any casual NBA fans will be tuning into the Western Conference Finals tomorrow night between the LA Lakers and the Denver Nuggets and will immediately notice the tall, seemingly slower 7 footer who so far has shredded every defense thrown at him in these playoffs. Being drafted 41st overall in the 2014 NBA draft, there was absolutely no excitement about Nikola Jokic entering the league. Many questioned his weight and lack of athleticism as reasons that he wouldn't have a successful NBA career. Not only were the experts dead wrong about him, but the fact that he's legitimately the best player now coming out of that 2014 draft and clearly the best center in the NBA speaks volumes as to how lethal he really is.
LA Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers had this to say about the Joker prior to his team's exit from the bubble:
"He has a little bit of everybody. He has all the footwork and the moves of Olajuwon, the lanky and goofy, like goofy intelligence of Kevin McHale. Shoot man, he's just good. He's the best passing big that I've ever seen, I think, ever."
Nikola Jokic has been absolutely brilliant to say the least, and with his partner in crime Jamal Murray, they have shocked many NBA fans with their team success. Coming back from a 3-1 deficit twice against the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers has shown that this team has resiliency in the face of adversity that many teams do not possess. The Denver Nuggets thwarted an LA Clippers vs LA Lakers Western Conference battle which is what the media has been fantasizing about all season. The truth is that the Denver Nuggets were without question the more superior team than the Clippers, and outside of the dynamic duo of Canadian born Jamal Murray and the Serbian big man Nikola Jokic, its been the steady veteran presence of Paul Millsap, the physical defense of Jeremi Grant, the interior presence off the bench of Mason Plumlee, the timely shooting of Gary Harris, the ascension of the youthful Michael Porter Jr, and the savvy coaching of Michael Malone who isn't afraid to make adjustments mid series just to name a few, that all have been key integral pieces to Denver's success.
The Jokic and Murray pick and roll has also been incredibly deadly, with defenses having a hard time figuring out how to effectively withstand it. But its been Jokic's brilliant passing that has made Denver's offense what it is. Averaging 7 assists per game while shooting 52.8% during this season to keep defenses honest as a 7 footer is a nightmare for any opponent to deal with, and as the chemistry improved within this Nuggets team over the last couple seasons, Jokic's teammate's know when to cut to the basket for an easy layup as the synchronization has been alarmingly good.
The Joker is already the best passing big man in NBA history, despite being only 25 years old. There has been many great passing big men throughout NBA history though: Wilt Chamberlain, Vlade Divac, Arvydas Sabonis, Pau Gasol, and Bill Walton just to name a few. However, since Wilt Chamberlain, no big man has ever finished with 13 or more assists in a playoff game until Jokic did just that in game 7 against the Clippers. When the pressure is at it's highest, that is where greatness is formed, and Jokic was in absolute control in the second half of that game on just about every possession on the offensive end.
You want to say that was only one game? Well, the fact of the matter is that Jokic is a playoff performer. In the 2018-19 regular season, he averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists each game. In the playoffs that season, his numbers went up to 25.1 points per game, 13 rebounds, and 8.4 assists each game. His production in the regular season vs the playoffs this year has taken a massive leap as well going from 19.9 points per game, 9.7 rebounds and and 7 assists each game to 25.4 points per game, 10.8 rebounds, and 6 assists a game.
Those assist numbers never falter despite opponents in the playoffs game planning against him to great details to limit his effectiveness. You can make a valid argument that Jokic is going to be one of the best passers in league history regardless of position.
Many centers have issues dealing a double or a triple team, but Jokic's ability to carve out defenses and remain poised and make the right pass with swarming defenses have been underappreciated. The element of creativity on his passes, coupled with his excellent vision and size to see over defenders make it a sustainable formula for success. Passing with both hands, leading the break with a mesmerizing no look pass from anywhere on the court, making the precise outlet pass, and making the pass which leads to another pass and bucket otherwise known as the hockey assist are all things Jokic can do on a consistent basis.
Jokic has 61 games where he has had at least 10 or more assists per game. When you compare that to any center or forward to have ever played the game in their first five respective seasons, he is ranked number one, even ahead of LeBron James with 49.
At the tender age of 25 and being the generational talent that Jokic is from a play making and decision making standpoint, he has a lot left in the tank and as those career assist totals continue to go up, don't be surprised that when its all said and done for his career, that it is at least in the top 10 all time.