Over the all-star break, Nikola Jokic celebrated his 23rd birthday. The Nuggets phenom is now in his final year as a “young” star and has already established himself as one of the most exciting and talented players in the league. In just three seasons, Jokic has filled up the stat sheet and the highlight reel unlike any player in recent memory. In honor of his birthday, the Stiffs look back at some of the highlights of Jokic’s career thus far.
What has been your favorite Nikola Jokic game?
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): It’s pretty hard to top his latest game against the Bucks - or any of his triple-doubles really. I think I’ll have to go with him dropping 40 in New York against the Knicks, though, just for the satisfaction of shutting up New York fans who keep under-rating the Joker.
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): Gordon stole mine! So instead I’ll go with the home win over the Warriors last season in whcih Jokic racked up his second career triple-double. It’s almost hard to remember a time when triple-doubles seemed crazy for Jokic. Nowadays, they’re almost expected every few games. That Warriors win in February of last year was a perfect Jokic-era game for the Nuggets. The team passed and shot the ball as well as any team I’d ever seen and Jokic was at the heart of it all. He finished with 17 points, 21 rebounds, and 12 assists and gave the first real glimpse of how good this team could be if and when they perfected Jokic-ball.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): My favorite Jokic game is the 132-110 win over Golden State in 2017, when the Nuggets set a new franchise record with 24 made 3-pointers. Okay, sure, Golden State sat Klay Thompson. But Jokic was the best player on the court even when Durant, Curry, and Green were out there. 17 points, 21 rebounds, 12 assists - he didn’t even have a single 3-point attempt, even with the rest of the team shooting the lights out. That’s when I knew he was special, because he took a team that should have been destroyed by the Warriors and ran them out of the gym.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): I will go with his performance against Jusuf Nurkic and the Portland Trail Blazers on December 22nd this season. It wasn’t his most flashy stat line (27 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists) or a win against the toughest opponent like Golden State. What’s most important was his ability to go right at Jusuf Nurkic in the form of: “you can’t stop me.” No matter what Nurkic tried to do, Jokic went around, over the top, and through him for multiple possessions in a row, lifting the Nuggets to one of the most impressive victories at the time. Furthermore, it was against Portland, which was huge in it of itself.
Which of Jokic’s highlight passes is your favorite?
Gross: There are so, so many. The call for the tip pass and dunk against Dallas this year was pretty phenomenal though.
Mares: The “one-handed slinger from the Joker” is still my favorite. It’s got the key ingredients: 1) it’s a true look-away pass. 2) Jokic goes from horribly awkward to incredibly smooth in an instant. Jokic somehow manages to make jogging look so hard and basketball look so easy. 3) It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. 4) It’s go a great call from Chris Marlowe. 5) The highlight features the team’s biggest Jokic fan and best bench reaction guy in Mike Miller who perfectly encapsulated how all of Nuggets Nation felt at the moment. Pure amazement and “what do I do with my hands” level excitement.
Lewis: My favorite is the no-look, over the head pass he sent to Wilson Chandler. Uncanny court vision, the trust that his teammate would be there, the awkward flailing of arms to catch and redirect the ball in one motion - peak Jokic. Poor Myles Turner.
Blackburn: I’m just going to leave this here. Watch Jokic’s eyes. Watch the Dallas defense. Watch Wesley Matthews as he reacts in horror to Jokic threading that pass between his arms without even looking.
When will Nikola Jokic make an all-star team?
Gross: There were already rumblings from people around the league unhappy that Jimmy Butler sat out a game when someone like Jokic could have been in it this year. All-Star teams take wins, though, especially early-season ones, and Millsap’s injury derailed that kind of run this year. I’ll say next year. The team should be ready for a fast start and Denver will hopefully leave the keys to the offense with Jokic permanently now.
Mares: Next year seems like the year, assuming Denver remembers that when they play through him in the half court, they have the best half court offense in the league. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if that is a fair assumption or not.
Lewis: Not for a few years. There aren’t enough Nuggets fans out there to vote him in quite yet, and he doesn’t have the respect around the league like LaMarcus Aldridge. Because he isn’t out there getting endorsements and having his face represent a brand, it’s going to take a while for the rest of the league to catch on.
Blackburn: Next season is the one for sure. The Nuggets have discovered the winning formula again, and it’s to run the offense through Jokic in a read-and-react style. Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double in the last 12 games, and while there are concerns (just like this year) that Denver may change their style next year, don’t count on it. If the Nuggets aren’t all in on Jokic-ball at this point, then I don’t even know what to say. He gets in next year because Denver’s winning and he’s the biggest reason for it.
Can you win a championship with Jokic as your best player?
Gross: Yes. He may not be the traditional defensive anchor at center but when Nikola is freed up to play Jokic-ball even the best defenses in the league have trouble slowing Denver’s attack. I wouldn’t mind Jokic being the second-best player on a championship team but that’s mostly because it would mean a Durant-level addition to this team, which would be spectacular.
Mares: I don’t have a doubt in my mind. It takes a very impressive collection of talent to win in the NBA. Kevin Durant is one of the 20 best basketball players to ever lace up a pair of sneakers but even he came up short in OKC with a roster that featured another superstar. Jokic has serious limitations to his game but there are combinations of talent a team could surround him with that would win an NBA championships. Shooters in the back court (already got em), length and defense at the forward spots (getting closer), and a willingness and ability to consistently play through him on offense (big question mark at the moment).
Lewis: Yes, but you have to have a championship-caliber coach. I’ll just leave it at that.
Blackburn: This question will be a question until Jokic goes through the playoffs and teams begin to game plan for him on both ends. In the end, the answer is yes. A team can be built to account for Jokic’s weaknesses and play to his strengths. Will it happen in Denver? Maybe? Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are the ideal offensive players to put next to him, but they may be too weak defensively. We will just have to see what Denver does.
Make one wild prediction about Jokic’s career.
Gross: Jokic is gonna hit triple-digits for his career triple-doubles. There are only three current member of the 100+ triple-double club: Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd. Russell Westbrook is about to make it four, and Jokic will be the fifth.
Mares: He will eventually be regarded as a good defender. Right now his reputation is a turnstile on defense and part of that is very warranted. But Jokic has some hidden potential on the defensive end and might be one productive summer away from being lean, quick, strong, and agile enough to defend at a high level. He already owns the defensive glass, has quick hands, and good instincts. If his foot speed and conditioning improve, he’ll add the title of “solid defender” alongside “transcendent offensive talent.”
Lewis: He’ll retire after 10 years in the league. I don’t doubt that he loves playing basketball, but he seems like someone that doesn’t view basketball as his everything. He’ll enjoy his time in the league, and have a nice legacy, but he’ll decide to leave on his own terms while he’s still healthy.
Blackburn: Jokic will go down as a top 10 passer of all-time and the best big man passer ever. When thinking of the best passers ever: Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Chis Paul, and LeBron James are the first five that come to mind. I believe Jokic will eventually join them, not necessarily on volume, but in terms of skill, impact, and flare for the dramatic. Already, Jokic’s assist highlight reel is the stuff of legends. Here’s to him continuously adding to it for the rest of his career.