In their first Orlando Bubble scrimmage against the Washington Wizards, as NBA games resumed after the Coronavirus Pandemic halted play, the Denver Nuggets starting lineup featured an average height of 6-foot-9. The five included Nikola Jokic at point guard, Jerami Grant at shooting guard, Bol Bol at small forward, Paul Millsap at power forward, and Mason Plumlee at center. Yes, 7-foot, 284-pound Nikola Jokic from Sombor, Serbia, got the nod at point guard.
This manifested as a result of starting floor general Jamal Murray nursing a hamstring injury and backcourt companions Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Torrey Craig sitting out. Who better to hand the reigns to than the best passing big man of all time?
Nikola Jokic: The NBA's Point Guard-Center
The Serbian professional basketball player was the 41st overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Nuggets. The scouting report noted his versatile passing and playmaking abilities.
As a rookie, he averaged 10 points, 7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. His year-long performance earned him a spot on the NBA All-Rookie first team with Karl Anthony-Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kristaps Porzingas of the New York Knicks, Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns, and Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers. He played for the Serbian national basketball team that lost to the United States in the gold medal game at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The frontcourt passer recorded a career-high 17 assists against the Milwaukee Bucks on February 15, 2018.
Jokic held his coming-out party during the 2018-19 NBA season. He averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists while leading Denver to a 54-28 record and a second-place finish in the West. The Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and lost to the Portland Trail Blazers in a grueling seven-game series in the Western Conference semifinals. The Blazers fell to Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and the Golden State Warriors in the Conference Finals. Jokic was named to the All-NBA First Team and finished fourth in MVP voting.
This year, before the regular-season stopped because of the coronavirus, he was handing out 6.9 assists per game -- That ranked 15th in the league per NBA.com. Combine that with a 20.2-point and 10.2-rebound average, and the Nuggets have a near triple-double on a game-to-game basis. Denver will need his creativity to advance past LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs. He's is more than comfortable running the offense from the center position once a healthy backcourt returns.
The Joker's scoring ability opens up passing lanes for teammates. He's crafty in the post; lumbering by for dunks and a soft fadeaway jumper. The defense's focus on him shifts his attention towards passing opportunities. He's three steps ahead in deciphering these openings--hurling on-the-money full-court heaves or finessed touch passes.
It's the main reason why I chose the two-time All-Star as the signal-caller of my NFL team comprised of NBA players.
Nikola Jokic's Big Impact on the NBA
But truthfully, Jokic has since become an unstoppable force of nature on the basketball court. So much so, Big Men in the NBA are having a moment. Once Jokic opened up wth flood gates with his 2021 NBA MVP win, he's now competing for votes with the likes of Joel Embiid. Sure, Giannis Antetokounmpo may have kicked things off, but the Greek Freak looks the part. His athletic build and quickness make him a threat to opposing teams. If Jokic rolled up to a pick-up game, the only thing you'd think of was his size, even if he entered the gym with his MVP Award in hand. .
But Jokic is proving that he's got more tools than a swiss army knife. What other Big can guard Stephen Curry, Otto Porter, Andrew WIggins and Kevon Looney in the same game and at the same level of intensity? That's what we've seen form Jokic in the Nuggets first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors. Nikola Jokic's height isn't the whole story, but it's a big piece for sure.
Perhaps that's a product of having his two older brothers, Nemanja Jokic and Strahinja Jokic, living with him in Denver. Little Brother Syndrome kicks in and Jokic is forcing his way through games both mentally and physically. The Jokic brothers have also defended their sibling on Twitter, sparring with Marcus Morris after he tweeted that Nikola took a cheap shot at his brother.
Every game is a battle for Jokic and he just keeps winning. But that's what you'd expect from someone who is a perrenial NBA Most Valuable Player candidate.
This article was originally published on July 28, 2020.
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