The Denver Nuggets have a star in Nikola Jokic. If fans don’t believe that, then they can start by looking at his stats…
He’s averaging 15.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. He’s also shooting 40.6 percent from behind the arc this season. The kicker? He stands at 6-foot-10 and is a center. It’s not every day a team has a center who can score, rebound, shoot and pass, but the Nuggets managed to land that type of player in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Given the stats above, one would probably think Jokic was a lottery pick, but he wasn’t. In fact, he was far from it as he was picked in the second round of the draft with pick No. 41.
It is well known — at least now, that is — that the Nuggets landed a possible superstar in Jokic.
Bleacher Report certainly toke notice in an article by Howard Beck. This article not only details how much Jokic means to the Denver franchise but it also talks about Jokic the person, the man who can be found off the basketball court.
The fate of the Nuggets rests with Nikola—their pass-happy, self-deprecating and rapidly blossoming Serbian center. And Nikola’s fortunes rest largely with his rambunctious roommates, who happen to be his siblings. They are his fiercest advocates and closest confidants, and they are the reason no one around here worries much that Nikola will lose perspective on the road to NBA stardom.
So much has come so quickly for the once-anonymous second-rounder, a former “project” who slept through his own draft in 2014 but whose breakout performance last season launched the Nuggets into relevancy and made Jokic an instant darling among the basketball intelligentsia.
Except, well: He is a project no more, and the basketball intelligentsia’s conventional wisdom for landing a franchise star—via free agency, trade or a top-three draft pick—has been smashed by Jokic (the 41st pick), much as it was by Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th) in Milwaukee and Rudy Gobert (27th) in Utah.
“It will come,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone says of stardom for Jokic. “As soon as he starts to feel comfortable in that role, it will come.”
It will come—the comfort, the results, the stardom—even if Nikola himself is too self-effacing to proclaim it. The talent and commitment are there, along with the full support and affection of his teammates. Because, really, who doesn’t love a bruising big man who can lead the break, pass like Magic and deliver dry one-liners in an Ivan Drago baritone? Who doesn’t like a guy performing spot-on impressions of the head coach, breaking into dance at random moments and ambling through the locker room wearing only Skittles-themed underwear?
The Nuggets are currently 14-12 on the season, and they hold the fifth-best record in the Western Conference standings. A lot of that has been because of the emergence of Jokic, but other players, of course, deserve credit as well. Players like Will Barton, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay and many others.
More from the Bleacher Report article mentioned above:
There is no outward ego in Nikola Jokic—his brothers knocked it out of him long ago—but there is a quiet self-assuredness and subtle signs of a more profound belief.
It’s not that he lacks personal ambition—his competitive intensity is palpable, and his commitment evident from the day he arrived—but his basketball education came in Eastern Europe, where principles of team play and team success were primary. The selflessness that endears Jokic to teammates and coaches might also keep him from dominating the box score.
“I mean, if I could score 40 every game, then I would score 40 every game,” Jokic says. “But I think I cannot score 40 every game, so I’m gonna pass a little bit, too.”
It remains to be seen if Jokic can turn the Nuggets into a championship contender by himself, but he, despite the fact that he was drafted in the second round, already appears to have all of the skills and talent to at least turn this Denver team into a playoff contender. After all, the Nuggets, a team that missed the playoffs just a season ago, are, once again, the No. 5 seed in the West.
As the Bleacher Report article mentions, Jokic is not only an impressive passer for his position … but for any position in basketball.
His assists come off the dribble. “I don’t remember many guys that can lead a break and find a guy at 6’11”,” says Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly. “I think he’s one of the best passers, period”—as in, at any position.
He surveys the floor like a guard. And he was a point guard in his younger years. “A fat point guard,” Jokic jokes.
Indeed, the skills and court vision were evident to NBA executives, but so was the lack of athleticism and mobility—the kinds of concerns that drop a prospect to the second round. The Nuggets tried viewing it all through another lens: They cued up old tapes of Gasol, Marcin Gortat and Nikola Pekovic at the same age, noticed the same deficiencies and decided it was too soon to write off this pudgy 19-year-old. Forty players were taken on draft night in 2014 before Connelly submitted Jokic’s name.
To read the entire Bleacher Report article, which really shows off the type of person Jokic is off the court, and where he came from, make sure to follow this link.
The crazy thing about all of this?
Jokic is only 22 years old. He doesn’t turn 23 until Feb. 19. If he continues to improve, just imagine how good he can be in the future. Not only that, but if young players like Harris (averaging 15.4 points per game in 2017-18), Murray (averaging 13.9 PPG) and Mudiay (averaging 10.3 PPG) — just to name a few — continue to improve as well, just imagine how good Denver could be in the future. All three players are 23 or younger.
Needless to say, things are looking bright for Denver.