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Nikola Jokic: the Transformer

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The Denver Nuggets multi-tool center keeps improving as he goes. Surely he’s not a robot in disguise...

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Atlanta Hawks
Nikola Jokic: plug and play
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I was six hours into what was then the longest airplane ride of my life, when a friend sitting by the window started rummaging through his bag. He placed several items on his seat back tray before adding what I was pretty sure was the smallest Transformer I’d ever seen. I picked it up, trying to decide if it was supposed to turn into a plane or a laser gun. I couldn’t seem to get it to “transform”, as it were. I finally asked for a little help.

“Dude, what the hell is this?”

He stared at me for a second. “It’s my travel adapter. Why, what does yours look like?”

Travel... adapter? I spent the better part of the next half hour learning about travel adapters, coming to realize that I’d made a very dumb mistake and poorly prepared, which would leave me unable to charge or run any of my gadgets when we got to London. I was a teen, and hadn’t considered that everyone everywhere didn’t have type-B sockets. The damned thing actually was a transformer, and one I needed rather badly. Superb. I stopped in the first luggage store I saw at Heathrow, and asked about travel adapters. The lady behind the counter didn’t even look up from her book, and pointed me toward the back corner. It would seem I was not the first genius to cross the Atlantic without a way to plug his stuff in. I saw a rack of adapters, and wisely grabbed the cheapest one I saw.

Well, maybe not so wisely. Super smart... until we got to Paris a few days later. Then I discovered that my cheapo travel adapter had only been designed to help me out in London, as I was staring at yet again a whole new set of holes in the wall. Damnit. This shopping trip, I got some advice from the person behind the counter, listing the next several countries we’d be traveling through, in what was broken French at best. Unsurprisingly, I ended up with the most expensive adapter this time around, paying in a currency I was struggling to translate quickly. But everywhere I went after that, everything I needed to work did exactly that. My new little “transformer” was my translation tool to the entire European power grid, and it only cost me five times as much as it would have if I’d just studied up a little before departure and purchased one in Denver. Plus, I had the luxury of the instructions being in French. So dumb. I deservedly got dinged.

Conversely, Tim Connelly got his Transformer in Denver on the cheap.

Four scant seasons ago, the Denver Nuggets picked up a second-round insurance policy for their first-round draft pick at center. Seems Nikola Jokic could have used a travel alarm of his own during the NBA Draft, being fast asleep in Serbia when Denver used the 41st pick to pick him up. Jokic may have dreaming of the quesarito. Hard to say. Stiffs own Daniel C. Lewis tells that story far better than I ever could. Long story short, GM Connelly picked up a player who may be one of the NBA’s great “adapters” of all time - at 41st-pick prices. Were you to re-draft that class knowing what you know now, one would be hard-pressed to imagine Jokic falling any further than the second pick, and one could make a pretty solid argument to take him over Joel Embiid, that year’s third overall pick. It all depends on how much you like your winshares.

One of the key attributes of the Joker’s game that has taken him from impressive to awe-inspiring is in his abilities as an adapter. Jokic is more adaptable than the pricey cube I purchased above. He’s the AllSpark that transforms every player he plays with. The magic in Jokic’s game is in his ability to transform himself and others on the fly in every play he comes down the court. Need him to be the team’s leading scorer? He can give you that. Need him to lead in passing or rebounds? No problem. Need him to play strong and capable defense? Well, geez, apparently he can even do that too.

Need him to change which of those guys he is according to the team on the floor? Even switching roles several times during a play? Jokic can be any or all of those things. He can transform himself into (almost) whatever his team needs him to be, a talent that will only pay deeper and deeper dividends as this team matures and group indecision continues to recede.

But the league sees complete players all the time. They’re rare enough, but there are typically three to ten of them scattered across the league in any era. Where Jokic sets himself apart is in his abilities to help make any of the parts greater than the whole. With just about any other adapter for these parts, a number of the players who have seen time on the floor for the Nuggets this season would not be able to “plug in”. They don’t all fit a common theme. With a typically-abled center in the middle of this crew, you have mismatched and too-similarly matched parts surrounding him at best. With the uber-adapter that is Jokic in the middle, you can yank some pretty key pieces out of the Nuggets’ Jenga tower and still be standing solidly enough to win games. To be fair, Denver has some excellent players surrounding the Joker this season, and is one of the deepest teams in the league. But they’ve also lost a ton of games to injury for key players, and have routinely had guys playing in new and unfamiliar roles, with Jokic routinely keeping the engine running when on the floor. I’m not saying Nikola Jokic could win with four guys from a solid YMCA squad. I’m just not NOT saying it either.

What is missing from Jokic’s game any more? Not much, really. The ability to jump, we hear. The desire to spend a lot of time with the media, possibly. Desiring attention of any sort from anyone other than those he loves and trusts, for sure. Eventually Jokic will come to understand that Denver loves him almost as much as Sombor does, and wants a long time to deepen the relationship. He may still be missing an All-Star appearance, but that will be coming some season soon, and then this little adapter secret will be out for all to see. Once the All-Stars get a chance to play with Jokic once a season, they’ll want him back every time. Who doesn’t want to be made to look as good as the Joker makes you look? He’s the ultimate giver. He showed flashes of the same during his sophomore season All-Star appearance in the Rising Stars USA vs World game:

Nikola Jokic simply makes the guys around him better, and exponentially improves that ability with someone as he gets to know them well. He has already proven himself to be a rarity, routinely accomplishing things that few players in the league ever have, let alone a player from Denver, let alone a guy in his first four years. When you can raise your own game, you’re special. When you can raise everyone else’s... Well, that’s something else’s.

The best part of Jokic’s gift is that at it’s core, it’s cerebral, and should only get better with age. Add that his style of play could well be described as low-impact, and know that his career could very well be as long-lived as any. Should he fulfill his long-term potential, he could become one of the NBA’s all-time greats, and hopefully all of those years and stats will be courtesy of the Joker powering and empowering your Denver Nuggets. He’s certainly more than meets the eye.

Enjoy Jokic Week on Denver Stiffs. Hopefully Nuggets Nation will be enjoying him for years and years (and years) to come.

Poll

As a Denver Nuggets player, Nikola Jokic will eventually be:

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    The greatest of all time
    (301 votes)
  • 25%
    Top five all time
    (128 votes)
  • 10%
    Top ten all time
    (51 votes)
  • 2%
    None of the above
    (14 votes)
494 votes total Vote Now