When the Denver Nuggets selected Nikola Jokic 41st overall in the 2014 NBA draft, they didn’t suspect they had drafted the next face of the organization. His rise from relative obscurity to bonafide stardom has caught just about everyone by surprise, including him, so we’re dedicating this week to a celebration of that unlikely evolution here at Denver Stiffs.
Here’s a roundtable to celebrate the journey that we’ve traveled from the beginning to modern day.
What has been your favorite game from Jokic?
Adam Mares: I have to go with Denver’s win over the Timberwolves way back in December, 2016. It’s hard to remember what it felt like at that time, just a few weeks after being named the full-time starter and when we were still getting used to seeing all of Jokic’s skills on display. He hadn’t yet gotten a triple-double so his 16 point, 11 assist, 8 rebound game was about as close as he had gotten. But what made this game so special was the highlight passes. Jokic threw five dimes that night that are all on his career-best list, all three in transition. Chris Marlowe and Scott Hastings gave some of the best calls of the Jokic era and Nuggets fans started to realize that Jokic might be more Larry Bird (or Magic Johnson) than previously thought.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): My favorite Jokic game was his 40 point performance against the Knicks. Not only did it take place in Madison Square Garden, but it came against the former Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony AND the man pundits still think is better than Jokic in Kristaps Porzingis. The Nuggets picked up the win, and Jokic couldn’t be guarded by anyone that evening. You could tell he entered the Ringo Starr “I’ve got blisters on my fingers” level of play during that game, and he had everything working.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Last February against the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the last game before the All Star Break, everyone was tired, and Denver went to Milwaukee for a showdown with Giannis. Jokic put up 30 points on 14 shots, with 17 assists and 15 rebounds. He had a bunch of turnovers and fouls but it felt like a playoff game. Denver wanted that game and Jokic delivered, overcoming a bunch of obstacles along the way. I loved both of the games listed above also, but that Milwaukee game felt like two teams on the verge of being really special taking the measure of one another. I’m just sad they’re in different conferences so we can’t see more of these.
Brendan Vogt (@Bvogt422): I can’t believe it’s still on the board, so give me that perfect game against the Phoenix Suns. It wasn’t just the 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. It wasn’t just that he shot 11-11 from the field and never turned the ball over. It was that feeling. The feeling that permeated the Pepsi Center as the crowd showered Jokic with chants of “M-V-P!”. A feeling of hope. A moment when he was truly embraced by the local fans. Jokic and Denver are perfect for each other.
What is your perfect, complimentary starting five around Jokic?
Mares: This one might require a more in-depth answer at some point during Jokic Week. But I’ll say Mike Conley would provide shooting, defense, and delivery in the PnR from the point guard position. Klay Thompson is basically a 6’7” Gary Harris who is capable of scoring 60. Kevin Durant provides everything you need to play off of Jokic and take over in close games if needed. Anthony Davis could become a low usage finisher from the dunker spot on offense, a spot up shooter on occasion, and a rim protecting help-side force on defense. That team would win 82 games.
Lewis: I’d put Damian Lillard at point guard, a guy that can light it up from deep, is a clutch scorer, and has a great sense of when to attack. I think Gary Harris is a great fit at shooting guard, he has the chemistry and complimentary skills to fit in this lineup. I’ve always liked Paul George, he’d be a great option on the wing. At power forward, there is no better option than Anthony Davis. He would swallow up everything Jokic couldn’t handle as a help defender, he’s a lob threat, and he’d glide around screens to wreak destruction. That team would beat anyone.
Gross: Jrue Holiday at point. He doesn’t need to shoot and will defer to Jokic when it comes to orchestrating the offense (a big point of contention I have with some other options). Khris Middleton at shooting guard - I want the length and shooting to be trouble on both ends for opponents and he can play both the two and the three. That frees me up for Paul George at the three and Anthony Davis at the four as Dan said above. All of those guys can share the ball and play defense, and there’s a lot of scoring potential there without any one person needing 20+ shots a game. The small ball option with Davis at center, PG13 at the 4 and Middleton at the 3 would also be fire. No rest against those Nuggets.
Vogt: I’ve always said that if you give me one Nikola Jokic, one LeBron James, and three PJ Tuckers, I’ll give you multiple NBA championships. But I guess that’s cheating. If I had to build a real squad, I’d go with Mike Conley at the one, Klay Thompson at the two, Paul George at the three, and Anthony Davis at the four. Everyone on that team is a two-way monster with the exception of Jokic. Offensively, he’s got the perfect frontcourt partner in AD, a strong complementary star in PG-13, the best human being of all-time in Klay, and the ultimate floor general in Conley.
What do you think is a perfect stat line in Jokic’s opinion?
Mares: The perfect Jokic stat line will be what he averages in the prime of his career (and also what he will average when and if the 2018-19 Nuggets are ever fully healthy). 24 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 1 block on 60-38-85 shooting splits.
Lewis: I think in his mind, he’d play like 25 minutes, but the offense would score like 90 points, and he wouldn’t have to play the fourth quarter. He’d have like 12 points, 15 assists, and 13 rebounds, with three blocks.
Gross: Jokic’s perfect stat line is a win in his mind. He loves to pass more than score, and he likes to rebound so he can throw more open court passes. I’m with Dan. 30 minutes from Jokic, 18 points on about 10 shots with double-digit rebounds and assists - but most importantly he wants that W.
Vogt: Jokic really doesn’t care as long as he has fun and they win the game. 15-15-15 and a W sounds good. The W being most important. Also, Adam is a try hard for busting out the shooting splits.
What is the most ridiculous stat line you think Jokic could produce?
Mares: Great question, Dan! I am so much higher on Jokic’s scoring ability than most people seem to be. The tough part is, when he scores and assists in games, that usually means Denver is up big by the 4th quarter. But in a game that stayed close for 48 minutes, I could see Jokic having a 40 point, 16 rebound, 15 assist game. Given than Jokic’s assists average around 2.5 points per assist, we’re talking about Joker single-handedly producing 78 points.
Lewis: Scott Skiles has the record for most assists in a single game, with 30 assists coming on December 30, 1990 against ... the Nuggets. You know what would be ridiculous? Jokic breaking the single game assist record against the Magic. They need Michael Porter Jr to get healthy in order to do that, but if they could just go all-offense for 36 minutes and try to get Jokic the record, I would be all for that.
Gross: Jokic already has a 30 / 17 / 15 as I mentioned above. 30 / 20 / 20 is reachable. Nobody is listed on Basketball-Reference as putting up a 40 point / 15 rebound / 20 assist game which also feels doable. But honestly I think Jokic can pull off the 40 / 20 / 20 at some point. Will he? I don’t know - he never knows what his stat lines are and so doesn’t push for those things. But a legit 40 / 20 / 20 would be unbelievably amazing to see on a night where everything just comes together.
Vogt: I like what Gordon said about 30/20/20. That seems absurd, but the truth is it’s on the table for a guy like him. I’d just like to point out though that Jokic kind of already did produce a ridiculous and seemingly impossible stat line. 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists on just eleven shots, zero misses and zero turnovers!! That’s like a 15 strikeout perfect game from a starting pitcher. Unreal.
Final question - what would need to happen for Jokic to make an All-NBA team?
Mares: Keep doing what he’s doing? Jokic is already right there. The team just needs to hang around the top of the standings. If this team gets healthy by February, that will give Jokic two months to showcase what he can do with a roster full of talented finishers. Few players in the NBA are better equipped to set guys like Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton up for easy shots.
Lewis: He needs to lead the Nuggets to a top-4 seed in the playoffs. If he’s just steamrolling the rest of the league, everyone will have to take notice. He has to continue to excel at a position that continues to see star players enter the league. If DeAndre Jordan can make an All-NBA team, so can Jokic.
Gross: For me it depends on playoff seeding and play down the stretch, as Dan says. Jokic leading Denver to an 8 seed isn’t necessarily going to get him the votes. If they are challenging for home court and Jokic is tossing up triple-doubles every few games he’ll get the accolades.
Vogt: This is just a matter of time. If the Nuggets ever secure home court advantage in the playoffs, and he’s putting up numbers like this, with shooting splits like those we saw last season, it would be pretty hard to leave him out.