Shortly after the 2014 Draft was completed, Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly came out to address the reporters. All the questions were about the trade the Nuggets pulled off (11th pick to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for the 16th and 19th pick in the draft) and the subsequent draft picks Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris were asked about and then the presser came to a close. As things were winding up Connelly stood up and furrowed his brow a bit. "So, no one wants to ask about our 2nd round pick Nikola Jokic? We are really excited about him."
No one, including yours truly, paid much attention at the time because 2nd round picks rarely pan out. Boy was I wrong.
25 points. 6 rebounds. 3 assists.
Those were Nikola Jokic's stats as his national team Serbia came very close to upending vaunted team USA, losing by three and a missed, wide-open, three point shot by Bogdan Bogdanovich. It was, for all intents and purposes, one of those games that by rights team USA should have lost considering how awful and bored they played. All the more perplexing coming on the heels of their less the scintillating performance against team Australia in the game before.
I know, I know. Y'all didn't come here to read about the travails of the most unappealing US team since Athens 2004. You came here to get some analysis about Jokic and his coming out against (some) of the best NBA players. Well, there is very little I can add to the praise that came down yesterday for Jokic on twitter. He deserved it. Jokic took his knowledge of US athletes, and in particular his fellow NBA stars and exploited that. He backed Draymond Green down in the post. Made DeMarcus Cousins look like the sub-par defensive center he is and even hit some three point shots for good measure.
25 super efficient points.
What is interesting about the sudden praise that Jokic received is, well, it's nothing that we didn't see last year. Such was the Denver Nuggets isolation from the rest of the NBA (even in this day in age) seems to have created this weird disconnect. No one watched so therefore it didn't happen right? Well it was a bit of a wake-up call for those NBA fans who weren't already on the Big Honey/Joker/Velcro bandwagon. Here is a comparison to Kristaps Porzingis that Matt Moore from CBS Sports made on twitter:
Fun with numbers! pic.twitter.com/BRfrPjZKAK— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) August 13, 2016
Fun with numbers indeed. Not to pick on Porzingis (whom I really like), but to be frank outside of his initial month and a half Jokic outplayed him for the remainder of the year. Karl Anthony Towns was clearly the best rookie last year but, lets be honest, Nikola Jokic was second best. Jokic fell victim to the "you play in Denver so therefore we don't see nor do we pay attention to you" syndrome. Which considering the Nuggets record and lack of national TV games is completely understandable.
I'm glad that people got to see Jokic ball out on a big stage like this. While I don't think it means much for HIS actual game development, it is invaluable for recognition and brand for people to actually see him do this against legitimate NBA star talent. While the faithful few in Denver get to see this every game, it's nice that the fans of other teams see what we saw. I'm not entirely sure it will translate too much when the NBA gets going in October though in terms of on the court results. Jokic is very self assured, go-with-the-flow and I don't think something like this will go to his head.
One perplexing thing is why it took the Serbian coach this long to recognize what he had in Jokic? It makes me wonder about how much NBA he got to watch. Once the coach began featuring The Joker in the game against Team USA his team's offense changed. That's what Jokic seems to do, you feature him and he just makes things run better.
Maybe this will change some of the "faithful few" in Denver to the "faithful slightly more". One can only hope. With the city largely preoccupied with the Broncos it will be interesting to see where the Nuggets crowds are at as they get into next season. We look at Nikola Jokic and see a special player, and now people got to watch it with their own two eyes. It's nice to have that again.