Everyone knew the rookie would be a sensation. Everyone knew the rookie had mad skills. Everyone knew we'd made one of the steals of the draft.
And they weren't even talking about THIS rookie.
With all due respect to the Denver Nuggets up-and-coming rookie phenom, Emmanuel Mudiay, the true steal of the Nuggets draft board this year has to be 20-year old sensation Nikola Jokić. The first-year center was barely expected to see the court for much of the season, but was called upon after an injury to the season's starter, Joffrey Lauvergne. Last season's surprise, Jusuf Nurkic was still recovering from a knee surgery, and the rookie was pressed into service. Jokić took immediate advantage of the playing time, and has been steadily improving since season's start.
Why was this so unexpected? After all, Jokić was the MVP of the Adriatic League last season. Early expectations were tempered due to youth and room for physical growth as a rookie. Here's an excerpt from "the book" on Jokić from NBADraft.net:
"An average athlete lacking great speed and leaping ability ... Foot speed is a big liability. He may struggle to stay in front of NBA athletes at the center position ... Needs to improve as a post player, gain strength and develop a repertoire of back to the basket moves ... Defense is a real weakness at this point due to lack of lateral speed and lack of strength. His length is a big plus, but he'll need to continue to work on becoming stronger and learn to anticipate in order to overcome his lack of quickness ... Despite being a younger guy, his upside appears limited by his lack of explosiveness and foot speed..."
Geez. How many times can you say foot speed or quickness? So Nikola is not the fastest guy on the court. What's got Nuggets Nation all atwitter, then? Well, there's the fact that he leads the team in PER (and is 21st in the league overall)... And then there's the passing. Passing? Before Nikola grew to 6'11", he grew up a point guard, and a good one at that. Here's a couple of nifty examples:
And the shooting. Jokić is hitting 54% from 2-point range this season, and 36% from outside the arc. This 23-point outing is a great example of his range:
Jokić has some hotspots, even outside the arc, as shown in this heatmap, courtesy of NBASavant.com:
Sports Illustrated recently kicked off a piece on Jokic by describing his loose and goofy personality and how well it was meshing amongst the rest of the team before launching into lauding his play on the court.
Coach Michael Malone lauds his court smarts, his teammates love his personality, and everyone is enamored with his play. As a second rounder, and the 41st player in the draft, Nikola Jokić looks to be the steal of the entire rookie class this season. Kudos to Nuggets GM Tim Connelly.
Check out all of the NBA's rookie class on SB Nation this week, and look for #2015RookWeek on NBA social media!
What say you Nuggets Nation? Was Nikola Jokić the best bang for the buck in this season's draft by FAR?