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Stiffs Roundtable: Enjoying the Nikola Jokic era

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Wrapping up Jokic Week with some reflection

Brooklyn Nets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

We’re wrapping up Jokic week tomorrow and what a week it’s been. We’re down to the final four in our “Ultimate Jokic Highlight” bracket, we’ve had great guest columns and roundtables featuring Matt Moore, Andy Bailey, Adam Fromal, and Shane Young, we’ve taken a stroll down memory lane with some of Jokic’s best games, and we’ve talked a lot about what Nikola Jokic means to the Denver Nuggets.

For our final roundtable of the week, we want to share what Jokic means to us, Denver Nuggets fans, on a personal level. A truly iconic player connects with a fanbase and although Jokic is a somewhat quiet and reserved personality, his style of play and underdog nature resonates with everything Denver Nuggets fans like in their stars. Let’s take one last look at what he means to this team and to this fanbase.

How much are you enjoying the Nikola Jokic era of Denver Nuggets basketball?

Adam Mares: Everyone that has followed Denver Stiffs or Locked on Nuggets knows that I have enjoyed the Jokic era immensely. Among the many reasons that I enjoy his game, his unique style of play was very similar to my own from years ago, albeit at a much lower level of competition. I’ve always loved bigs who can pass the ball. Boris Diaw, Lamar Odom, and Chris Webber are all among my favorite players. Jokic is a better and more exciting passer than all of them and his ceiling is higher than all of them. At his best, Jokic is pure basketball bliss.

Brendan Vogt: It’s why I moved to Denver. The Nuggets are one of the most talented and entertaining teams in the league, and it starts at the top with the most unorthodox star I can remember. When everything is clicking on the offensive end, the Nuggets play a beautiful game, one that only they can play thanks to Nikola Jokic, the most interesting player in the league.

Ryan Blackburn: Adam and Brendan used the words ‘unique’ and ‘unorthodox’ when describing Nikola Jokic, and it’s those phrases and realizations that encapsulate why I love this era of Nuggets basketball. This team is different from anything I have ever seen. The personalities are a weird concoction of quiet and brash. The play style is innovative. At the center of it is one of the most ironic superstars of the pace and space era. Nikola Jokic doesn’t play at the pace that’s generally expected from the best basketball players in the world. He does things his own way, and it’s a joy to watch him to develop into the most bizarre superstar in NBA history.

Zach Mikash: To be honest the jury is still out for me. There’s been a lot of fun moments and its been awesome to see a star player rise from an unorthodox origin. This is also the second longest playoff drought in franchise history and I spent a good portion of my life living through the longest one already. The past two seasons have been great up until the last day or so of the season. I love what Joker brings to the court and the way he dominates games unlike anyone else, but I want to see him in the playoffs, I want to see him do what Melo and Mutombo couldn’t and have deep playoff runs over several years. When we get that, my enjoyment level will be at a max.

Gordon Gross: I came back on board Nuggets fandom when I moved back to Colorado in 2003 and the Nuggets rewarded me by drafting Carmelo Anthony. This Jokic feels like that to me: unbridled promise and untapped ceilings for this team at the current moment. I’m overjoyed at having such an immense talent on the team - while still being leery of Denver’s ability to correctly build around him.

Ashley Douglas: Now that things are really starting to click, it’s become so much fun to see. And, looking back it feels rewarding as a fan to have been a supporter of them through the dark times. I’m a big fan of unselfish basketball, and an even bigger fan of homegrown stars and the Nuggets have done both of these things so well via Jokic. What’s most exciting is that I think this is just the start of what the Nuggets can and will be in the coming years so I’m looking forward to seeing them continue to develop.

Mike Olson: I am truly trying to not give in to the cult of “now”, but this is probably my favorite era of Nuggets basketball thus far, with some pretty stiff(s) competition in the mix. I think Ashley said it really well for me also...selfless basketball turns my crank, and Jokic has spread that habit amongst his teammates like a pathogen. These guys are so fun to watch, and that news is spreading across NBA fandom quickly.

Which season of the Jokic era have you enjoyed the most?

Mares: The 2016-17 season. He didn’t play enough his rookie season but the “discovery” period of Jokic was some of the best. I still remember the sound of Chris Marlowe’s voice when Jokic would grab a rebound and start the break, “Okay, here we go. Jokic out on the break...” The crowd on the edge of their seat as we waited for whatever magic Jokic would pull out of his hat. The 2017-18 season felt a bit more clunky. This season might go down as my favorite when it’s all said and done but we’re only a third of the way through. That sophomore season felt like Christmas day from December 15th until April 15th.

Vogt: At the risk of jumping the gun, I’ll claim this current season. The Nuggets sit atop the Western Conference with the resume of a legitimate top-five team. Despite all the injuries, this team has turned a corner and Jokic has been at the center of it all. The Phoenix game was one of the most impressive displays by an athlete that I’ve seen in person and watching him commit on the defensive end has felt almost too good to be true. This is truly Jokic’s team now, and it’s a damn good one.

Blackburn: I’m going with with 2018-19 season because it combines elements of the previous two seasons while adding in something new and unexpected. The magic is back from the 2016-17 season. Jokic and company are taking things more seriously this time around, but this is the year Jokic is starting to truly impose his will on everyone else, where his gifts as a dynamic creator of offense are on full display. In addition, the Nuggets are meeting him halfway by committing to defense as well, and it’s showing up in the win column. Most of the players on the roster haven’t shot the ball well, but once it happens, the Nuggets will reach a new pinnacle in their franchise arc, the team that committed to both ends of the floor and let the magic of Nikola Jokic guide them through a playoff run.

Mikash: I’ll be the odd one out and say the 2017-2018 season. It certainly had its ups and downs and obviously didn’t end the way we all wanted but you got to see Jokic step into the star role last season in my opinion. The way he played down the stretch, pretty much carrying the Nuggets to within seconds of a post season birth, that was the most special time I think we’ve seen from him in a Nuggets uniform.

Gross: The 2017-18 season because Jokic down the stretch was an absolute monster, as Zach said. It made me believe that when the chips are down, Jokic can rise to the occasion. With so many injuries at the moment the 2018-19 Nuggets are about to test that theory, but I expect him to step up again. He’s just too good.

Douglas: I’ll agree with Adam and say the 2016-2017 season because as Jokic’s identity emerged and began to shape the culture of the Nuggets it was such a hopeful time for the team. It was sort-of like the first light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel for the team and the Nuggets’ fan base. This season is a close-second though, and if Denver makes the playoffs (which they will) I think this season will move into first place.

Olson: Jumping the gun with Brendan and Ryan. While each of his seasons have been popcorn-munching fare, Jokic has not only become an even more complete player this season, but has added a defensive arrow to his quiver, and has carried the team through one of their worst spates of injuries yet, all while still winning games. Every season has been impressive, but this one has me shaking my head game after game.

Poll

Which season in the Nikola Jokic era have you enjoyed the most?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    2015-16 rookie season
    (1 vote)
  • 19%
    2016-17 sophomore season
    (45 votes)
  • 13%
    2017-18 last season
    (30 votes)
  • 66%
    2018-19 this season
    (151 votes)
227 votes total Vote Now

Where does Jokic rank among your favorite Denver Nuggets of all time?

Mares: I know it’s early to say this but there’s no point in pretending otherwise - he’s my favorite. As I mentioned above, part of this is because he plays a style similar to my own. But the biggest reason is that he is just so much fun to watch and he makes it seem like anything is possible. Going to Pepsi Center, you feel like you’re in for something special on any given night. Whether it’s a triple-double, a highlight reel of no-look passes, or a 40-point scoring outburst. Jokic is my favorite Nugget of all time.

Vogt: Right behind Thomas Welsh.

Blackburn: I’m a young guy. 22 years old. I haven’t been alive for various eras of Nuggets basketball, and I only caught the tail end of the Melo era. The stars I enjoyed watching were Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, but Lawson struggled with his inner demons and Gallinari struggled with injuries. Jokic is on another level of both skill and enjoyment from those guys. He’s a player one can identify with as well, somebody who had to earn and fight for everything. That’s puts him squarely at number one on my list.

Mikash: He’s top 5 for me. Laphonso Ellis is number one, always will be, and until someone replaces him Melo is still number two (calm down haters). Jokic falls into that next tier with Chauncey Billups and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and all three are pretty interchangeable. I think he’s got a good shot at overtaking the #2 spot though. Like I said in the first question, I’m just waiting for Joker to take us on some playoff rides like those other guys did, and they only did it for one year so it won’t be hard for him to leap them in the standings with just a little more post season success.

Gross: Jokic is my favorite Nugget of all time. I watched the Fat Lever / Alex English Nuggets as a kid, saw the Mutombo Nuggets, and enjoyed the regular season Melo Nuggets to the fullest, but Jokic is an artist. I may not always like what he chooses to create on a nightly basis but I’m hooked and will try to catch every show in ways I didn’t always for previous eras.

Douglas: I’ll have to also agree and say Jokic because while I was a fan of the Nuggets for many years, I really became engaged in the Jokic era. I associate so many personal happy memories with the years Jokic has played for the team, and I’ve made so many new friends being a part of this incredible basketball universe so I’ll say that he has some slightly unfair biases working in his favor.

Olson: Top three so far, with a bullet that should easily carry him to the top by the time he’s done. Right now, LaPhonso Ellis and Chauncey Billups still sit above him, but he is climbing fast. Still cannot believe this is all coming out of a 41st pick. Astounding.

Poll

Where does Nikola Jokic rank in your personal all-time favorite Nuggets list?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    1st
    (142 votes)
  • 29%
    Top 3
    (71 votes)
  • 9%
    Top 5
    (23 votes)
  • 2%
    Top 10
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Not top 10
    (1 vote)
243 votes total Vote Now

Paint the perfect story arc for the Jokic era in Denver.

Mares: Clearly this would mean a championship but part of what is so fun about the NBA is that the journey is often as much fun as the destination. I want to see this group of Denver Nuggets players, coaches, and front office personnel succeed step by step. So that would mean making it into the playoffs this season, possibly even into the 2nd round. Growing even stronger next season as Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez, Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt all grow into their roles on the team. Maybe a trip or two the Western Conference Finals or even NBA Finals before ultimately getting over the hump. I love watching Jokic, but part of what makes this team fun to root for is all of the pieces that fit so well around him. It wouldn’t feel complete to succeed without at least some of those guys completing the journey alongside him.

Vogt: In the brightest timeline, those who feel they are one big acquisition away from a championship are wrong. In the perfect story, they don’t need anyone’s help. It’s this team that’s bringing the fans back into the Pepsi Center, it’s this roster that’s captured our imaginations, and ideally, it’s this team that brings Denver it’s first ever championship, with Jokic leading the way.

Blackburn: How can anybody hate the underdog of this story? That’s exactly what the Nuggets are. Just two years ago, the Michael Malone era seemed like it was sputtering to a halt, but some Jokic-ball magic, the acquisition of Paul Millsap, and the development of players around those two have truly shaped this Nuggets team into a forced to be reckoned with. At the center of it all, Nikola Jokic is the maestro of chaos. Sometimes, the Nuggets run plays to free up certain players, but more often than not, Jokic is directing traffic and sending his teammates every which way to receive high passes, low passes, behind-the-back passes, over the head passes, and more. The Jokic era is defined by a superstar who is too unselfish for his own good, and that personality trait may just win the Nuggets a championship some day.

Mikash: The perfect arc is this core developing into something like the Warriors created. Sure they added Durant but lets be honest, even without KD the Warriors would still be favorites every year to win it all. This is the Nuggets 2012-2013 season in that arc. This is the year they need to show them selves as a young team going from being a nice story to being a legitimate threat. Get into the playoffs and make a little noise, start putting together the pieces for a championship run shortly thereafter. It’s honestly not hard to envision, if Jamal Murray and Gary Harris keep improving, if Michael Porter Jr gets 100% healthy, if Monte Morris turns out to be a starting caliber PG...it’s all there. As Adam said, the journey is almost more fun than the end game though so the perfect arc has to include Jokic winning a ring with this core.

Gross: The perfect arc finishes with a title, and a banner, and a jersey retirement, and a hall of fame ceremony where Jokic shouts out Serbia and Denver in the same breath. To get there with the correct movie arc you’d need a brutal loss to an eventual champ (let’s say Golden State), a surprise star who explodes on the scene the year after to help share the load (Michael Porter Jr or Jamal Murray, perhaps), a throwback performance for the ages from a grizzled veteran ( 20 /10 for Paul Millsap in the 2021 Finals?) and even a scene of Jokic with a championship trophy that might even supplant Dikembe’s classic as the top playoff memory for generations of Nuggets fans. I hope fervently to see all of that play out.

Douglas: In the NBA there have been many incredible Hall of Fame players who never won a ring, but if we are painting an ideal picture, I’d of course love to see Jokic bring a title to the Nuggets. That’s everyone’s ultimate goal, right? However, I think more realistically, Jokic will lead the team through some incredible years and maybe a Western Conference Championship. I’d like to see the city of Denver revive their love of Nuggets basketball, and I already see that happening now.

Olson: Hard to paint it any better than the folks above me, but after 50-plus years of basketball, the Nuggets and their fan base desire/deserve a trip to the Finals and a ring. I’m not sure they’ve ever given themselves a better long-term shot at that goal than with Nikola Jokic. While the 2009-2010 squad looked like they were on course for that same goal until tragedy struck, it was still pretty common knowledge among fans and the team that Carmelo was probably not staying in Denver long term. Jokic is a guy who falls in love with his place the same way Denver seems to be head over heels with him, and I hope he fosters that attachment to Denver, as he is truly a one-of-a-kind player. How often does any franchise get a crack at that? As fun as this has been so far, I see only bigger things coming from Joker and the Nuggets.