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2019-20 Denver Nuggets Season Grades: Nikola Jokic

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The franchise cornerstone continued to cement his position as the best center in the league.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Season Breakdown

Fresh off his first appearance in the postseason, where he averaged a cool 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists per game, Jokic came back to the Mile High City committed to a 100-game season. Was it a slow start or a way to try to save himself for when the team would really need him? You decide — all I am going to say is that the Nuggets have to be grateful that while the rest of the team continued to struggle with small injuries here and there, Jokic didn’t miss a game. Thankfully guys like Will Barton were there to carry a bigger load in October and November, and the Nuggets were largely able to repeat their success from last season.

The team continued to run their offense through Jokic, but that trended more towards a focus on the halfcourt offense this year. It seems like the team was trying to focus more on executing at a higher level on the defensive end, then grinding out offensive possessions trying to slow down the game. Jokic was able to improve on defense this year, to the point where it seems like an outdated take to say that it’s a serious weakness for him. His diverse offensive game is always going to be better than his defensive chops, but Jokic has put in the work so that he isn’t as much of a liability on that end as he was in seasons past.

The best stretch of Jokic’s season came during the coldest months of the season, with the roster depth challenged once again due to injuries. When his supporting cast started missing games, Jokic stepped up to help make sure that the team would stay on top of the Northwest Division and qualify for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs.

It may be a personal bias, but I think Jokic’s best game of the season came in a February game against the Jazz. Jokic dominated Rudy Gobert that game, finishing with 30 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists, while also hitting the dagger in the final minute, a Sombor Shuffle for the win over the French big.

Season Grade: A

The slow start to the season was ... discouraging isn’t the right word. I think there was a sense that he’d get right on his own schedule, and he did. There was also a point in the season where Jokic realized he needed to do more, and he started lifting weights after home games. The time in the gym helped, and Jokic started dunking when he’d get around the rim. That’s not something someone does if they’re not feeling like they’re on top of the world, especially not Jokic.

He improved on defense, he continued to excel on offense, and he shouldered the load when the team needed him to. He’s an All-Pro, and arguably the best player in franchise history.

What’s Next?

I’m fascinated by this section of his season grade, because figuring out next season is like trying to stare into a pitch black room.

For starters, there won’t be any summer basketball for Jokic to play, unless the NBA season resumes, and the playoffs stretch into August or September. What would that do for the next season? Would the start be pushed back to December? Will Jokic have rested up enough during this quarantine to be strong for a playoff run? How much rest will he need if the Nuggets win one round? two? three rounds in the playoffs?

Two of his frontcourt teammates may not be back next season. Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee are free agents. Jerami Grant had some good moments, but never really looked too comfortable playing alongside Jokic. Do the Nuggets bring him back? Will they be forced to play him based upon his new contract? Who backs up Jokic? Will the Nuggets bring back Plumlee? If not, can they find a center that could share the court with Jokic? Will Paul Millsap come back to Denver? Will he accept a bench role, while still getting minutes with Jokic during the course of a game?

The only thing Jokic can control is himself, and he needs to make sure to stay committed to being strong enough for a 100 game season. I don’t care about how much he weighs, as long as he’s not taking daily trips to Voodoo Donuts. If he has the core strength to maintain his shooting efficiency, rebounding prowess, and defensive size, he’ll be fine. If he let’s all his progress this season vanish, that would be very disappointing to see.

The future is bright for Jokic, and the Nuggets future is bright as long as Jokic is Jokic.