All is good in Nugget land. Fresh off a 121-117 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Nikola Jokic returned from what appeared to be a serious hip injury, and picked up right where he left off while collecting his first career triple-double. In the three game absence of Jokic, the Nuggets went 1-2 and looked like a lottery team.
With Jokic, the Nuggets look like they could beat any given team on any given night, which is scary–for the rest of the league.
On the surface, this soft spoken 21 year old Serbian looks like a project Euro player who will probably never get his shot in the NBA. When watching his tape, he has very limited athletic ability and simply doesn’t look like your typical NBA player, let alone a star.
The Denver Nuggets have started to peel back the layers of Jokic and now the fans, and the rest of the NBA, are watching a monster NBA superstar rise as we speak.
It is always naive to turn such a small sample size (121 games with 82 career starts) into a claim of a rising superstar. For most any other player, I would suggest pumping the breaks on such take.
But Nikola Jokic possesses a skill-set that is a once-in-a-generation type talent, and that is his basketball IQ. When looking at the greatest players to ever play their respected sports, you can draw many comparisons.
Some of the greats of all time display mechanics that fundamental coaches drool over like a Ray Allen with the perfect stroke or a Ken Griffey Jr. with a pitch-perfect swing.
But the greatest players of all time. The Wayne Gretzky’s, Peyton Manning’s, and the Tim Duncan’s of the world own the most important and powerful skill you could in sports. Knowledge and senses.
Wayne Gretzky was the best player to ever play the game of hockey because he was smarter than any other player on the ice or coach on the bench. He knew where his teammates would be before they would be there. That kind of advantage is like stepping up to the plate and letting the catcher tell you exactly what pitch you’re going to see and where the pitch will cross the plate. Any big leaguer with that kind of knowledge is going to hit over .500 and probably swat a few home runs.
Enter Nikola Jokic. Jokic doesn’t possess the athletic ability of an Anthony Davis or a DeMarcus Cousins. Jokic uses his strong basketball mechanics and fundamentals, coupled with his extremely high basketball IQ and natural senses to pose a threat that the NBA doesn’t see very often. Tim Duncan wasn’t as athletic as his counterparts in his NBA prime but he was smarter than any other player in the league.
Jokic’s IQ and senses can be seen when he makes passes that even Jason Kidd would drop his jaw over. His lack of athletic ability is overcompensated by the crisp fundamentals and mechanics which allow him to use his almost seven foot frame to dominate the boards or pull up at the elbow or from behind the arc and display his pure shooting stroke.
Lost in this narrative is the fact that Jokic hasn’t even peaked with his intelligence. He has battled foul troubles and still makes mistakes on the defensive end but those are kinks that can be worked out, especially by a player at the intelligence caliber of Jokic. You can teach a player how to stop committing stupid fouls but you can’t teach a player how to see a cutter wing or an open big before they are cutting or before they are open.
It is early and Jokic has a lot of work to do in further advancing his NBA career. He should be an All-Star this year and will really get to show his skill set in the Rising Stars game on National TV. Maybe then all of America will get to see how good this young 21 year old man from Serbia really is.
Kick back, grab a seat and some popcorn and relax Nuggets nation. You have a rising superstar in the making.
To be continued…