Nikola Jokić: The Joker making a case for MVP
The other night I had the good fortune of tuning into an exciting, under-the-radar match up on NBATV between the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets. I wasn’t expecting much, as neither team is lighting up the message boards these days. That’ll teach me for underestimating the implications of this potential First-Round match-up. First, there’s All-Star Center Nikola Jokic, who has quietly led his Denver squad to the second-best record in the Western Conference as of today’s date, trailing Golden State by just one game with under two more months of regular season play to go. In 28 minutes of play, Jokic put up a predictably sexy stat line of 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting to go with 16 boards, 3 steals, and a block. Jokic’s talent is hardly a secret. The 24-year-old point-center has been wowing fans with his long-range jump shot and no-look dimes throughout his four seasons with the Nuggets. What struck me about his performance this time, however, were the intangibles. Jokic’scommand of the game’s pacing and outcome last night was immeasurable, even LeBron-esque at times, like watching a great director call out orders on set.
League experts love to use the phrase “high basketball IQ” to describe players like Jokic. Historically these are European imports who display outstanding court vision to go along with their bold, unorthodox approach to offense—convenient shorthand for the NBA’s latest generation of great, white talent. In the case of Jokic, however, the term could not be more appropriate. If there were a standardized metric used to quantify intellectual basketball acumen, Jokic’s score would be off the charts. Thanks to his uncanny versatility, the Nuggets are finally getting the notice they deserve, despite the team’s lack of mass market appeal.
Teammates and former All-Stars Paul Millsap and Isiaiah Thomas hardly draw high television ratings, but under Jokic’s stellar leadership alongside Mike Malone’s bid for Coach of the Year, people are starting to take notice of the small-market juggernaut. At their current pace, there is no reason the Nuggets should not close out the season with home-court advantage through at least the first two rounds of post-season competition. Similarly, there is no reason we should discount Jokic as a legitimate MVP contender. It’s time for the rest of the league to step up and accept that this squad is for real.