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Nikola Jokic: The leader of the pack

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Is Nikola Jokic ready to lead these Denver Nuggets? The I’s have it.

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

“Leadership is not about a title or designation. It’s about impact, influence, and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire teammates and customers.”

- Robin S. Sharma

“Do you understand how this tool works?”

“I thought I did, until you asked me that question.”

“I want you to go sit with Shawn in Analytics until you and he both agree you get it.”

Sadly, I was the speaker of the middle sentence. Oof. I’d brought in a set of numbers to my new boss that didn’t make sense, and I didn’t know it. I’d actually put time in on the project, and we were less than thirty seconds into our second meeting. I was his new hire. This was the amazingly quick end of what was supposed to be an hour of brainstorming. I was concerned about my immediate future, and found his approach off-puttingly direct.

That gentleman ended up being one of the best leaders I’ve ever had. He dropped by shortly thereafter to explain we were fine, and that he was excited about our future endeavors. He just needed me to fully understand the game, so I could play it. I was not only relieved, but now focused on “getting it” as quickly as possible, instead of fretting over my job prospects. That example has stuck with me ever since. Direct, with explanation. We had simply cut through a lot of bullshit and gotten to the point. He’d shown me an example on several fronts, and I could easily follow it. He followed that pattern of being direct-but-kind about both positives and negatives throughout our time together, and taught me a great deal.

A quick search for “great leadership” or “effective leadership” yields so many results through so many filters that it would be difficult to encapsulate them all in an article, but there are a few major themes that run through most of them which are applicable. Both to basketball, and to one Mr. Nikola Jokic. Funny enough, three of those happen to fall into Mr. Sharma’s quote at the top. Impact, Influence, and Inspiration.

Jokic starts his third year for the Denver Nuggets, having logged 153 games in his young career. But those 153 games carried Jokic from a maybe-someday curiosity to a league darling who is poised to become the type of leader the Denver Nuggets haven’t seen since Chauncey Billups was traded to the New York Knicks. Here’s how he falls into the filters above:

Impact

Jokic changed the nature of the way the Nuggets play basketball, including the makeup of the roster and style of play. Denver took that approach because Jokic also changes the win-loss column for the team. Once Denver switched to Jokic as a starter, and running the offense through him, the team went from a .407 (11-16) clip to a .527 (29-26). Denver continues to play to Jokic’s strengths (and weaknesses) in the signing of Paul Millsap, who projects to be an exceptional fit next to the Joker, on the court and in the locker room. Millsap is a proven vet who plays the game the right way, and is very much a leader-by-example in his own right. Millsap’s addition should shore up a weak Denver defense without sacrificing the potency of the rocket-fueled Denver offense.

That “rocket-fueled” moniker is no jet wash, as Jokic’s selfless offensive game made the Nuggets one of the best offenses in the league, behind a group of guys still learning to play together. The age of most of the team returning could/should portend another big step forward, with Jokic chief amongst them.

Influence

While Jokic is recognized across the league as a world-class passing center, the affect his passing had on his teammates is not as widely recognized outside of the Denver faithful, but Jokic’s taking over the reins raised the teams assists-per-game counts by nearly half, going from the 20-a-game range to nearly 30. His habits of making the easy pass, stretching the floor, selflessness, and taking the high-percentage shot are all starting to run off on the guys buzzing around his hub.

Jokic was also influential in the locker room, both in keeping the mood light, and in sharing credit. The Joker is notorious for his humor and deflection, and both have played well amongst his teammates. Nikola loves a tight-knit team, and the Nuggets have been careful in their roster choices to make that cohesiveness more likely.

Inspiration

This “I” seems a little tougher to quantify, but inspiration in today’s NBA often seems to be shown in the degree of attention you, your play, and your team are getting from players, fans, and the media. Jokic has certainly re-captured the attention of players, fans, and media, though his fan base certainly still has room to grow. Once the Nuggets are winning more games, the larger Nuggets crowds should return, and there’s no secret as to what is the engine making the offensive hot rod run.

But players across the league give Jokic’s game it’s proper due, and though the Nuggets would certainly like see a lot more media attention nationally, Jokic’s uncanny passing and game-shifting style made Denver a lot more highlight-reel friendly last year.

Is Jokic ready to lead the team? His penchant for deference and joking could also be negatives under the wrong circumstances, but Jokic has been fairly deft in using both thus far, and always seems to value a win over any personal stat. He’s young, but a natural. He’s already grown incredibly in his scant two seasons.

What say you, Nuggets Nation? Two seasons ago he was an afterthought, and though he started last year, he was playing second fiddle of second string until January. Is he too young to be the Nuggets leader, or is he already that guy?

Poll

Nikola Jokic will be the leader of the 2017-2018 Denver Nuggets

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Yes, clear and unquestioned
    (317 votes)
  • 45%
    Yes, alongside others like Paul Millsap
    (330 votes)
  • 8%
    Not quite yet, but can still lead by example
    (64 votes)
  • 1%
    Not yet
    (11 votes)
722 votes total Vote Now