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Denver Nuggets: Cracking the Dirty Dozen

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Nikola Jokic is on pace to join a Nuggets pantheon in his fourth season. How far can the Joker climb before he’s done?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets
MY WIN SHARES TOTAL WAS THIS BIG!!!
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Ty Lawson is one of the greatest Denver Nuggets of all time.

Wait, before you go, and for those of you who have not closed your browser already, stick with me for just a moment, as I was just as taken aback as you may have been. I was afraid a little fresh Colorado air and altitude had me seeing things, but I soldiered on.

The pantheon of Denver Nuggets stars is shorter than some storied franchises, but the names at the top resonate deeply amongst NBA fans far beyond Denver. Dan Issel. Alex English. David Thompson. Byron Beck. Carmelo Anthony. Bobby Jones. I’ll wait just a moment for the youngsters to go look up Bobby Jones.

A cursory search of the Denver Nuggets Franchise Index on basketball-reference.com lists each of those illustrious names at the top of their “All-Time Top 12 Players” for the organization. A Murderer’s Row of Nuggets notoriety. Who else is in there? Fat Lever. Dikembe Mutombo. Amazing! Ty Lawson. Nene. Kenneth Faried...

Wait, what? Lawson, Nene, Faried? No Kiki Vandeweghe? LaPhonso Ellis? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf? I’m a little confused.

Like it or hate it, turns out that basketball-reference.com lists those names based on career win shares contributed to the franchise. Here’s a better look at that list of a dozen, in reverse order, from 12 to 1:

A few more things that surprised me before circling back to the Joker...

Nene has a dozen more win shares for the Nuggets than Dikembe Mutombo. Crazy, but primarily predicated on length of stay in Denver. Deke still has 45 more career win shares in total than Nene, so there’s already a grain of salt in our measures here.

Ty Lawson has the 10th-most win shares of any Denver Nuggets player in history. Ty may have left the team rather inauspiciously, but he certainly had some shining moments along the way.

Kenneth Faried can grab big win shares. Hey, 29 other teams... Kenneth Faried can grab big win shares! Don’t you want that in trade for your three-and-D wing? Please?

Dan Issel. Nearly 95 win shares for the Horse, the Nuggets sole Hall of Fame player representative (I think). Damn, Dan. The Horse was a horse, of course, of course. How does that compare to league records? It’s impressive, but nowhere near the record, which is a held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar over the course of his long and productive career. Kareem wrapped it up with an astounding 273.4 overall win shares, nearly three times Issel’s impressive contribution.

So how does Nikola Jokic figure into that list, a scant three seasons into his career? The Joker was 10th in the league last year for win shares, notching 10.7 in 75 games played, taking his career total to 27.1, an average of just over nine a season. Should Jokic keep that average going, he’ll knock Faried out of the twelfth spot (assuming Kenneth doesn’t add to his own Nuggets totals).

If the Joker were to keep last season’s pace (his three seasons netted 6.7, 9.7, and 10.7, respectively), he’d be 0.2 shares shy of Lawson in the 10 spot. To put that in further context, were he simply to hold last season’s pace, Jokic will pass Dan Issel as the team’s ALL TIME win shares leader in six-and-a-third seasons. Less than 10 into his career, he’d be our all-time leader in the category.

For even more context about that pace, Jokic is gobbling up win shares faster than any player in Denver Nuggets history, and by a fairly large margin. When you break the numbers down to a “win shares per 48 minutes” view, you get a sense of what Nikola brings to the organization. Here’s the top ten players in Nuggets history in the category, this time listed from 1 through 10:

Crazy, no? Consider that the largest gap between any two of the amazing players on that list is seven points, until you look at the chasm between numbers one and two, where Jokic tops Dave Robish by TWENTY THREE ticks. A level of proficiency as yet unseen in the Nuggets narrative.

The debate about whether win shares are the best metric rages on amongst stat geeks across the league, with some hanging their hat on the stat, and others promoting a different methodology. Whether win shares is the finest metric or not, it certainly appears to be a telling harbinger of a players overall impact on his team over time, with Nikola Jokic is ringing them up in Denver faster than anyone in the franchise’s 51-year history.

What can the Joker become? What might his best career season for win shares look like? If he remains with the team long-term, is there any doubt he’ll own the team record? How will he eventually rank in terms of the league’s all-time elite? The Denver Nuggets Dirty Dozen may soon have a new leader of the pack in fairly short order.

Poll

What will Nikola Jokic’s career win shares total be for the Denver Nuggets?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    below 50
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    50-59.9
    (4 votes)
  • 3%
    60-69.9
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    70-79.9
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    80-89.9
    (17 votes)
  • 5%
    90-95
    (18 votes)
  • 81%
    Past Issel into the number one spot
    (284 votes)
  • 0%
    None of the above
    (2 votes)
347 votes total Vote Now