Nikola Jokić: 2016-17 Most Improved Player Candidate

ESPN: Nikola Jokić Emerges as Threat to Swipe Most Improved Honors

ESPN Senior Writer Marc Stein gives his season trimester award watch breakdown, in which Stein selects Nikola Jokić as a possible victor for the NBA's Most Improved Player of the season.

In the first trimester of the season, Stein originally pegged Milwaukee Buck Giannis Antetokounmpo as the runaway winner for the NBA's Most Improved Player trophy. But after a "freakishly good" second trimester performance from Nikola Jokić, Stein says the race for Most Improved Player is "too wild" to even predict.

Here's a few snippets of what Stein has to say about the Joker:

“Jokić was so freakishly good in his own right in the season's middle third that he would be fully justified to ring us up and ask why he isn't our West MVP for the same reporting period.”

“Thanks to the rise of Jokić, furthermore, Denver is unexpectedly the team several other Western Conference residents have been forced to chase for the West's final playoff berth.”

Read the entire article here.



Sports Illustrated: Nikola Jokić Get Serious in Denver

At 17, Nikola Jokić stood at almost 7’0” and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He regularly downed three liters of soda in a day and could not do a single pushup.

While his “doughy physique led to questions about his dedication,” the Nuggets staff could see the talent Jokić possessed.

Lee Jenkins of SI.com details the “metamorphosis” of The Joker in a long form story which chronicles Nikola from his childhood in Serbia to his first triple-double in the NBA.

Here’s a few clips from the story:

“If he were a quarterback, he’d love the fade route, lofted to a distant location where only his receiver can run underneath it.”

“Whether he’s leading the fast break or trailing it, setting up in the high or low post, time stops when he holds the ball. He takes a mental snapshot of the floor. Then he imagines how the picture will change.”

“Jokic’s passes come from over his shoulder and behind his back. They bounce and they float. They’re ropes and they’re rainbows. To Jokic, the assist is utilitarian, but it’s also artistic.”

Here the entire article here.


CBS Sports: Nikola Jokić the NBA's Next Great Passing Big Man

Matt Moore of CBS Sports analyzes what has made Nikola Jokić one of the most "buzz-worthy names" in the NBA this past season. Moore specifically delves into Jokić's unique passing ability that has the league labeling Nikola the "Magic Jokić."

In the article, Moore highlights a few of Nikola's best dimes of the season (with video narration provided by The Joker himself).

Here's a few clips from Moore on Jokić:

“Jokić’s passing is built not only on touch and natural feel for the game, but obviously his vision, and his ability to make multiple reads at once.”

“Jokić’s combination of vision and efficiency is a huge part of what makes Denver’s offense catch fire instantly.”

Read the entire article here.


FiveThirtyEight: Nikola Jokić Is Suddenly One Of The Best Young NBA Players Of All Time

Kyle Wagner of FiveThirtyEight breaks down what exactly makes Nikola Jokić one of the most best young players in the NBA.

While Jokić does not have the “draft pedigree” that other young stars have in league, Nikola has made a name for himself through an “aria of gaudy stats” and “ doing point guard things.” The Joker’s combination of unique skills has FiveThirtyEight dubbing him one of the most exciting prospects.

Here’s a few clips from the article:

“Jokić has become both an object of fascination for NBA diehards and a standout in the fancier NBA stats.”

“He could end up being one of the best players in the league, and he’s already one of the most exciting.”

Read the entire article here.


The Case for Nikola Jokić

By Nuggets Insider Chris Dempsey

The best snapshots of Nuggets center Nikola Jokić’s season are in the selfies. He snapped them all over the country. Chicago. Milwaukee. Miami. And, of course, Denver. His was an exclusive club, his countrymen and women who showed up to nearly every arena with stars in their eyes. One, star, actually.

Jokić.

He is arguably the biggest, most recognizable, most loved figure in Serbia. One night in a late-season road trip, a Nuggets staffer was out eating dinner when he struck up a conversation with a stranger. That person, of Serbian descent, talked so glowingly and with such reverential admiration for Jokic that the staffer felt compelled to initiate a memory that man would never forget. He dialed up Jokic on Facetime.

Jokić picked up. The short, two-minute conversation the two had is sure to last the fan a lifetime.

If you want to know the real Jokić, it’s in these moments. But to get to those moments, he had to have standout moments on the basketball court. This season, in which he’s a leading candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, he’s had a mountain’s worth of them.

“It’s amazing,” Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler said. “I’ve always been a big fan of Jok’s since I’ve seen him in practice. I thought he was going to be pretty good.”

He was right.

Jokić is:

- Fourth in the NBA in triple-doubles with six.
- Eighth in the NBA in PER (26.40).
- Leads the Nuggets in rebounding (9.8), is second in scoring (16.7) and assists (4.9).
- Has 39 double-doubles in his last 54 contests.
- Is averaging 19.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists in his last 54 games.

“The numbers that Nikola Jokic is putting up,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, “are just a joke.”

Before and After. The Nuggets’ offensive revival started the minute Jokic took over as the starting center on Dec. 15. They almost instantly went from a good offense to one of the most potent in the NBA.

“They really feel like a prototypical Denver Nuggets team now,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, prior to the Nuggets game at the Heat on April 2. “With the pace, how hard they drive, how much pressure they put on you at in the paint at the rim. …. They put up points as well as anybody.”

The Nuggets racked up 116 in a win that night. Jokić had a near triple-double with 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

The Jokić Triple Double Watch became a Twitter thing in February. His first was against Milwaukee, 20 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. It wasn’t just an icebreaker. It was the start of five triple-doubles in an 18-day stretch. Two were back-to-back, at Chicago (19 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists) and Milwaukee (13 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists). There were games in which he’d close in on a triple-double in the first quarter.

Offensively, the Nuggets soared. From Dec. 15, only Houston and Golden State have scored more than the Nuggets 114.6 points per game. Only Golden State’s field goal percentage was better than the Nuggets’ 48.4. It seemed everyone started scoring points, making more shots. Chandler boiled a big chunk of the newfound good times to one reason: Jokic.

“A lot of it, maybe 80 percent of it is putting Jokić at the five,” Chandler said. “Putting him at the five takes a lot of pressure off of people to make one-on-one plays. When we need to get a bucket he makes it easy on everybody. If bigs back off he can make a shot; if they are pressing up he can make the pass, he can go around, he can shoot a three, he can pretty much do everything.

“And then, when it’s time for you to play one-on-one you have space to drive, space to drive-and-kick. It makes the game easier for everybody. I think all of it has to do with him.”

Malone agreed.

“If you put a mic next to our bench you can hear somebody yelling ‘cut, cut, cut!’” he said. “We’re constantly moving and being hard to guard. Earlier in the season we were cutting but we weren’t finishing our cuts; we were kind of lazy cutting. Now, as guys are getting rewarded and rewarded and rewarded, human nature is “well I want to do that. I want to get some of those easy baskets.” Doing everything with purpose.”

Jokić’s season is separated into two parts – pre-December 15 and post-December 15, but the totality of it all is, in fact, enough. Overall, his scoring average is up nearly seven points from his rookie season. His rebounds are up almost three per game. His assists have more than doubled. His shooting percentage has gone from 51.2 as a rookie, to 57.8 this season. And he’s still not averaging starter’s minutes – just 27.9.

If you take Jokić’s numbers and apply them per 36 – the metric used to project what a player would average with “starter’s” minutes – they are off the charts: 21.6 points, 12.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists.

But, for Jokić, his impact on the team is always the focus.

“Once we made that lineup change on the 15th of December, his numbers from that point on are second-to-none, for anybody,” Malone said. “So, I think Nikola is firmly entrenched as one of the best players in the NBA.”

Who is he? When Jokić was a kid, growing up in Serbia, he watched the national team more than the NBA, because those games didn’t come on until 3 or 4 a.m.

But then, when Jokić was a teenager, YouTube arrived. And his world opened up.

“I watched Magic because of his passing, and Hakeem because of his post moves,” said Jokić in the Players Tribune. “And Jordan because he is Jordan.”

It is quite the cross section of players, which is appropriate because when you ask NBA coaches who Jokić reminds them of, many different names pop up.

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry: “A great rebounder, a great feel for the game, a willing passer. And has real good footwork. … A young Tim Duncan. He’s got that kind of game down there where he can get you off your feet or make baskets down there. He’s got a really, really bright future in this league.”

Sacramento coach Dave Joerger: “He’s got a lot of Marc Gasol in him, as far as being able to pass and make his teammates better… He’s a terrific passer. He’s a fantastic player.”

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford: “He’s really, to me a throwback to – except he shoots with more range – to a Vlade Divac, Chris Webber kind of big guy who puts enormous pressure on the defense. Not just his skill level because he can make plays, but it opens up the blocks to cut into.”

Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer: “A young Divac, a young (Arvydas) Sabonis, those kinds of guys. Some of the passes that Sabonis used to do were just unbelievable things, and so you were just like ‘wow.’ So, it’s fun to see as a fan.”

Every coach agrees on the passing. Jokić has a season’s worth of highlight reel plays. Behind-the-back passes. Over the head behind-the-back passes. All delivered with the same precision as anything he dishes out in plain sight.

Whether he gets the ball facing the basket or with his back to it, teammates all cut to the rim when he scoops it up. Will Barton was the recipient of an over-the-head no-look pass from Jokić earlier this season. He caught the pass and dunked it. Though Jokić had his back turned on the play, it was never a thought in Barton’s head to not cut.

In fact, Barton said, “I knew he was going to throw that pass as soon as he picked up the ball – and exactly like that. I knew he was going to throw it behind his head.”

L.A. Lakers coach Luke Walton saw Jokić up-close in two of the Nuggets’ four games against the Lakers. Jokić averaged 23.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in those games.

“He’s really good,” Walton said. “Like, really good. Like, fun to watch good. His all-around game for how young he is, is incredible. He’s one of the premier young players in our league.”

And all of this out of a second-round pick. Jokić was the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

“We all feel like we are trying to discover and find all of these guys,” Budenholzer said. “A lot of credit goes to Denver’s international group. Sometimes it’s having connections and knowing people – kind of the underground network. We all try and do that. They obviously saw something in him, took that chance, and there’s a lot of us that wishing we’d been that team.”