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On the NBA MVP race, and its international flavour

AP – The votes are in. Over the coming days and weeks, the NBA will announce the various award-winners for this regular season. And while nobody knows with absolute certainty where any of the trophies are going yet, this much is known: The MVP is going to be an international player.

Again.

Prepare for history, because it’s coming. The consensus seems to be that this season’s MVP will be either Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jokic is from Serbia. Embiid from Cameroon. Antetokounmpo from Greece, with ties to Nigeria. When the winner is revealed, it’ll be the fourth consecutive season in which the MVP won’t have been born in the United States (US) – something that has never happened.

Nor has this: If Jokic, Embiid and Antetokounmpo finish 1-2-3 in the voting, in whatever order, it’ll mark the first time in NBA history that the top three MVP vote-getters are foreign players.

Jokic is the reigning MVP and made a brilliant case this season. Averages of 27 points, 14 rebounds and just under eight assists per game are crazy numbers. Nobody has ever finished a season with those averages, which only further strengthens the arguments for Jokic to go back-to-back.

“I know I’m very biased. I admit that wholeheartedly,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “The MVP isn’t even a competition. I mean, there’s other great players. I’m not saying they’re not great players. But what Nikola Jokic has done this year, with this team, with everything we’ve had to go through, is incredible. He was good last year. He’s even better this year.”

Embiid won the scoring title, averaging 30.6 points and almost 12 rebounds. Throw in the four assists per game, and Embiid finished with averages that nobody has had since Bob McAdoo in 1975-76.

“I don’t do a lot of campaigning,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. “Joel has campaigned enough with his play.”

Antetokounmpo’s final numbers in a season in which Milwaukee is defending the NBA championship were 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. The numbers are eerily similar – right down to his 55.3 per cent field goal rate – to Antetokounmpo’s MVP season two years ago. And in terms of per-game averages, nobody has averaged that many points, rebounds and assists since Wilt Chamberlain in 1965-66.

“He sets the tone for everything,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. The international flavour of the NBA isn’t so much of a flavour anymore. It’s not a sprinkle, not a garnish. It’s a very real – and highly talented – segment of the NBA player population, with the MVP leaders and Dallas’ Luka Doncic among those deservedly carrying the superstar banner into these playoffs that started with play-in games yesterday and then in earnest with first-round games beginning on Saturday.

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