“I try to do the right thing at the right time. They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing.”

– Kareem Abdul- Jabbar

For just shy of three decades, David Letterman gave us all a near-nightly dose of comedy silliness. Though his show was not the first to explore a list format as a form of easily-digested brain aperitif, Letterman and Co. turned the format into a perfect storm of silliness and thoughtfulness, something discussed and shared the next day, and eventually syndicated for morning radio the following day. It all started innocuously enough:

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From humble beginnings, huh? Even if the show didn’t invent the concept of the Top 10 list, they certainly weaponized it. Everywhere you look today, a listicle (if you don’t know it, it’s not the testes of a list), theme, or series tends to throw itself at you in terms you’ll find easily digestible. A Top Five or Top 10 tickles that something in your brain that says, “I can handle that” and drives more views and clicks. It’s ever-so-slightly possible you’re only here because of the words “Top 10” in this…

Hello? Hello?

Huh. If you’re still there, this does all actually get around to one of your favorite Denver Nuggets. And inelegantly, at that.

After just his fourth season, Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic vaulted himself into another Top 10 list, and this one he’ll probably stay on the remainder of his career and beyond. Basketball Reference keeps a page showing the Top 12 Players in a franchise’s history, a ranking solely based on Win Shares. If you consider that a blunt metric, there is a certain “bottom line” appeal to it in terms of franchise records and history. Who contributed the most positively to my team’s overall W/L column? For the Nuggets, a stoically familiar face cropped up in that 10th spot at season’s end:

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In order, that Top 10 is:

  1. Dan Issel – 94.8 WS
  2. Alex English – 84.2 WS
  3. David Thompson – 56.8 WS
  4. Byron Beck – 55.0 WS
  5. Carmelo Anthony -53.5 WS
  6. Nene – 51.1 WS
  7. Fat Lever – 47.9 WS
  8. Bobby Jones – 40.3 WS
  9. Dikembe Mutombo – 39.3 WS
  10. Nikola Jokić – 38.9 WS

Jokic has contributed those 38.9 Win Shares in four seasons, putting him on an average pace to be at the top that list after his 10th season, should Denver find themselves fortunate enough to have him so long. But even that average pacing should be taken with a grain of salt, as it includes the early growth seasons of Jokic’s career, with his totals for his first four years on a decided curve: 6.7, 9.7, 10.7, and 11.8. Just how good was Jokic’s 11.8 Win Share last season, in terms of Nuggets history? Here’s that same Top 10 list’s best individual seasons for the same metric:

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The Joker’s season is pretty shiny in comparison to most all of that Top 10 list, with only David Thompson outpacing him. Skywalker also had a better season as a Denver Rocket, as did Dan Issel. Heck, Beck’s best season (shown above) was decidedly as a Denver Rocket, but his contributions to the franchise as a whole show how big a part he was of basketball staying in Denver. Jokic’s best years are still ahead of him, and odds are good he’ll probably have the single best season for Win Shares on this list by the time he’s done in Denver. If he continues to improve on these totals, Jokic could outpace both Thompson’s single-season and Issel’s career accomplishments much sooner.

His efficiency also portends great things, as though the Basketball Reference list is based on totals, Jokic’s WS/48 numbers are even more impressive, when taken through that same lens, best individual season for the same 10 guys:

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Of many surprises, what’ may be most surprising on that list is that it was Jokic’s sophomore season that was his most efficient. His All-Star year only netted a “paltry” .226 average, only second-best in Nuggets history. Also, Beck’s best is yet again in his Rockets history, and though Thompson and Issel both had better WS/48 seasons as Denver Rockets, neither of them outpaced .226 or (obviously) .228 in their careers in Denver. Jokic also holds the best average WS/48 amongst all Nuggets players (.214).

Barring anything unforeseen in career length or his sterling relationship with the organization, Nikola Jokic looks to be well on his way to #1 on this list, and probably well beyond. As to other individual accolades in Nuggets franchise history, Jokic already has the top spots for PER (24.8), Offensive rating (120.9), Box Plus/Minus (7.6), and Offensive Box Plus/Minus (4.9). How does that shape the conversation of him in terms of his team and the league as a whole, Nuggets Nation? Four seasons in, the “kid” is already in the Top 10.

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