Whether you’re a firm believer in the eye-test, or an analytical junkie, it’s hard to deny the extraordinary talent of the Denver Nuggets’ point-center, Nikola Jokic. At just 23-years-old he’s already among the league’s best big men and is bringing his own uniqueness and flare to the position unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
After inserting Jokic into the starting lineup full time during the 2016-17 season, Jokic saw a surplus in his numbers where he averaged 19.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.8 assists on highly efficient shooting percentages in less than 30 minutes a game.
He’d go on to finish the season with a statline of 16.7ppg, 9.8rpg, and 4.9apg shooting 57% from the floor, 34% from three, and 82% at the free-throw line, and did it all in 28 minutes of action.
These would be elite numbers for any player, but for a 21-year-old in his 2nd season? This was historic.
Using Basketball-Reference’s “Player Season Finder,” among all players in NBA history to average equal or better than 16ppg-9rpg-4apg in their 2nd season, Jokic is the 1st to do it since Grant Hill in 1996.
There have been 9 other players ever to put up equivalent numbers, but if you go further and add shooting percentages into the mix, then the Joker is in a class all to himself.
Carrying an effective field-goal percentage of .605 and a true shooting percentage of .640 put him above everyone else in a star-studded pool that includes Larry Bird, Grant Hill, Oscar Robertson, Bill Walton, and Chris Webber just to name a few.
Because of his remarkable season, the Denver Nuggets were playing their best basketball in 3 years — which was also the last time the franchise saw themselves in the postseason. The team posted the 4th best offensive rating among all 30 teams, finished the year with a 40-42 record, and came just 1 miraculous Russell Westbrook buzzer beater away from securing a playoff spot.
Now in his 3rd season, Jokic’s brilliant play is continuing to expand. He’s averaging career best’s in nearly all categories, and while the team’s playoff window appears to be closing on them again, that shouldn’t stop you from appreciating the high-level of play he’s showcased all year.
On the season, Jokic is averaging 17.8ppg, 10.6rpg and leading all centers in assists with 6.0 a contest, while maintaining efficient shooting splits of 49-39-85 and the Nuggets are tied for 9th place in the western conference with a 41-35 record, their most wins since the 2012-2013 season.
Despite his sluggish speed and unathletic frame, Jokic is still finding ways to dominate his opposition.
As the era and game evolves, so do the players. And while this isn’t the first instance of a gifted passing big man — Vlade Divac, Pau Gasol, Ardvydas Sobanis who have paved the way for flashy passing European big men — Jokic however, is doing it in a more effective and deliberate manner that the game hasn’t seen since the days of Wilt Chamberlain.
His passing ability has made him a nightmare for opposing teams due to the fact that he can kill you with the pass from all areas of the floor. His game is spontaneous, and nothing is premeditated, resulting in all sorts of problems for opposing teams, as evident in the video below.
To continue, not only is Jokic a gifted passer in a half-court set, but he’s also more than capable of breaking down a defense and finding his targets in the open court. It might sound absurd, but at 6’11, 250 pounds, he’s legitimately capable of orchestrating the offense full-time for this Nuggets team if need be.
But making highlight reel passes isn’t the only thing ‘The Joker’ excels at. Opponents are hesitant to sag off of him due to his power to hit the mid-range jumper while also possessing the ability to step out beyond the arc and knock down the 3-point shot with consistency.
He’s shooting 39% from three-point land and converting nearly 2 threes a game on 4 attempts. His red-hot shooting, combined with mesmerizing passes, and an endless array of offensive skills are why he’s become the ultimate threat for a defense, especially in pick and pop situations.
I tried to stay away from the advanced stats as much as possible, but when you’re writing about the advanced stat legend himself it’s hard not to include them.
Sticking with his shooting out of the pick and pop, Jokic ranks 18th in catch-and-shoot 2pt field-goals made while shooting 48% from the floor, and 40% from three on catch-and-shoot possessions according to NBA.com’s advanced stats section.
He’s 3rd in the entire NBA in passes made per game (64). Only Lonzo Ball(65.4) and Ben Simmons(74.8) make more passes on a night-to-night basis than Jokic, and with a top 20 assist percentage(29.3) it’s easy to see why the Denver Nuggets are top 5 in assists for the 2nd straight season and have one of the NBA’s best offenses yet again.
Now let’s forget about the advanced stats for a second and focus on the more simpler numbers.
As the popularity of the triple-double continues to grow, the appreciation for them is plummeting.
Jokic currently has the 4th most triple-doubles this season(8), and the most by a center in one season, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record. But with Jokic, he and the team thrive on his big numbers. These are no empty stats.
In games when Jokic notches a triple-double, the Nuggets are 7-1. They’re 14-5 when he has 8 or more assists, and 9-2 when he has 10 or more assists. 8-5 when he scores 25 points or more, and 23-12 when he grabs 10 or more rebounds.
Simply put, when Jokic is engaged and playing to his full potential, the Nuggets are in great hands.
With all this information presented to you, is it crazy to believe Jokic can revolutionize the big man position with his passing?
We’ve seen the game go away from traditional back to the basket bigs, onto big men being able to step out and drain the mid-range jumper, and now even adding a 3-point shot to their arsenal.
But imagine a new wave of 7-footers that can do it all and some. Imagine for a second that all bigs are throwing no-look passes through two defenders, or snagging down a rebound and pushing the ball down the court to set up the point guard in the corner for an uncontested jumper. Essentially, that’s the affect Jokic can have on the game. He can take the term “positionless basketball” to a whole ‘nother level.
With the way the game continues to blossom and progress, we truly could see the game played in ways we never deemed possible.
Clearly, Jokic is much more than just a good basketball player. He’s redefining boundaries while stunning audiences with captivating skill, and though the jury is still out on him for his below average defense, he’s improving each season and is constantly elevating his all-around game.
It’s not crazy to think “MVP” and “Nikola Jokic” could soon be mentioned in the same sentence.