Nikola Jokic is a Unicorn in his Own Right
News broke last weekend that the Denver Nuggets had reached a deal with the Portland Trailblazers to send Jusuf Nurkic and a 1st round pick to the Blazers in exchange for Mason Plumlee and a second round pick. On the surface, seems like an okay trade. The Nuggets are aiming to lock down the eighth and final playoff spot, and the Blazers are looking to finally have a legit big man who can occupy the paint. But an even bigger underlying story to this move is what it means for Denver – they are committing to Nikola Jokic as their future. And this decision is crucial to the future of their franchise.
All season long we’ve heard and read so many accolades heaped upon so many young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid and the one Basketball Social Media lovingly calls the “Unicorn”, Kristaps Porzingis. In fact, we even have been given articles like this one by Bill Simmons where he discussed the NBA Unicorn phenomenon as it were. But, in his own right, Nikola Jokic has been every bit the “unicorn” as many of these other young stars that are taking the league by storm.
The term itself – unicorn – is meant to signify the rarity of such a player existing in the NBA. And players like Giannis, Embiid, Porzingis, and Towns all fit that bill as players who have the length to be defensive anchors but agility and shooting to stretch the floor as well. And while Jokic does not have the defensive chops of some of his contemporaries, he is still reaching rarified air this season, which is only his sophomore campaign in the NBA. On the season, Jokic is averaging 16.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 4.3 apg while boasting a 60% eFG this season. How rare is it for a big man to put up these types of numbers? It’s only happened three other times in NBA history by a big man for a full season.
Clearly, we cannot compare Nikola Jokic to Wilt or Kareem, and even the numbers themselves bear that point out very well. However, what this comparison does do is show just how unique Jokic’s skill set is and how much he stands out even during this point in time where the big man has evolved in a way nobody once thought possible. In fact, even amongst his fellow unicorns the impact he is having for the Denver Nuggets this season stands out:
Considering the workload Giannis carries for the Bucks, it’s amazing to see that Jokic still slightly edges him out in Box Plus/Minus, and is clearly ahead of the rest of the pack. And these are by no means statistical flukes. One need only look back at his performance this month at Madison Square Garden where he put up 40 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals on a ridiculous 73% FG percentage.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, he followed that performance with a 17 point, 21 rebound, 12 assist triple-double leading the Nuggets to a victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Jokic has continued to improve as the season has progressed, leading to more playing time and improved results. Since the beginning of January, Jokic is averaging 22.3 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1 steal and 1.1 blocks per game at 30 minutes per game while still shooting at a healthy 57% from the field, 40% from three, and 85% from the free throw line. Think about that: we have a center in the NBA who is capable of having a 50/40/90 season. At 22 years old, the sky is definitely the limit for the young Serbian big man, and the Nuggets are wise for wanting to invest in his future.