Two European big men are slowly taking the NBA by storm. One was a top five pick and the other was selected in the middle of the second round the year before. Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic have both been great for their respective team this season, but the question remains, who is the better player of the two right now? Recently I shared a couple graphics comparing Porzingis, Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. But for now we will just focus on Jokic and Porzingis.
Offensively, Jokic has been a better player so far this season. While leading the Nuggets to a three game winning streak, Jokic has moved atop the offensive ratings in the NBA with an astonishing rating of 129, while Kristaps has an offensive rating of 110. Currently, Jokic is grabbing about three more offensive boards per one hundred possessions and one more per game, while playing nine less minutes. Jokic is also putting up around three more assists per one hundred possessions and just over two more per contest. However, Porzingis is putting up just under one more point per one hundred possessions and five more per game. In doing so, Porzingis is shooting the ball four more times than Jokic while shooting the ball at a steady 45FG%, on the other side Jokic is shooting at an insane level, with a FG% of 59. A big reason why Nikola is prospering is because of his days as a point guard in Europe. Being a point guard taught Jokic the importance of court vision and help him develop elite passing skills for a big man. His crafty passing makes his defender back off some, which opens up his midrange game, which is an area that he obviously excels in considering he has been shooting a scorching 61%. Another big reason for the insane offensive production from Jokic is his trust in and chemistry with his teammates. He’s been seen multiple times this year throwing no look passes and even threw a no-look, over-the-head pass to a cutting Jamal Murray. The offensive chemistry and lack of a dominant scorer for the Nuggets really opens up the floor for Nikola to work his magic.
Sadly, the Knicks young star doesn’t have these benefits. Kristaps is playing alongside three ball dominant and primarily isolation scorers in Brandon Jennings, Derrick Rose, and Carmelo Anthony. Each of those players has very good ball handling skills, something that Porzingis doesn’t necessarily lack but at the same time doesn’t really excel at. We’ve seen that Porzingis is a scoring threat and a menace from three point range, but his current situation has affected his offensive impact way too much. If he had a better midrange shooting game, Kristaps wouldn’t need to have great ball handling skills. Overall, Jokic is a better offensive rebounder and passer, with no debate at all, while the edge in shooting could go either way.
The defensive end of the ball is where Kristaps runs away with the show against Jokic. Given his huge 7’3″ frame and wingspan of 7’6″ he is able to alter shots in ways Jokic can only dream of doing. Porzingis is already the defensive anchor of the Knicks, and he hasn’t even hit his prime. He can do it all on defense. Whether it be defending an isolation play, providing help defense, or defending the pick and roll, Kristaps excels. His hand-eye coordination and great foot work along with his size can not be matched by any other big in the NBA. Jokic does not have the size or wingspan of Porzingis, which works against him. While having comparable hand-eye coordination with Porzingis, the Serbian Big doesn’t have near the poise to play consistent defense. He gets blown by frequently while defending isolation plays and doesn’t pick up the pick and roll very well either. While both are excelling on one side of the floor, it’s hard to really determine who has been the better player this season. Both play huge roles for their team, but Jokic’s offensive impact and high basketball IQ just outweighs the defensive impact Porzingis provides.
Every advanced stat points to Jokic being the better player as of now and let’s not forget that Jokic did spend part of the season coming off the bench, which has weighed down his stats, both advanced and metric. On the offensive end, you know Kristaps is going to score, but you also know that if you take away his shot, he has almost no effect on the offensive end of the basketball for New York, while Jokic is just as comparable on defense with great rebounding skills that can still cause a lot of one shot possessions for the opposing team.
While Kristaps is certainly better defensively, Jokic’s offensive contributions, semi-competent defense, and rebounding skills simply outweigh Porzingis’ inability to do anything offensively when his shot isn’t falling. Overall, Jokic appears to have the edge in this battle of European big men.