Nikola Jokić’s case for 2019-20 All-NBA First Team

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Nikola Jokić has had another incredible season as the leader of the Denver Nuggets. The Serbian big man has continued to showcase his unique playmaking skills while he has also cemented himself as one of the most clutch players in the entire league.

The result? A season that the NBA hasn’t seen since Wilt Chamberlain’s 1966-67 campaign. Yes, that’s right. Jokić became just the second player in league history to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists per game with a true shooting percentage above 60 percent.

The two-time All-Star entered the slate of seeding games (which don’t count towards award voting this season) with averages of 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game on a 60.2 true shooting percentage. His playmaking continues to drive Denver’s offense, as Jokić finished eighth in the league in total assists and the Nuggets’ offense was five points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.

Although his traditional, counting stats are impressive on the surface, the advanced metrics paint an even brighter picture of Jokić’s impact. The 25-year-old big man finished fourth in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), including first among centers. In ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus metric, Jokić once again finished fourth in the league and first among centers, this time by a wide margin.

Those metrics capture the wider picture of Jokić’s dominant play. When just focusing in on crunch time situations, the Serbian big man looks even more impressive.

Heading into the seeding games, Jokić finished third in total points scored in the clutch, while he shot 48.8 percent in such situations. Jokić’s effectiveness in such situations is a big reason why Denver went 26-14 in clutch games this season.

Jokić impacts each game in ways that continue to stifle defenses and opposing head coaches. What do you do to try and defend a player that is simultaneously a great post player, capable mid-range or 3-point shooter and one of the best passers in the league with a height advantage to see over defenses?

The simple answer is that you can’t stop Jokić, but only hope to contain him. It’s no surprise that at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the annual NBA GMs survey voted Jokić as the best center in the league.

“I expect him to play the way how he was playing prior to the league being suspended and come out and play at a very high level,” head coach Michael Malone said prior to the season resuming in the Orlando bubble. “He’s the best center in the NBA, why wouldn’t he?”

Jokić’s play in the bubble so far has only backed up Malone’s talk, which has been a major talking point over the past two seasons as the Serbian big man has continued to dominate the league.

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