The Denver Nuggets are fourth in the Western Conference while dealing with injuries to three of their four starters. Four of their five starters have missed at least three games this season, and they’re still just one game out of second place out West. A large driving force behind their success has been the play of center Nikola Jokic, who was just snubbed from being an All-Star starter because of the voting system.
Until a few years ago, the fans would vote in two guards, two forwards and a center. However, with a surplus of star forwards, such as Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and others, the league altered the system to allow for three forwards which has pushed center into a back-burner position because it’s becoming harder and harder for them to put up the gaudy numbers that catches a fans eye.
In 44 games, he’s put up eight triple-doubles, which is tied for third in the NBA. He’s also tied for ninth in the NBA with 25 double-doubles. His passing prowess and sheer size give him great opportunities for rebounds and assists. He likely would have put up even more big games if it weren’t for teammates struggling to shoot, especially earlier in the season. The bottom line is that Jokic getting snubbed is absolutely a problem.
He’s Always There For You
Like your favorite member of the Friends gang, he’s always there. In the NBA this year, he’s one of the few true stars that have yet to miss a game. Each of the frontcourt starters for this year have missed at least two games. Anthony Davis has missed seven while Kawhi Leonard has missed 11. Meanwhile, Jokic is carrying a top-four team that is down multiple key starters while averaging consistent numbers for another year.
Jokic has been the best player for the Nuggets this year, and he’s also been the most consistent, outside of a slow first month of the season. He leads the team in points, assists and rebounds while being tied for third in steals, and he’s fourth in blocks. Anybody want to take a guess as to how many of the three frontcourt starters can boast that they lead their team in those three main categories? The answer is zero. Only budding superstar guard Luka Doncic can stake his claim to that feat among starting all-stars.
Nikola has been one of the most consistent players in the NBA this year, but he isn’t being properly rewarded in large part because of the fact that he’s playing in such a small market. Denver doesn’t get the bright lights that Los Angeles does, and you are also running into the issue that he isn’t the player that just won a NBA championship on a new team. He’s always there, but he’s not sexy enough for you to vote for him.
Centers Still Matter
Thanks to the exploits of the Golden State Warriors, the NBA has placed a smaller emphasis on the center position while trying to spread the floor. Despite that, Jokic has remained one of the few centers that refuses to be taken off the floor even late in the game. Along with guys like Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, he has the ability to force teams to go away from playing small and stay big.
Jokic is just fourth on the team in minutes, but he’s also been far-and-away the most effective player for this team. He’s the identity for everything that they do, and he’s the piece that they’ve worked to build everything around over the last four seasons. He leads the team in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, Box Plus/Minus and Value Over Replacement Player, and no one comes close to him in any category.
The center position is one that still plays every night. All teams, barring an injury, start a traditional center every time they take the floor. So, why is it, during the NBA’s biggest weekend to showcase the league’s best players, they’re forcing one of the five starting positions to not start?
Jokic’s Play Is Perfect For This Game
The All-Star game, with the offensive explosion that was taking place around the league, led to massive scoring lines in the All-Star game. Players were getting more adventurous with their passing and scoring attempts while defense was falling by the wayside in major ways. Outside of the All-Star game played in 2018, every team has scored at least 155 points in each of the last six all-star games.
This video doesn’t even contain the stuff that he’s done this season, but it’s still 10 minutes of just bananas-level passing. It has been decades since the NBA saw a center that could pass as well Jokic does. His fit alongside athletic wings and guards is what has made the system function so well for the Nuggets. Now, just imagine lining him up alongside the best players in the NBA for at least 20 minutes as the team’s starter.
Instead, we’re going to see Jokic for likely 13 to 15 minutes with the reserves and maybe a couple of minutes with the starters. The NBA has bonuses in place for players that win all-star games, and it’s unlikely that they’re going trot out Jokic ahead of other stars because the fans are there to see the big names from the big cities and the big teams. It absolutely deserves to be starting, and it’s unfortunate that he won’t be a starter until this format changes.