Nikola Jokić's five defining moments with Denver Nuggets

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Two-time All-Star. First-Team All-NBA Center. Perennial MVP Candidate.

Nikola Jokić has exceeded any conceivable expectations since he arrived in the NBA in 2015. It is rare to draft an All-Star player in the second round. It’s even more extraordinary to land franchise-caliber talent after the first 15 picks of the draft. But in Jokić, the Nuggets were able to find just that with the 41st overall selection in the 2014 draft.

Jokić has had plenty of incredible highlights during his time in the Mile High City. Here are his five defining moments as a Nugget.

5. Being drafted in 2014

There wasn’t much buzz around Jokić when he was included in the 2014 draft class. When he was drafted, a certain worldwide-leading network overshadowed his selection with a fast-food commercial. Still, the Nuggets had long coveted the Serbian big man and were holding their collective breaths waiting for the chance to draft him.

Jokić would spend another season in Serbia fine-tuning his game before joining the Nuggets in 2015. It is safe to say the gamble on Jokić paid dividends. He’s averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 boards and 5.4 assists in 373 games for the Nuggets.

4. First Double-Double

Although the Nuggets saw glimpses of Jokić’s vast potential from his time in Europe and practices, it would take 12 games into his rookie campaign before he showed it on the court.

Up against a Spurs team that was 9-2 at the time, the then-20-year-old would notch his first-ever NBA double-double against his NBA idol—Tim Duncan. Jokić came off the bench to pour in 23 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 61.5 percent. Despite the Nuggets ultimately losing 109-98, it showed Jokić’s willingness to embrace the challenge of going against one of the league’s best frontcourts. The confident performance also led to seven-straight starts for the big man.

3. First Triple-Double

It might be hard to believe, but Jokić didn’t have his first double-digit assist game until the 29th game of his second season in the NBA – dishing out 11 dimes in a two-point win over the T’wolves. From that point on, Jokić started to utilize his excellent court vision and hands to devastating effect for opponents. Prior to that contest on Dec. 28, 2016, Jokić averaged 3.4 assists per game. Following the Minnesota game, his assist numbers would rise dramatically to 5.8 per game.

All of that would lead to Jokić’s first NBA triple-double, which came against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 3, 2017. Facing another European big man on the rise in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jokić dazzled the Pepsi Center faithful as he led the Nuggets to a win with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. It was the first of six triple-doubles that season.

With Jokić only three triple-doubles away from Fat Lever’s Nuggets’ record of 43, it’s incredible to see his progress at just 25.

2. Career-night in Atlanta

If there is one criticism over Jokić’s game from observers, it’s his willingness to defer to other teammates if there’s a better scoring opportunity. He is an atypical star center in the sense that he approaches the game with a point guard's mentality. However, Jokić will take over the scoring load for the Nuggets when needed and he delivered in a big way for them against the Hawks.

With Denver having dropped two of its last three games from Dec. 31 to Jan. 4, the team needed to reassert itself and it did thanks to a dominant showing from their All-Star center. Jokić responded with a career-best 47 points on a sizzling 64 percent shooting, hitting an impressive 4 of 8 from downtown. Oh, and he also had seven assists and six boards for good measure. The Nuggets would secure an eight-point win in Atlanta, restoring some pride after two tough losses against the Rockets and Wizards.

1. Game 6 vs. San Antonio

Yes, the Nuggets suffered a humbling loss against San Antonio in Game 6 as they lost by 17. Still, one would be hard-pressed to find any fault in Jokić’s showing as the center put on a historic performance in the game.

Jokić would score a franchise-record in playoff points in a game with 43 points on 19-of-30 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds and nine assists. The Nuggets have had plenty of scorers in their history, ranging from Alex English to Carmelo Anthony. To see Jokić handle his first playoff series with such confidence led to a new appreciation of just how talented he is.

Jokić would wrap up his first trip to the postseason by playing 14 games and averaging 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists while shooting 50.9 percent. Denver can’t wait to see what future trips to the postseason will look like for their star center.

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