This is the last entry in our first NBA Tuesday miniseries, as we have caught up to the present day. Amazing that this journey started back in late March 2020 when pandemic times first hit us all very hard. And now, the end of the road has been reached for our revisionist analyses of the MVP and ROTY awards in professional basketball. What’s next? Tune in next week to find out!
In the meantime, enjoy our final (for now) entry in this exciting sabermetric journey through the past …
2021 NBA MVP: Nikola Jokić (original, confirmed)
We have a very limited pool of candidates this season as the vote winner—Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić—topped the league in both Win Shares (15.62) and Player Efficiency Rating (31.28), and no other player really could match his overall prowess on the year.
The next-best player was Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, the vote winner in 2019 and 2020 that we stripped of both honors, who came in fourth for WS (10.23) and third for PER (29.18). Miami Heat small forward Jimmy Butler was a distant third best (9.28 WS, 26.51 PER—fifth overall in both categories).
Jokić led all players in WS by 4.33 wins, which is pretty historic. We have to go back to 2004 to find a WS gap so large, in fact. That makes this an open-and-shut case, really, as the Nuggets finished with a 10-win cushion for the postseason. Without Jokić, Denver probably doesn’t make the playoffs. His traditional numbers: 26.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 8.3 apg, and 1.3 spg on 56.6-percent shooting from the floor.
2021 NBA ROTY: LaMelo Ball (original), Immanuel Quickley (revised)
With just 2.8 WS on the season, Charlotte Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball won the ROTY vote, even though five other players topped his WS mark: Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart (4.0); Houston Rockets small forward Jae’Sean Tate (3.8); Sacramento Kings point guard Tyrese Haliburton (3.5); Pistons small forward Saddiq Bey (3.3); and New York Knicks point guard Immanuel Quickley (3.2).
So basically, Ball was third-best rookie at his position. That’s what we call hype, folks! The Hornets did finish with 33 victories in 72 games, just one win out of a potential postseason berth in the Eastern Conference, improving their win percentage by .104 overall. The Pistons finished with just 20 victories and actually got worse from the prior season, so both Stewart and Bey are out.
The Rockets finished with the worst record in the league (17-55) after overhauling their roster, so Tate doesn’t rate. With 31 victories, the Kings finished with the same record two years in a row, while the Knicks went from 21 wins to 41 wins, while improving their winning percentage by .251 overall. Obviously, Quickley wasn’t the only reason why this happened, but in our little corner of the world, it’s enough to re-assign the ROTY trophy.
Both Ball and Quickley were brutal shooters, but Ball was also a turnover machine, and his volume of play here actually hurts him for that reason. Quickley was also a better free-throw shooter by a significant margin, and that helped boost his WS mark. Sabermetrics don’t lie, even when they’re hard to interpret.