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Denver’s Nikola Jokic is redefining what an NBA center can be
- Updated: February 23, 2017
He looks like a Serbian Rob Gronkowski, and plays like a millennial version of Vlade Divac or Arvydas Sabonis.
Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic might not yet be a household name, but he’s not too many Twitter mentions and Instagram melts away.
The 21-year-old center has taken the league by storm in this his second year, averaging 16.3 points, 9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
Jokic has scored 40 points (at MSG), dished out 12 assists and racked up 21 rebounds (in a 132-110 thrashing of Golden State), and has shown off a game that’s as well-rounded as a high school kid trying to get into Harvard.
He’s big (6-10, 250 pounds), easy-athletic, and moves about as well as anyone in the league at his size. Forget unicorns–Jokic’s game is about as rare as the rusty patched bumble bee.
He’s got NFL quarterback-like touch on his passes, effortlessly able to lead guys for easy baskets, find the open man on the perimeter, and drop point guard-quality dimes from anyplace on the court.
Unlike everyone’s favorite future foreign star in New York (Kristaps Porzingis), Jokic is agile and fluid in his movement, not clunky and raw.
He’s a better passer than Porzingis, has a much better low-post game, and is a comparable three-point shooter (Porzee shoots 38.4% from deep, Jokic 36.5).
Everyone’s favorite analytics website, FiveThirtyEight.com, hyperbolically called him “suddenly one of the best young players of all-time,” and while that’s provocative, it’s not as wrong as their predictions about Donald Trump.
Sure, stats in this era have to be graded on a down curve–thanks to pace and floor spacing, the NBA is currently in the midst of its greatest offensive explosion since the ’60s and ’70s, when Oscar Robertson was averaging a triple-double and Wilt Chamberlain was hanging 50 a game on kids.
But Jokic’s coming-out party goes beyond traditional stats. He’s posted a true shooting percentage of 64%, and an assist percentage of 26.9, meaning he assists on nearly 27 percent of teammates’ field goals while he’s on the floor. Pretty gaudy numbers for a center.
Denver traded 22-year-old big man Jusuf Nurkic, who was competing for playing time with Jokic, to Portland earlier this month, clearing the way for even more minutes for their prodigious big.
Watching him this season, it’s hard to believe that Jokic was taken by the Nuggets with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, after the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie, Josh Huestis and Johnny O’Bryant.
He was also taken 25 picks after Nurkic.
Jokic might end up being the best player the Nuggets have had since Dikembe Mutombo–and if he keeps improving, even that might be selling him short.
He doesn’t play in New York, L.A. or Chicago, but Nikola Jokic’s game demands your attention anyway.
The young Nuggs, with a wealth of up-and-coming talent, might just grab it on their own.
So refresh your Twitter feed a few more times, casual hoops fans. Get that fire emoji ready.
If you don’t know about Nikola Jokic yet, well…you will.