Gilbert Arenas on Nikola Jokic: ‘He is the worst MVP winner in the last 40 years’

Peter Dewey
7 Min Read
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Former NBA guard Gilbert Arenas took a shot at Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, calling him the “worst MVP winner” in the last 40 years of the league.

Arenas and Shannon Sharpe reacted to Jokic potentially receiving his third MVP award in four seasons. The latest ESPN straw poll has the Nuggets big man heavily favored, and ESPN’s Tim MacMahon broke down why Jokic is a deserving candidate on the Hoop Collective podcast.

“I had somebody with another team who was saying you can’t, in historical context, you cannot give this guy three MVPs in four years,” MacMahon said. “Basically his take was like, ‘That’s not going to age well.’ And I’m like, ‘First of all, why can’t you?’ and second of all, I’m very comfortable with how that’ll age. The guy is 28 years old, already has a Finals MVP, is as dominant as any player that we’ve seen in a long, long time. He’s going to be a top-10 player all time. I’m more than comfortable with how that will age.”

Arenas didn’t seem to agree, even though Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double this season and is leading eligible MVP candidates in player impact estimate (PIE) this season (Joel Embiid is No. 1 but will not play enough games to qualify to win the league’s MVP award).

“Jokic is probably, statistically, when it comes to overall game, the worst MVP winner,” Arenas said. “He is the worst MVP winner in the last 40 years.”

Sharpe then asked Arenas to go further into why he thinks that about the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

“When you’re talking about MVP, the guys outside of first and second place – their teams was first and second place,” Arenas said. “The people who won the MVP, their teams was first and second.”

Right now, Jokic and the Nuggets are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, sitting in a tie with Minnesota for the best record in the conference. Jokic did win an MVP award when his team was the No. 6 seed back in the 2021-22 season, but the Nuggets didn’t have Jamal Murray for that entire season and still avoided the play-in tournament.

Jokic also averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game that season while posting a plus-16.4 net plus/minus per 100 possessions.

Still, Arenas took shots at Jokic’s MVPs from the 2020-21 season and 2021-22 season.

“When Westbrook won it, his team had the 10th-best record, triple-double, right?” Arenas said. “He did something amazing. His team was 10th, but he did something that wasn’t done since Oscar Robertson.

“When Jokic, in 2021, Jokic’s team was fifth. He averaged 26, eight and 10. What was the historic part of that? There was no historic – ‘Oh, the big man almost had a triple-double. Let’s give it to him.’ That’s what the narrative was. A big man almost – not did – almost won the triple-double, and they gave it to him when his team record was like that.

“His second MVP, his team was tied in 10th place – 10th-best record in the NBA, 27, eight and 13. What was historic about it?”

It’s strange that Arenas doesn’t find those numbers impressive, as Giannis Antetokounpo won the MVP award in the 2018-19 season averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, which is eerily similar to what Jokic put up in the 2021-22 campaign.

It appears the former guard wasn’t happy with Jokic winning the MVP without having a top record in the league – which is a fair argument – but there is no denying the impact he’s had on his team based on his plus/minus numbers.

Now, in each of the last two seasons, Jokic’s net plus/minus per 100 possessions is higher than the plus-16.4 he posted during the 2021-22 season when he won his second MVP award. He was a plus-21.9 last season (and didn’t win MVP) and is currently a plus-19.7 this season. For comparison, MVP candidate Luka Doncic has a net plus/minus of plus-6.7 in the 2023-24 campaign.

To further explain this statistic, it’s important to note that Denver is playing much worse with Jokic off the court than it is when he’s on the floor.

When Jokic has been on the floor over the past three seasons, Denver has posted a plus/minus per 100 possessions of plus-8.4 (2021-22 season), plus-12.0 (2022-23 season) and plus-11.1 (2023-24 season). His on/off numbers – or the net plus/minus impact of him being on the floor versus off the floor – in those seasons are plus-16.4, plus-21.9 and plus-19.7.

This means that when Jokic has been off the floor in the last three seasons, Denver has posted a net plus/minus of minus-8.0, minus-9.9 and minus-8.6 per 100 possessions.

In Westbrook’s historic triple-double MVP season, the 2016-17 campaign, the Oklahoma City Thunder were very similar. Westbrook was a plus-4.0 when he was on the floor, but his overall on/off plus/minus was plus-12.5, meaning Oklahoma City was minus-8.5 points per 100 possessions when he was off the floor.

Arenas is certainly entitled to his opinion on Jokic, but there’s no doubt that the Nuggets big man has made a massive impact on his team, and it showed when Denver won the NBA Finals last season.

If Jokic wins the MVP this season, he’ll join Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the NBA players with three or more MVPs in their career.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball, football and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.