2008–09, with 231–219. In the other 21 regular seasons in that period, before last year, the West had won 5,149-3,910 against the East – a win rate of 0.568.
The youngest player in the league to enter this season is Detroit’s Jalen Duren, born November 18, 2003.
Yes, that means he wasn’t born yet when some of the current players were already in the league. LeBron James and Udonis Haslem both played their eleventh games in their careers the day Duren was born.
That’s not the only age issue this season.
Haslem, 42, is over five current head coaches: New Orleans’ Willie Green, Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins, Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault, Utah’s Will Hardy and Boston’s interim coach Joe Mazzulla. Golden State’s Andre Iguodala is older than the last four names on that list; James is older than the last three.
There are currently 19 players on the rosters older than Hardy (including jazz players Rudy Gay and Mike Conley) and 23 players older than Mazzulla (including Boston forward Al Horford).
Oklahoma City has been favorites in five games in the past two seasons. That’s the fewest games in a two-year period by any team in the past ten years; Philadelphia was favored in a combined six games over the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
That said, the Thunder was a great bet last season. They covered 63% of their games, just behind Memphis (64%) for the best percentage in the NBA. The worst was Portland, which took up 38% of the time.
That much is certain: the team that was favorite in more games than anyone else last season will not have the same accolade this year.
Last year, the Utah Jazz were favorites in 73 of 82 regular season games, ahead of Phoenix (70), Milwaukee (66), Golden State (62), Boston (61) and Miami (59). With Donovan Mitchell now in Cleveland and Rudy Gobert now in Minnesota, the Jazz won’t come close this season.
Not only is LeBron James on track to become the NBA’s all-time scorer this season; he is 1,325 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and on his career average score, he would need about 49 games to move to the No. 1 spot.
He also plans to continue rising on a number of other lists, including:
— Assists: James is now seventh with 10,045, behind No. 6 Magic Johnson (10,141), No. 5 Mark Jackson (10,334) and No. 4 Steve Nash (10,335). That would only put him behind John Stockton (15,806), Jason Kidd (12,091) and Chris Paul (10,977 this season).
— Games: James was in 1,366, currently 14th all-time. He must appear in 27 games to pass Tim Duncan (1,392) for 10th on the NBA career list, and possibly Kevin Willis (1,424) for eighth.
— Three-pointers: James is 11th in NBA history with 2,140, three behind Portland’s Damian Lillard and retired Paul Pierce, who comes in tied for ninth this year.
— Seasons: James enters Year 20. He will be the ninth player in 20 seasons.
TALKING OF 20
Udonis Haslem of Miami will be the 10th player to appear in 20 seasons, assuming LeBron James gets into a game before Haslem.
Haslem is one of only three players to have spent 20 years with one team, alongside Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (21) and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (20).
If unsigned Carmelo Anthony gets into a game this season, so will year 20 for the former Syracuse.
All players will wear Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell’s number 6 on the right shoulder of their jerseys this season, commemorating the life of the 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and civil rights activist who died this summer.
Also, all courts in the NBA have a “6” on the sidelines at the scorer’s table. And no player who isn’t already wearing No. 6 should ever wear it again; Russell is the first to retire his number in the entire league.
Among those who still wear the No. 6 jersey because they wore it before: Washington’s LeBron James, Washington’s Kristaps Porzingis, and Chicago’s Alex Caruso — who wanted to change numbers this season in tribute to Russell, but said his request was turned down .
The NBA is 26,324 points away from reaching 14 million ever.
Last season, a record 291,912 points were scored, including playoffs. There have been years when more points were scored per game on average – 16 in fact. NBA games averaged 220.6 points last season, 16 points per game less than the record of 236.6 in 1961-62.
At last year’s pace, the 14 millionth point would be scored about 120 games in this season. or sometime in early November.
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