Denver Nuggets Banking on Best NBA Rookie You



Chris Humphreys USA TODAY Sports

You probably won’t hear ’s name much in Rookie of the Year conversations, even if he’s held his own against presumptive favorites Karl Anthony Towns and in their few meetings. He won’t be a headliner at All Star Weekend, even if he’s representing Team World at the Rising Stars Challenge.

But Jokic doesn’t need the spotlight yet. The 6’10”, 250 pound Serbian center is content to let his historic numbers and Denver Nuggets teammates do the talking.

“That kid is gonna get paid a lot if he just keeps the course, because he just brings a different aspect,” said , barely keeping his jubilant laughter in check after a win over the Chicago Bulls last week. “He can step out and shoot the three. He makes his free throws down the stretch. He plays great defense. Rebounds the ball. He’s just coming into his own.”

Just a short while ago, Jokic was a relative unknown in the Adriatic League. Foot speed is a big liability. He may struggle to stay in front of NBA athletes at the center position . Needs to improve as a post player, gain strength and develop a repertoire of back to the basket moves . Defense is a real weakness at this point due to lack of lateral speed and lack of strength. His length is a big plus, but he’ll need to continue to work on becoming stronger and learn to anticipate in order to overcome his lack of quickness . Despite being a younger guy, his upside appears limited by his lack of explosiveness and foot speed .

It’s amazing how much can change in less than two years.

“I’m stronger than I used to be,” Jokic recently told Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post. “Every segment, I’m a little better. Now that I’m a little bit stronger, I will continue to do this.”

Just wait until he starts getting the minutes typically afforded to starters.

Chris Humphreys USA TODAY Sports

For a few reasons, Denver head coach Mike Malone has brought the No. 41 pick of the 2014 NBA draft along slowly. He’s spent more time on the bench against tougher matchups. He’s fought for playing time in a crowded Nuggets frontcourt that includes a handful of promising players. When the rookie came to the Nuggets this past summer he lost 30 pounds in just three months. He cut out soda and was eating six meals a day consisting of salmon, yams, chicken, steak, salad and eggs. Jokic is still rail thin, compared to NBA standards, and as he spends more time in the weight room he will get stronger and has a body that should be able to put that weight back on, except in the form of muscle.

As a result, the center’s per game stats 9.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks don’t have the luster required for Rookie of the Year conversations. But if you dig a bit deeper, you can see his true impact.

“We preach ball movement, and to have a center who can excel in that area, it takes pressure off,” Malone said. “Nikola is showing I think two assists per game now that he’s more than capable of facilitating for his teammates.”

It’s not cheap elite jerseys
just the 1.9 assists per game, or even the 3.4 “potential assists” per contest, shown by . Jokic is already making veteran passes. He’s able to find rim seeking teammates in transition without breaking stride:

Perhaps most impressively, he can serve as a hub in the half court set, taking control of the rock and feeding the ball into tight windows. He can lob over a front. His timing is impeccable, like it was on this dish to :

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