Jokic Keeping Denver Afloat With MVP-Caliber Start


In their first ten games of the shortened 2021 regular season, the Denver Nuggets are 5-5 after an impressive playoff performance last fall.

Though being .500 is decent for most teams to kick off a season, it’s been nothing short of disappointing for the Nuggets. Basketball Reference ranked Denver’s early-season schedule — through the first ten games — as the easiest in the NBA. Denver’s only wins come against shorthanded Rockets, Timberwolves and 76ers squads. It would be fair to say the Nuggets’ most impressive win came against a 5-5 New York Knicks squad.

Despite Denver’s slow start, however, All-NBA center Nikola Jokic has proven that he’s the most talented center in the NBA (sorry Sixers fans, it’s true) and a legitimate MVP candidate. 

Through his first ten games of the season, Jokic is averaging 24.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game while shooting 58.7% from the field and 43.3% from downtown. Even though the new NBA season is still in its infancy, averaging a triple double while maintaining high percentage shooting numbers is very impressive. Especially for a seven-footer. He also leads the NBA in VORP (value over replacement player), PER (player efficiency rating), and Offensive Win Shares. Lastly, The Joker is second in assists per game, only trailing former MVP James Harden.

As an avid Nuggets fan, I have focused on Jokic’s game for the past three years. He isn’t the same chubby, overweight big man that casual NBA fans pointed him out to be from previous seasons. He has slimmed up, making it easier for him to run the court, attack the rim, and most importantly, play defense.

Though there is still improvement to be made — especially with defensive positioning — Jokic made significant upgrades to his defensive game. With a slimmer frame, it’s easier for Jokic to contest shots and block passing lanes. Obviously, the Joker is still not a solid rim protector, but has made impressive progress on the defensive end from two-to-three seasons ago. 

According to Basketball Reference (and NBA Reddit), when Jokic is on the floor this season, the Nuggets have a +8.7 net rating, second only to the Bucks (+10.3). In the 15 MPG he’s sat, Denver has carried an atrocious -20.1 net rating, easily worse than the 2012 Bobcats and 1993 Mavericks’ record of -15.2. A team with the Nuggets’ Jokic-less net rating would be expected to go 5-77 over an 82-game season. Their 94.0 Offensive Rating would also be easily the worst in NBA history.

If that doesn’t show how valuable a player is to their team, I don’t know what will. 

Jokic is the sheer heart and soul of the Nuggets. Without him, the team could be the worst team in the entire league. At only 25, he is already arguably the best passing big man in NBA history. Jokic is a wizard at finding teammates in transition, cutting to the basket, and on the perimeter.

Unlike a large variety of NBA players, Jokic is very patient. He waits for the open man, draws double teams, and without hesitation feeds open teammates for an easy bucket. It’s truly astonishing how easy he can adapt to any defense. 

If you haven’t tuned into a Nuggets game so far this season, I highly recommend that you do so. Watching Nikola Jokic is a privilege. You’ll soon begin to agree with why he’s a favorite to win this season’s most valuable player.

About Rex Foster

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