In the final game of Denver’s road trip Nikola Jokic absolutely dominated the front court of the Dallas Mavericks, as he should have. It took him just 12 shots and seven free throws to put up 27 points. He accumulated 11 rebounds, four assists, and a block as well. He only had one turnover over 26 minutes with as much as he touched the ball. Overall he was a Plus-2 in those 26 minutes. The rest of the Nuggets? Minus-22 in the 22 minutes Jokic wasn’t on the floor.

The team around him didn’t come to play in a 112-92 blow out, but the silver lining was that Jokic continued to prove that he is the Nuggets’ best player. Not Danilo Gallinari. Not Wilson Chandler. Not the starter in front of him, Jusuf Nurkic. Nikola Jokic is the best player on the Denver Nuggets, and it’s time to treat him like it.

Many fans were excited to see a breakout from Jokic following his stellar rookie season, but there weren’t many favors done for him. Because of the emergence of Jusuf Nurkic in the preseason, the Nuggets moved Jokic to power forward, a position he had only ever played abroad for his National Team in Serbia. Needless to say he struggled with the move, and he was clearly finding it difficult to assert himself while on the floor with Nurkic. Jokic eventually went to Michael Malone and asked to come off the bench to normalize the rotation.

Since the first game Jokic came off the bench (November 12th against Detroit), Jokic has played 14 games and is putting up career high numbers:

Year Points per game Rebounds per game Assists per game Field Goal percentage
2015-16 10.0 7.0 2.4 51.2%
2016-17 (starter) 9.8 6.3 2.0 50.0%
2016-17 (bench) 11.6 8.0 3.4 57.0%

For reference, no player in the NBA has matched Jokic’s numbers off the bench this season while also coming off the bench. The only starters to match the points, assists, and rebound numbers?

  • Kevin Durant
  • Russell Westbrook
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • DeMarcus Cousins
  • Blake Griffin
  • Paul Millsap

Those players have a combined 21 games in which they played less than 30 minutes. Nikola Jokic has played less than 30 minutes in 19 of the 21 games he’s suited up. That’s how productive Jokic has been during his stint off the bench.

When adding in his 57.0% field goal percentage during that period, nobody in the NBA can match Nikola Jokic’s numbers. So Ryan, why are you advocating to start him if he’s been so successful in a bench role?

Because the Nuggets are a bad team. Denver can’t afford to limit the role of its best player. It was okay when Will Barton was coming off the bench last year for Denver because he played above 30 minutes in 37 of the 82 games, or nearly half the time. At the time, he was the Nuggets’ best player, and they found a way to get him on the floor for starters’ minutes.

The same must be done with Jokic now. He’s earned it. Here are a compilation of his advanced statistics from various outlets ranked against other Nuggets players:

Advanced Metric Statistic Rank
Win Shares/48 .169 1st
Box Plus/Minus +4.3 1st
Real Plus/Minus 2.16 1st
True Shooting % 58.5% 1st
PER 19.0 2nd
Offensive Rating 120 1st
Defensive Rating 107 4th
Minutes per game 23.7 6th

For crying out loud, what am I missing here?

Jokic had an excellent summer with the Serbian National team, earning a silver medal for his efforts. He was mentioned as a cornerstone player for this Nuggets team, a guy that the Nuggets should be building around. finished 3rd in the NBA last year in Rookie of the Year voting. The two guys ahead of him in the voting were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and their usage has been worlds higher than Jokic thus far.

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That minutes-per-game discrepancy is just mind boggling, as is the field goal attempt difference. The New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves are doing a wonderful job of playing through their 21-year-old big men. This will help their development in future seasons massively when trying to score the basketball and make the right play.

Jokic’s role has clearly been limited by minutes and scheme, and when looking at his advanced metrics in comparison with the other two stars, it really is debatable which big man is the best. His defense is clearly ahead of the other two bigs, and offensively, he’s ahead of Porzingis due to his passing.

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I understand that the Nuggets have extenuating circumstances that are tying their hands with the starting lineup. I simply don’t care. There is no reason that the Nuggets shouldn’t be trying to feature a player who checks as many boxes as Jokic does. He scores, he passes, he rebounds, he defends. He makes the Nuggets better. His Net Rating is second on the team only to Jamal Murray among players that play regular minutes (hey, maybe Murray can join him in the lineup).

Honestly, I have to wonder whether Michael Malone’s job security should be in question if Jokic isn’t in the starting lineup before January 1st.

That’s all I have for this Stat of the Week. Let me know what I should break down next!