Nikola Jokic made history this year by becoming the first player in NBA history to ever record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a single season. The way he did it was classic Joker, too, using his size to draw a double team before pirouetting and ‘clumsily’ making something resembling a mini-hook shot.
I say ‘clumsily’ because that’s part of the magic of Jokic’s game. He’ll never be the fastest player on the court, and his movement can often look disjointed. However, when you watch him a lot, you begin to realize that very little of what he does on the court is accidental, and how much skill and control it takes to manage a body that big.
Jokic has a rare combination of basketball IQ, skill, court vision, and shot making. He can hit threes, bully his way in the paint, or throw long-court passes to teammates that are simply sublime. I can’t think of anyone else in the NBA that does what he does right now, and the league is all the better for it.
On top of all of his on-court contributions, Jokic has a goofy demeanor that makes him easy to like. He’s one of the funniest people in the league today, even when he’s not trying to be.
Still, the Serbian’s play on the court, and his often relaxed state off of it, sometimes blinds us to the competitive fire that boils within him. In a league that’s often been maligned about load management, Jokic has played in at least 73 games per season since he joined the NBA during the 2015-16 campaign. For a big man with his kind of usage rate, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.
The man really wants to win, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help accomplish that goal. A recent example is how he scored 30 of his 46 points in the fourth quarter and overtime while playing the New Orleans Pelicans in March, where he played a total of 43 minutes and helped the Nuggets come out on top after they blew a 21-point lead.
Another older example, which didn’t end in victory, was when he played 65 minutes in a quadruple-overtime loss against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2019 playoffs. That put him third all-time in most minutes played in a game.
The will to win also manifested in 2020, where he helped the Nuggets overcome back-to-back 3-1 deficits in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers. Yes, Jamal Murray played a big part in that success, but he couldn’t have done it alone.
Personally, the memory that will always stick with me about Jokic is his incident with Markieff Morris. After taking a cheap shot near center-court, Jokic sent out a message to the rest of the league that he shouldn’t be trifled with, or pushed to anger. The retaliation took Morris out for almost the entire 2021-22 season, and I’m one of the people who think Jokic was in the right.
Still, looking at how his career has played out so far, NBA fans have got to appreciate what the Joker has brought to the table. He’s helped redefine what to expect from big men, and reminded us that skill can act as a perfect counterbalance to a lack of elite athleticism. It’s fun watching someone like Jokic play, and we should enjoy him while he’s in the NBA.