As part of Denver Stiffs’ transition from Denver Nuggets postseason coverage to offseason coverage, staff members will be conducting End of Season Reviews for all 17 players on the roster. There will continue to be news, NBA draft, free agency, and trade articles, but over the next three weeks, an accompanying End of Season review (or two) will also post every week day.
Today’s review: Nikola Jokić
The league’s best offensive center, Nikola Jokic has been able to lead the Denver Nuggets to the top tier of the Western Conference standings because of his combination of skill and basketball IQ. He continues to be what’s arguably the most unique player the NBA has ever seen and a primary reason why Denver has a professional basketball franchise that’s respected again.
Although Jokic’s game isn’t perfect, the Nuggets have managed to build around both his strengths and weaknesses, putting players that excel at cutting, shooting and defending in the rotation. By all accounts, Jokic had an up-and-down 2019-20 campaign but he eventually righted the ship, demonstrating a level of self-awareness and work ethic that’s expected from the face of the franchise.
2019-20 Regular Season and Playoff Stats
Jokic didn’t have the start to the 2019-20 season than many expected, averaging 15.7 points per game and shooting 22.1% from 3-point range through the first 20 games. For reference, if those numbers would have been season averages, his 3-point percentage would have been the worst of his career and his scoring average would have been his worst since his rookie season.
In Jokic’s own words, he had to lose weight to improve his play. The Denver Nuggets, who were 15-5 through the first 20 games of their season, held their own without Jokic for the first quarter of the season. They needed a better version of Jokic going forward, and that’s exactly what they got.
From that point on, Jokic returned to his usual dominant form, posting averages of 22.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game over the team’s next 45 contests (up until the NBA hiatus) while shooting 55.4% from the field and 36.2% from three-point range.
In the NBA bubble, Jokic’s play was difficult to evaluate.
Between the long layoff between games and an increasingly slim figure, one couldn’t quite tell if his oftentimes lackadaisical approach was because of issues with his conditioning or a general disinterest in games that wouldn’t effect Denver’s standing much.
However, Jokic made sure to show up when it counted, whether that called for him to be the team’s closer or to put on a show wire-to-wire. Despite Jamal Murray’s growth during the playoffs, when he showed he’s as worthy of being seen as the Nuggets’ leader as Jokic, the Serbian center put up incredible numbers for them to receive so little fanfare.
Season Grade: A
It’s difficult not to give Jokic an A+ after he led the Nuggets to the third seed in a Western Conference that had teams led by LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.
However, Jokic’s sluggish start to the 2019-20 season and the disappointing effort he displayed at certain points in the playoffs are enough to knock him down a notch.
Not much though, as Jokic still receives an A; the positives far outweighed the negatives in his case. Named to his second consecutive All-Star game and as an All-NBA selection for the second time, Jokic was Denver’s most valuable player throughout the season. A constant triple-double threat,
Season Highlight: The Joker Leads The Nuggets To Game 7 Against Clips
The first leg of the Nuggets’ last playoff run was led by Murray, whose performances against Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell was must-see TV.
However, the second round — in which Denver faced Kawhi’s Los Angeles Clippers — belonged to Jokic. Joker was simply dominant against both Ivica Zubac and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, putting them through the 36 Chambers of Shaolin on his way to averaging 24.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.4 blocks per game against the Clippers.
With the Nuggets looking to complete their second 3-1 comeback in as many playoff series’, Jokic had his best playoff game in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. He recorded game-highs in points (34), rebounds (14) and assists (7); in fact, his 34 points were a playoff career-high.
What’s next for Nikola Jokic
For Jokic to continue his reign as one of the most elite centers in the game, it’s not as if he has to develop some extraordinary skill. It’s not as if he’s going to suddenly stop understanding the game, forget how to utilize his fantastic footwork or pass up on using his preternatural passing ability; those things that make him such a dominant force at center.
However, Jokic does need to work on his game — both tangibles and intangibles.
On the tangible side, Jokic needs to continue to sharpen his shooting touch. At best, Jokic can be described as streaky right now, shooting a substandard percentage from 3-point range in the regular season but being almost unstoppable from the perimeter in the postseason. This is the second straight year he’s done so, which makes it seem as if it’s a question of focus rather than ability.
Jokic will never be an all-world defender but he does need to master defensive effort and communication. That brings me to the intangibles he needs to work on.
Playing professional basketball isn’t easy and it’s understandable for fatigue to be a factor in effort but there are times that Jokic’s effort — either on offense or defense, or both — is lacking from the beginning.
For Jokic, taking the next step simply means continuing to perfect what he’s already good at and to work on the little things.