If I told you to guess the player who was averaging 20.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 7.7 assists who would your guess be? You would probably guess Russell Westbrook or Ben Simmons and your guess would be wrong. Those stats belong to none other than Nikola Jokic the starting center for the Denver Nuggets. The big man from Serbia is having an MVP caliber season. His outstanding play has him in line to make his first All-Star team, and the Nuggets currently sit second in the tough western conference.
In an era where the big-man is viewed as a dying position. The position has been regulated two a big man falling into two separate groups. Either you set picks and roll to the basket looking for lobs at the rim, or you're on the perimeter spreading the court shooting 3 pointers. An example of a rim running lob catching big-men would be 6’11” DeAndre Jordan of the Knicks. An example of a 3 point shooting big would be 7’0” Brooke Lopez of the Bucks. Lopez came into the league as a back to the basket big, who could post up and score from the block. Lopez had to adjust his game to survive in the league and now is a jump shooting the big man.
For a big man to be successful in this era of pace on space, positionless basketball a big man has to a wide variety of tools in his toolbox. He has to be able to shoot the three, be able to run the pick n roll and be an initiator of offense. Many if not all NBA offenses feature dribble handoff action and your big man has to be able to read and react once receiving the ball. While there a couple of big men that possess this skill set Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and DeMarcus Cousins come to mind. None of them are as complete as Nikola Jokic.
Jokic is currently in his fourth season with the Nuggets, and the 23-year-old has been putting up absurd numbers this season. He's seen his stats continue to rise each year he's been in the league. He has put up eight triple-doubles this season recording another one last night in a win against the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans. His stat line was 20 points 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-99 win. One of his triple doubles was a 35 point 11 rebound 11 assist game another was a 32 point, 18 rebound, and 10 assist game. He has two games of 20+ rebounds and several 9 assists games.
Jokic is the perfect blend of skills for today’s game. He can step out and shoot the 3, which he is shooting close to 33% from the 3 point line. He’s attempting three 3 pointers a game and makes 1 per game. He can play on the block with his back to the basket. His strongest and at times eye-popping, exhilarating, an exciting skill is his passing. His playmaking ability is at the level of some of the passing greats to play the game. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, and Bill Walton who might be the best passing big man in history. He is the initiator of the Nuggets offense from the high post. The Nuggets, run their offense through Jokic, which allows Jamal Murray and Gary Harris to play off the ball so they can focus solely on scoring. Get gives the Nuggets an add dimension that makes their offense hard to defend.
In a year where several players are having seasons worthy of them winning the MVP. Nikola Jokic is definitely one of those candidates. He has the Denver Nuggets second in the west and one game behind the Golden State Warriors. Everyone had the Nuggets in the playoffs, but people would be lying if they thought they would be the two seed heading into the All-Star break.
In an era of basketball where the big man is presumed dead, the ”Joker” is showing us that the big man is alive and well. Basketball is demanding players to be more versatile and skilled and this also applies to the center position. So instead of complaining that the big man does not post up enough. Let's enjoy the highly skilled play we are now receiving from our center position. Salute to the ”Joker” the best center in the game.