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Nikola Jokic: 20/20

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The Denver Nuggets star center puts up his 20th triple double and has some rarified air well within his sights

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers
Head and shoulders...
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When it happened, it was more a whimper than a bang. The assist that notched Nikola Jokic Tuesday night’s triple-double went unmentioned for a few moments while the rest of a pressure-packed game against the Miami Heat was unfolding. When Denver announcer Chris Marlowe did circle back to the Joker’s feat, he also mentioned that it was the 20th of Jokic’s career. That’s a pretty big bang, and kudos to Marlowe for squeezing it in.

The bigger part of the bang in Jokic’s evening was getting to that 20th triple-double in his 267th game with the Denver Nuggets. As Zach Mikash so ably captured, it wasn’t the fastest in NBA history with the likes of Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson having ascended to their top two all-time career spots very quickly, but Jokic became the third-youngest player to 20.

The biggest part of the bang was where it placed Jokic on that same all-time list. Or where I think it places him on that list, anyway. Unless addition deceives me, Nikola Jokic is now 20th (or 23rd, given four players at 19th) all time in career triple-doubles. His 20th put him in 20th. Or 23rd. At least his next will put him at 19th. Here’s a much clearer picture than the one I’m drawing, from this Wiki entry on basketball “Doubles”:

credit: Wikipedia

Does Jokic’s third-youngest record mean he’ll eventually end up third on that list? Not necessarily, with Russell Westbrook looking as if he’ll pass Magic, and possibly even having Robertson in his sights. But what could it mean for the Joker over the course of his career?

Well, if Jokic can simply notch the same four triple-doubles in the second half of this season as he has in the first, he’d move to 17th on the list (or 18th, depending on how quickly Draymond Green keeps climbing). Should he keep up his current career pace, he’d probably find himself in the top 10 by the end of his seventh season.

One of the names often mentioned when trying to compare Jokic’s impact is Wilt Chamberlain, with 78 triple-doubles currently placing him fifth on the list above. 78 over Chamberlain’s 1,045 career games had him running at a 0.0746 triple-doubles per game clip. Nikola’s 20 over 267 games has him at 0.0749, basically identical to the Stilt’s pace. The averages are so similar at this point that Jokic’s razor-thin lead would still give him the exact same career total if expanded out to the same 1,045 games. Phenomenal.

But Chamberlain is not the only center on that list, is he? He’s simply the one far above all of the others. There simply aren’t many centers on the all-time (Top 19!) triple-double list, with arguably only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (21 triple doubles) the other true center. Even if you add Green (22) and Chris Webber (21), Jokic looks to bypass those three rather handily by the time all is said and done.

Where centers and big men actually end up typically dominating all-time lists is in the games played category, with names like Robert Parrish (#1 at 1,611 games played), Abdul-Jabbar (1560), Dirk Nowitzki (1,482 and counting), Kevin Garnett (1,462), Kevin Willis (1,424), and Tim Duncan (1,392) occupy six of the top ten spots all-time. Chamberlain’s 1,045 is actually far down that list, at 103rd place.

Should Jokic end up enjoying a career as long as Duncan’s, his current pace would put him solidly in fifth with 104 triple-doubles. Go as long as Willis? 107, and tied with Jason Kidd for fourth. Catch up to Garnett’s career games? 110. Nowitzki bumps you to 111.

What about Kareem? He’s actually on that triple-double list, though Jokic should easily pass him this season. If the Joker’s career is as long as Jabbar’s, he’d get to 117 triple doubles at this pace. Should Jokic even catch Parrish’s 1,611 games, at his current rate, he’ll make it to 121 career triple doubles, 17 shy of Magic, whose 138 will ostensibly have him in third at that point. Arguably, Jokic could easily make up that gap if his pace continues to quicken as his game matures. When you think about how often he’s a point, rebound, or assist shy of a triple-double over his career, it won’t take much of an improvement to pick up the pace.

Worst case, after his 20th triple-double, Nikola Jokic looks to be close to a lock to be in the top ten all-time in the category by the time all is said and done. With a little luck, he might find himself in the top five, or even the lofty heights of the top three. Even from his current 20th (23rd) slot, he’s proven himself to be quite a sight.

Poll

All-time triple-doubles... Nikola Jokic will land:

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    15th or better (must pass 26)
    (20 votes)
  • 23%
    10th or better (must pass 33)
    (145 votes)
  • 53%
    5th or better (must pass 78)
    (331 votes)
  • 18%
    3rd or better (currently must pass 116, but probably 138)
    (117 votes)
  • 0%
    none of the above
    (3 votes)
616 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Bonus poll. Jokic will average a triple-double at least one season in his career.

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Hell yes
    (272 votes)
  • 25%
    Hell no
    (126 votes)
  • 19%
    No idea
    (95 votes)
493 votes total Vote Now