Coming into the season most fans of the Denver Nuggets knew the team wasn't likely to contend for a playoff spot. Even GM Tim Connelly dodged putting any expectations on the team, save for saying he expected them to be better than last year. Not exactly a high bar to clear. What has been championed is youth and growth and the whole fan base was abuzz with excitement when Denver selected Emmanuel Mudiay number seven overall. What slipped under the radar was the 6'10 Serbian second round pick from 2014, Nikola Jokic, who was coming state side after dominating the Adriatic League and earning their MVP award.
Jokic wasn't expected to contribute much this season but injuries have thrust him into the starting lineup and he has certainly seized the opportunity. Last night against the Los Angeles Clippers the Nuggets featured Jokic on several plays and he delivered. This is coming off of a double double against the defending champion Golden State Warriors and a twenty-three point twelve rebound outing against the San Antonio Spurs last week Against a veritable who's who of the Western Conference Jokic has proven to be a handful to say the least.
Last night he totaled sixteen points and six boards but that total could have been much higher. Unfortunately, as often happens in the NBA with rookies, Jokic was matched up against all star DeAndre Jordan and the refs certainly gave Jordan the benefit of the doubt with the whistle. In his limited time because of the foul trouble he still managed to flash a beautiful spin in the post, a couple of fade-aways that might have had you thinking he was Dirk Nowitzki and plenty of the trademark passing that has been his staple.
Last night was a perfect example of what this season is all about, winning isn't as important as development of the young talent on the roster. With Joffrey Lauvergne, Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic on the mend and hopefully returning to the active roster over the next month the Nuggets will suddenly find themselves with a plethora of big men to choose from. At first it could be assumed that this would mean Jokic would be relegated back to riding pine but with the way he's been playing, I don't think you can do that. All of those guys deserve minutes and it'll be up to Coach Malone to figure out how to get each of them involved, not the least of which is Jokic.