Nikola Jokic, a second round Serbian draft pick, has been on an elite run. Playing for the Denver Nuggets who constantly fly under the radar as is, Jokic has been steadily making his case as one of the league’s premiere bigs. Over the month of January, Jokic is averaging over 24 points per game, 11 rebounds per game and probably the most interesting statistic 4.5 assists per game all whilst shooting over 60% from the field. So what is it that makes the Serbian so special and yet so criminally underrated?
It is unusual for a big man to have his most interesting attribute to be passing, but for Jokic he is rapidly redefining the role. Outside of DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol, no other front court player has the same vision and knack for distribution Jokic does. Being of European nationality, it is not uncommon for big men over there to be competent at passing the ball. The motion based offense that is dominant in international ball means Jokic has grown up willingly passing and having a solid passer from the high post at his size, making the Nuggets offense that much more spacious and fluid. It’s a double edged sword for defenses — slack off Jokic and he is perfectly capable of stepping out and hitting the outside jumper, double him and he can pass out for the open shot.
Averaging almost five assists per game including an eight assist game in the win vs the Pacers, this mark would put him at the top of most front court players. For an idea of just how good his vision and craftiness is, check out BBallBreakdown’s video below:
It seems in today’s NBA, having front court players who are proficient scorers from inside out is less an advantage and more a necessity. Jokic is no different and as previously mentioned is averaging a great 24 points per game for the month of January, however it is in his efficiency where Jokic truly comes in to his own. Just to give you an idea on how careful Jokic has been in his shot selection, take a look at the following offensive metrics:
1st in the league in Offensive Rating at 129.7, higher than players such as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul
6th in Field Goal Percentage at 59.7%
5th in true shooting Percentage at 65.9%
7th in win shares per 48 minutes
10th in player efficiency rating (25.8)
8th in offensive box plus/minus at +6.3
It is the elite finishing inside the paint where Jokic has helped lead the Nuggets to be a top 3 points in the paint scoring team. He finishes over 70% of his looks at under 3-foot while also shooting over 45 percentage from 16-foot plus mid-range attempts and 37.5 percent from three, of which he has hit over 55 this season alone. Just like his passing with Jokic it’s hard to handle, you either pack the paint and give him looks outside or step out and let him use his speed, handle and finishing ability to get to the rim.
Youth and Potential:
For Nuggets fans, this is probably the most exciting aspect, Jokic is only in his second season and 21 years old. Fans of the NBA will note how someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo was young, athletic and raw and has now flourished into an all star starter. Jokic’s career trajectory is no different if he can keep his fantastic play up for the rest of the season and further on. It’s hard for the Nuggets being a smaller market with less exposure so many of their talent goes overlooked but not since Carmelo Anthony have they seen a young player come in with such polish and talent. Youth is a big thing in today’s NBA and Jokic seems much like Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns or Kristaps Porzingis slowly shifting the league back towards multi talented impact front court players.
He may not be an All-Star this year, but Nikola Jokic is an All-Star talent. Nuggets fans and NBA fans alike have much to look forward to with the young European gun and how he can impact the game in so many different facets. Look forward to how his season plays out and maybe catch a Denver game or two. You just might surprise yourself as to how special this young man really is.