The Denver Nuggets have never been one of the “popular” ones when it comes to the NBA. They don’t have the history of greatness like the Lakers or the Celtics. They don’t have the happening scene like the Heat do in Miami. And as we learned with Carmelo Anthony, they apparently don’t possess the individual marketing opportunities like the Knicks in New York. Denver is beautiful, sure, but when talking about the sexy factor, the Mile High City isn’t typically at the top of the list. However, lately, there’s a shift of attention toward the Nuggets and, strangely enough, it has to do with someone who could care less about the “scene” surrounding him. Nikola Jokic. He’s not the first name the national media or fans outside of Colorado think of when discussing the top players in the league but perhaps that’s beginning to change.
The Joker has now been an All Star 3 times in his career and just last week we saw him mix it up as a starter with the hottest names in the league. No, Jokic wasn’t providing any must see highlight reels or earth shattering dunks but it was his sense of humor, humility and willingness to just play his modest style of basketball that demanded some attention. The league took notice. One of the NBA’s most popular stars, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was delighted to be around the Nuggets big man and even said he wanted to do a tv show with Jokic somewhere down the line. Maybe a Denver based tv show about how many championships the Nuggets win in the next 10 years? Sorry, I digress.
The point is; fans, media and the players are all starting to take notice. And what’s good for Jokic is good for the Nuggets. And apparently he has no plans on leaving anytime soon. He told our friends at DNVR Nuggets that he’d rather win a championship with the Nuggets than with another team. Whew. As long as Denver has Big Honey, they should become more and more of a household name and maybe, just maybe, start to make a little bit of their own NBA history.
Speaking of history, if the Joker can keep playing like he’s done all season, he could become the very first Denver Nugget to win a league MVP honor. He’s averaging 27 points per game, 8.5 assists and over 11 rebounds per game. Those numbers are MVP numbers, no doubt, but if he wants to pass up Joel Embiid and/or LeBron James, his team has to get closer to a top 3 seed in the West. Either way though, the mere fact that Jokic is in the conversation is astonishing. It’s something Nuggets fans just aren’t used to, having one of the best players in the NBA.
Alex English and Carmelo Anthony, perhaps the other greatest Nuggets of all time (Jokic is already number 1 in IMO) were both top players while suiting up for Denver. But how close were they to winning an MVP? Melo was never going to pass up guys like LeBron, Kobe and Duncan while English had Bird, Magic and Jordan to contend with. They just weren’t at the upper level in terms of NBA stars. Joker is an elite star and easily can contend with the leagues best. And to think, no one really expected Nikola to be a franchise player, let alone a legitimate MVP candidate.
Drafted in 2014 during the second round, Jokic was more of an insurance pickup as most assumed Denver already found their big man in the 1st round that same year; Jusuf Nurkic. Both Nurkic and Gary Harris were the highlights of the draft that year while the report of Denver drafting Jokic was nothing more than a ticker at the bottom of the screen during a Taco Bell commercial. In fact, Jokic didn’t even know he was drafted. He was asleep. His brother had to give him the news. His numbers in Europe weren’t breathtaking and his body type was underwhelming to put it nicely. So why would anyone think Nikola Jokic would be anything more than a backup let alone a franchise legend?
It didn’t take long for Nikola to earn some more attention from the coaching staff and the front office. In just his second game in the league, he scored 10 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. From there, it was beginning to look like Jokic, not Nurkic, would be the future starter at center for Denver. After a brief experiment to see if both big men could coexist as starters failed, Nurk had officially lost his starting job. It was long after the demotion that the Bosnian Beast saw the writing on the wall and wanted out. Ultimately, it was an easy decision to make; trade Nurkic and pave the way for the Joker. Once it was clear that Nikola would be the starting center he never looked back. His points per game average went from 10 his rookie year to 16 the next, then 18, then 20 and now…..27! The assists and rebound totals soared as well making him, already, the all time leader in triple doubles in Denver Nuggets history and 9th all time in the NBA.
The Nuggets have fared well since Jokic’s emergence to MVP status. Head Coach Mike Malone, thanks in huge part to the Joker, has improved the win total and/or playoff production literally every year since becoming the head coach. The last two years saw Denver make the playoffs and advance past the 1st round both years, something Melo’s Nuggets did only once. Last season Denver qualified for Western Conference finals, only the third time in their NBA history.
If Nikola Jokic stays in Denver much longer, he’s going to pass up Nuggets greats in almost every key stat. With just 5 completed seasons, Jokic is 5th all time in assists, 7th in rebounds and 8th in points. Passing English will take some work, but judging by his first few years as a Nugget, my money’s on the Cookie Monster to pass up a Nuggets legend while breaking several franchise records in the process.
But why stop there? When we talk Nuggets greats we talk about them on more of a local level. We don’t really discuss English or Anthony in terms of overall NBA greats (fair or not). But Nikola is a guy, already, heading for not just Denver royalty but NBA supreme status. A guy that might be in the conversation of GOAT, however far fetched it seems right now. Championships, MVP awards and yes, hopefully that TV show with Giannis might be what lies ahead for a gift to the state of Colorado, America and the game of basketball. Nikola Jokic.