The Denver Nuggets ended their East Coast road trip on Wednesday night with a comfortable 118-104 victory over the Washington Wizards thanks to 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists from Nikola Jokic. After the game, head coach Michael Malone stole the headlines with a strong statement condemning the state of this season's MVP race, which, of course, involves his star big man.
"I think this year unfortunately has just taken a really ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation, and I think it's really turned a lot of people off, including him," Malone said. "And what's happening now is there's so many guys that could win the MVP this year. Great candidates. Joel Embiid is a great candidate, Luka Doncic is a great candidate, Jayson Tatum -- whoever you want to put in that mix, those are all deserving. But what happens in today's society is that everybody, it's like when I was a college coach and all the negative recruiting. It's not promoting my guy, it's ripping down every other guy. And that's just ridiculous.
"This game, as Adam Silver told us at the All-Star break, the game is in a great spot. The league's in a great spot. We have great players. Celebrate them. Don't criticize, don't tear them down. Build them all up, and whoever wins it, good for them. And that's one thing that's been really disappointing this year with the whole MVP conversation and all the hot takes. It's really just gotten ugly and nasty, and I really don't care for it."
Many will view this as sour grapes considering that Jokic (+240 per Caesars Sportsbook) is no longer the favorite to win the award for a third consecutive season. Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid (-250) has moved into pole position thanks to his stunning play in recent weeks, his team's hot streak and the Nuggets' recent downturn.
But while these are the strongest comments Malone has made to date, it's not the first time that he's said something along these lines. Earlier in March, he said the MVP debate had "gotten so out of hand on so many levels" and taken a "really dark" turn.
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Award debates have always been hotly contested, especially in the social media era, where praising and uplifting players does not generate as much attention, clicks, views, etc. as criticism and comparison do. This season, though, the media churn has felt more toxic than ever.
Perhaps that's because it's the same two guys at the forefront of the race, and last season's wounds are still raw. Perhaps that's because Jokic and Embiid have come to represent two distinct camps of basketball philosophy -- advanced stats vs. eye test -- which have always been at war on the internet. Perhaps that's a reflection of the extent to which the media ecosystem has degraded.
In any case, Malone is correct. Jokic, Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all having truly historic seasons, but get too deep into a debate and you'd think that they all stink. Even worse, this cycle doesn't seem like it will slow down any time soon.