The rise of Nikola Jokic has been sudden and sweet for Denver Nuggets fans. The 22-year-old center turned around the entire season for the Nuggets after being reinserted into the starting lineup on December 15th last year. Onward from that day, he averaged 19.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.8 assists while shooting 58.4 percent from the field.
The national media noticed, specifically ESPN. The four letter network put together a comprehensive list of the top 100 players in the NBA, and on Thursday, Jokic debuted at 16th overall.
16. Nikola Jokic
Jokic posted a PER of 28.4 after Christmas last season, which ranked third behind 2016-17 MVP Russell Westbrook and All-NBA and all-defense selection Kawhi Leonard. A brilliant offensive player who essentially plays point-center, the next step in Jokic's ascension to superstardom is on the defensive end. On the 26 players who started at least 40 games at center, Jokic ranked 24th in block rate.
That is major praise from the national media for the young Serbian. Only two players under the age of 23 will show up in the top 20 on this list: Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns. It really is unprecedented to see a young player, especially a player with Jokic’s defensive flaws, to be in the top 20 in the entire NBA.
The essential part of the above blurb is “the next step in Jokic’s ascension to superstardom” section. If the 22-year-old can improve his defensive skills while maintaining his offensive production, it will be impossible to keep Jokic outside of the top 10 players in the NBA.
Other Nuggets on the list are Paul Millsap and Gary Harris:
27. Paul Millsap
There's a good chance we're underestimating Millsap, as he's ranked inside the top 15 in ESPN's real plus-minus each of the past three seasons. Though he's now 32, Millsap long has been one of the league's most versatile defenders and should help improve a Nuggets team that ranked 29th in defensive efficiency last season.
90. Gary Harris
On a per-possession basis, Harris rated as one of the NBA's most efficient offensive two-guards last season, ranking ahead of Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker and Andrew Wiggins among others in Offensive RPM. Harris connected on 54 percent of his corner 3s, which ranked fourth among the 137 players who attempted at least 50 of them.
This is the first time in awhile that the Nuggets have had two guaranteed top 30 players on their roster.
Keep in mind, player rankings mean very little in the grand scheme of things. The important thing? Perception. The NBA world is coming to realize that the Nuggets are a threat. Players like Jokic and Harris are earning the respect of the masses, and the expectations for this Nuggets team are rising.
And because of it, this is a great time to be a Nuggets fan. Hop on the bandwagon, folks.
Will Nikola Jokic be a top 10 player after next season?
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