Nikola Jokic is proving that he’s the future of the Denver Nuggets, leading his team to a playoff spot this season with his blossoming skill set.
Last night, the Los Angeles Clippers got a good taste of Jokic’s versatility and offensive prowess, with the big man posting 19 points on 8-11 FG, along with 10 rebounds, and 3 assists in just 21 minutes of action. His performance would boost the Nuggets to a dominant 123-98 rout over the Clippers; pushing them to a 18-24 record and into the 8th seed of the Western Conference.
The Nuggets haven’t had a legitimate offensive threat since the days of Carmelo Anthony, but Jokic is doing his best to re-create some of that magic – producing at a ridiculous rate for his squad. It won’t be easy for the Nuggets to remain in the playoff hunt, but as long as the second-year man out of Serbia continues to play like he has as of late – the Nuggets will have a solid chance to make some noise and compete for their first playoff appearance since 2013.
After dealing with a slow start to the season, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound centre has come on strong in the month of January. In his last 11 games. Jokic has been a beast – averaging 23.4 points on 63.7 FG%, along with 10.2 rebounds, and 5 assists in 29.7 minutes of action. The Nuggets are 6-5 in that stretch, while they continue to gain momentum at the halfway point of the season behind their young centre.
He’s only one of 4 players to be averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this month, with the other 3 being Russell Westbrook, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Davis. He’s establishing himself as one of the premier young big men in the league, and as long as he continues to collect more minutes – he’ll be well on his way towards carrying the Nuggets towards the postseason.
Tom Boerwinkle, Blake Griffin & Nikola Jokic are the only players in NBA history to have a 15+ REB% & a 20+ AST% over their 1st 2 seasons. pic.twitter.com/sfE3Efmm9C
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) January 22, 2017
Jokic has come a long way since his rookie season, coming into the 2016-17 campaign with an aggressive mindset. He’s made sure to make his presence felt in every game this season; adapting to defences by using his versatile playing style. Coming off a career-high 35-point losing effort against the San Antonio Spurs, Jokic came into Saturday night’s game against the Clippers with the same focus.
Against the Clippers, Jokic showed that there isn’t much he can’t do on the offensive end; establishing his tremendous midrange game, grabbing rebounds to create second chance points, and finishing around the rim with ease. Matched up against last year’s First Team All-NBA centre in DeAndre Jordan, Jokic wouldn’t waste any time proving his talent.
He started the game attacking Jordan, completing an and-1 opportunity, before showing off his range by splashing a 3-pointer a few minutes later to help his team build a quick lead in the 1st quarter. Unfortunately, Jokie would be charged with a couple of quick fouls that would take him out of the game for the majority of the 1st half. A healthy dose of Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried would make sure that their big man’s absence wouldn’t take them out of the game, with the Nuggets’ trio leading them to a commanding 59-45 lead heading into halftime.
Jokic’s time would finally come in the 3rd quarter, with the 21-year-old putting his entire game on display throughout the frame. First, he’d show off his nice midrange touch, knocking down a quick turnaround jumper to start the half and give his team a 61-45 lead with 11:47 remaining in the 3rd. A few minutes later, the lanky centre would show off his solid passing skills – finding Will Barton for an open midrange jumper to build their lead to 65-53 with 7:58 left in the quarter. A possession later, Jokic would pull off his best play of the night – fooling Jordan with a pump fake, before blowing past the Clippers defender and finishing with a smooth switch-handed layup to put the Nuggets back up by 12.
He’d cap off his incredible game and send shock waves through the Pepsi Center, by hitting a long-range 3-pointer to put his team up 17 with 5:14 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Jokic’s fantastic showing would help the Nuggets carry out a dominant performance over the Clippers, leading them to a 36-point quarter by scoring 13 of his own points in the frame. Denver would take a 95-71 lead into the 4th quarter, giving them a big enough lead that Jokic wouldn’t have to play another minute – with the Nuggets holding on and taking the eventual victory.
Jokic’s skill and IQ has turned him into one of the most promising young players in the NBA, while making the Nuggets a team that’s ready to be feared in the West. He still has a long way to go on the defensive end, but at this point, it’s safe to say that he’s well on his way to becoming a great player. Offensively, he has everything that a coach would want in a big man. He has a solid shooting touch that can stretch as far as the 3-point line, he can put the ball on the floor, crash the boards, and also has the ability to pass through traffic – making him a big-time weapon when he’s on the court.
Thanks to Jokic’s incredibly efficient and well-balanced play, the Nuggets are in a solid position to make the playoffs. He isn’t an All-Star, but he’s been Denver’s outright MVP – leading them to the last playoff spot in the West, while holding off the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings. He’s become the ideal player to build around in Denver, and that shouldn’t change with him continuing to guide his team to wins.
All stats for this article are from NBA.com
You can follow Peter Ash on Twitter @peterash_