Nuggets

Joker Continues Wild Journey With Value

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It’s okay Nuggets fans, it’s finally safe to say it.

Nikola Jokić is officially the current Most Valuable Player in basketball.

It has been a remarkable journey for the Serbian star so far, who has defied the odds to clinch one of the most prestigious awards in professional sports.

Here’s a look back at how the Joker has ‘Sombor Shuffled‘ his way through the ranks to take the crown of this season’s MVP.

THE ROAD TO THE MILE-HIGH CITY

Growing up in Sombor, Serbia, Nikola was raised alongside his two elder brothers, Strahinja and Nemanja Jokić. Both of his siblings also played basketball. Strahinja competed in Europe, whilst Nemanja played for three years at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Despite being raised around the game of basketball, Nikola’s first love was horse racing. As evidenced in his seven-foot stature, however, the Serbian eventually outgrew the sport.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, Nikola turned his attention towards basketball.

After impressing at youth level for KK Vojvodina Srbijagas, Jokić joined Serbian side Mega Leks (now known as Mega Soccerbet) in 2012.

After enduring two seasons of playing professionally in Europe, Jokić entered the 2014 NBA Draft. With the 41st pick, he was selected by the Denver Nuggets.

Due to the time difference in Serbia, the Joker was actually asleep when he was drafted. Equally, to make matters even more bizarre, he was also selected in the middle of a Taco Bell commercial.

Nikola continued to compete in Serbia for an extra year, before officially joining the Nuggets in the following season.

LANDING IN DENVER

With Jokić being drafted in the second round, he entered the NBA practically unknown with very little expectations.

Nikola also arrived overweight, admitting that he used to drink up to three liters of Coca-Cola a day during his time in Serbia.

Despite his stocky physique, the Serbian big man made 80 appearances in his rookie season, starting 55 of those games. Impressively, Jokić averaged 10 points on 51.2% shooting in his first campaign.

As the Joker continued to improve in his sophomore season, the Nuggets were left with two skilled European big men on their roster. As the games rolled on, it seemed that Jokić was the preferred option to Jusuf Nurkić, who began to become frustrated with his sudden restricted minutes.

In 2017, Denver traded Nurkić to the Portland Trail Blazers. Jokić was now the Nuggets’ starting center and the focal point of their young core moving forward.

THE FACE OF THE FRANCHISE

By his third season, the Joker was beginning to put his name on the map.

The Nuggets big man finished the season with 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and a surprising 6.1 assists. Jokić was beginning to show his creative abilities, which led to his ‘breakthrough’ season in the following year.

By 2019, Nikola Jokić was an NBA All-Star.

The Serbian was slowly but surely becoming the face of the Nuggets franchise, leading Denver to their first playoff appearance in six years.

Jokić and the Nuggets later suffered heartbreak in the second round of the postseason.

The crushing defeat ironically came against Nurkić and the Trail Blazers. This left Denver the summer to regroup before the new season.

With the new campaign underway, it appeared that the Joker was taking his health a lot more seriously. By February 2020, It was believed that Jokić had lost an approximate 20-25 pounds. This added extra versatility, sharpness and athleticism to the Serbian’s game.

Alongside Jamal Murray, Jokić was a huge contributor in guiding the Nuggets into the Western Conference Finals. Eventually, Denver lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, who wrapped up the series in five games. During their playoff run, however, the Nuggets did bounce back from consecutive 3-1 deficits– which only highlights the determination of Jokić and his team.

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JOKER BY NAME, JOKER BY NATURE

Jokić wasn’t at the forefront of many people’s picks for MVP heading into the 2020-21 season. Despite already playing at an All-Star level, the Joker developed his game even further and blossomed into one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

Just as his nickname suggests, Jokić has proven to be a Joker in the pack of the basketball world. The Nuggets star has often gone under the radar, emerging as a wildcard in what is a star-studded league.

Commendably, Jokić has started every game since the beginning of the 2019/20 campaign. In the regular season, he elevated his game by averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per contest. He also used the season to set new career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

Consistency and efficiency have been a crucial aspect behind Nikola’s success this season. He first emerged as an MVP candidate in the early stages of the season, fighting off the likes of Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Chris Paul to clinch the award.

A SEASON FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS

Not only is Jokić the first Nugget to win the MVP award, but he is also the lowest-ever NBA Draft pick to secure the trophy. Moreover, it is also the third-consecutive season that a European player has won the award. This has never happened before in NBA history.

The Joker is the first big man to receive the MVP trophy since 2000, when Shaquille O’Neal was crowned with the award.

The Nuggets star received 91 of the 101 first-place votes, with second place Joel Embiid receiving just five.

The battle between Jokić and Embiid through the season has helped to revive the ‘battle of the bigs’ narrative – which may become a theme in seasons to come.

THE SKY IS THE LIMIT

There is no doubt that the Nuggets star is on the path to greatness. Jokić is creating a legacy in the city of Denver and is currently being dubbed as one of the most skilled big men that the game has ever seen. The Serbian has an extremely talented supporting cast in the Mile High City, who are hungry and determined to compete for a title.

The Nuggets have never even gotten as far as the NBA Finals. This leads for the ultimate question to be asked:

Can Nikola Jokić lead the Denver Nuggets to a championship?

About Ryan Bellenie

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