Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets is only 28 years old, yet has a lifetime’s worth of achievements to his name.
Before this season, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player already had a firm case as the best second round pick in league history. Jokic stands alone as the only player picked after the first round to win the league’s most prestigious individual award.
The legendary Manu Ginobili, who played for the San Antonio Spurs up until a few years ago, still has a slight case in this discussion for his entire body of work, but he never attained individual accolades on the same level as Jokic.
At present, after leading Denver to its first-ever NBA title, Jokic has elevated himself even further. The five-time NBA All-Star is no longer just an outlier second rounder. Now that he has an NBA championship–and an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy to boot–he has put himself in the stratosphere of the greatest big men to have ever played the game of basketball.
Though Jokic still has a long way to go before he is mentioned in the same breath as the legendary trio of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he undoubtedly belongs in the next tier of greats. Jokic’s career achievements have put him at par with players such as Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, and Dirk Nowitzki.
Over his eight-year NBA career so far, Jokic is an NBA champion, an NBA Finals MVP, a two-time regular season MVP, a five-time All-NBA member, and a five-time NBA All-Star. He is sixth in the all-time triple double list with 105 and is only two away from surpassing LeBron James and Jason Kidd.
In addition, their recent title run saw Jokic become the first player in league history to tally 10 triple doubles in one postseason and lead all players in total points, rebounds, and assists during the playoffs.
With one NBA championship under his belt, Jokic is at par in terms of ring count with the three-time NBA MVP Malone and the 2007 NBA MVP Nowitzki who is also his main rival for the title of “The Greatest European to Ever Play in the NBA.”
If Jokic can win one more NBA title, he will pull even with Olajuwon. The most prominent Houston Rocket ever won back-to-back NBA championships in 1994 and 1995 although he won only one NBA MVP award (1994), putting him one behind Jokic in this aspect.
Meanwhile, Jokic will have to win a few more championships if he is to catch up to Duncan (5) and O’Neal (4). Over his 19-year NBA career, Duncan was a model of consistency in a manner that is quite similar to what Jokic has shown to date. Duncan, like Jokic, was named the NBA MVP twice. The former San Antonio Spur was an elite defensive presence, something that Jokic may never become, though the latter holds a distinct advantage on the offensive end as a better passer and perimeter shooter.
On the other hand, O’Neal’s four titles include a rare three-peat (2000-2002) from his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won just one NBA MVP, but his sheer physical dominance was a sight to behold. O’Neal forced opposing teams to employ several back-up centers to anticipate the likely scenario where one or two rotation big men would encounter foul trouble as they attempted to defend him.
Regardless of what happens next in Jokic’s career, the combination of this Nuggets championship, his individual accolades, and his penchant for gaudy statistics are enough to entrench his place as one of the greatest big men to ever play. What is scary for the rest of the league is that Jokic is only at the beginning of his prime.
If this is the start of a Denver dynasty, Jokic may soon find his way to the top tier of big men. It would not come as a surprise if he winds up earning a place next to Russell, Chamberlain, and Abdul-Jabbar when his career is all said and done. The future is bright for Jokic and it will be fascinating to see where he ultimately ends up in the pantheon of the greatest big men to ever play in the NBA.