Denver Nuggets Season Review: Nikola Jokić

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

THE NUMBERS

Games: 80, PPG: 20.1, RPG: 10.8, APG: 7.3, SPG: 1.4, FG: .511

THE SEASON

After signing a multi-year contract extension in the summer of 2018, there were a lot of expectations placed on Nikola Jokić.

“It’s exciting for us to be able to reward Nikola for his hard work thus far, and Nuggets fans should look forward to continue watching him grow into one of the very best players in this league and the leader of our team for years to come,” said Josh Kroenke, Vice Chairman of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment back in July.

The Serbian center exceeded those expectations with a historic campaign for the Nuggets.

Jokić was one of only three players in the NBA this season to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists and steals – the others being LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 24-year-old received his first All-Star appearance and became the first Nugget since 1978 to be named to the All-NBA First Team.

“Nikola did everything that was asked of him and that much more,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said in his end of the season availability.

There were plenty of highlights in what was an MVP-caliber season for Jokić. Who could forget his 40-point performance in Portland in the Nuggets’ 116-113 win over the Trail Blazers? Or his dominant night against the Sixers a few days later, when he dropped 32 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. Jokić’s best regular-season stretch might have come in early January, when he was named the Western Conference Player of the Week by the NBA. From Dec. 31 to Jan. 6, he averaged 26.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals while shooting 56.8 percent from the field.

As good as Jokić was during the regular season, he took his game to another level in the postseason. In his first-ever playoffs appearance, he averaged 25.1 points, 13 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 1.1 steals while almost hitting 40 percent on his three-point attempts. His inaugural playoff showing stacked up amongst the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Jokić’s teammates were impressed with his veteran-like poise during the Nuggets 14-game run in the playoffs.

“I just feel like [Jokic] is unstoppable,” Will Barton said. “On the offensive end, [there is] nothing he can’t do. He can handle it, he can shoot it, he can pass it. Post moves. What can’t he do?”

He added, “Just the best big man in the league in my observation.”

Jokić also showed his growth as a leader this season as he shouldered the responsibility after the Nuggets’ exit from the playoffs. Although he had 29 points and 13 rebounds, he lamented a missed free throw with 11.4 seconds left which would have cut the score to 98-96.

“They look at me as a leader. They look at me as their best player and yeah, I missed that one free throw at the end,” Jokic said.

Although Jokić insists he won’t use losing in the playoffs as motivation, Malone firmly believes his All-Star center will even be more dangerous next season.

“I played him 40 minutes a night and he goes out and averages 25 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists while shooting 50+ from the field and 39+ from three. Who does that,” Malone said.

He added, “I know he'll come back a much better player this year than he was last year because he's done that every summer."

UNDERAPPRECIATED FACT

Jokić regularly races his horses when he’s back home in Sombor, Serbia.

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