Nikola Jokic made the trip to Cleveland for the 2022 NBA All-Star Game, and deservedly so. Heading into the break, the reigning NBA MVP averaged 26.0 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game, putting the Denver Nuggets’ center in the top 10 in the NBA for each category.
Jokic has been nothing short of a one-person wrecking crew, and he has the Nuggets in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. And he still gets disrespected.
According to Nick Wright of Fox Sports 1’s First Things First, Jokic sitting out the fourth quarter of the All-Star game proves he’s an undeserving MVP winner and an illegitimate candidate this season. Of course, Wright’s hot take missed the entire point and made him look like a fool at the same time.
Nikola Jokic sitting is ‘evidence’ of his NBA status, according to Nick Wright
For those who missed it, Nikola Jokic played for Team LeBron in the All-Star Game and did what he does best — drop a near triple-double. Jokic tallied 10 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists in just over 21 minutes on the floor.
None of those minutes came in the fourth quarter, and according to Nick Wright, that clearly indicates Jokic isn’t an NBA superstar. Never mind that Jokic and Wilt Chamberlain comparisons have stats to back them up.
On the Feb. 21 episode of First Things First on Fox Sports, Wright took the proverbial podium and pontificated on Joker’s supposed shortcomings. It would take a 10.0 score in mental gymnastics and a contortionist’s skill to follow Wright’s logic, but here are some of the highlights:
- Jokic only won his MVP award because LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Joel Embiid were hurt too often to justify winning it.
- “Allegedly smart basketball people” have told Wright that Jokic might be selected No. 1 in an expansion draft. His being taken No. 7 in the All-Star Game draft proves otherwise.
- Sitting the fourth quarter with the outcome of the All-Star Game in the balance proves he’s not close to being the best player in the NBA.
“I don’t want to hear, ever again, that I have to talk about this guy like he’s the best player in the league,” Wright said. “Is he a top-10 player? Yes. Do I respect his game? Absolutely. Has he evolved? Sure. But what more evidence do you need?
“Am I missing something?” Wright asks his fellow panelists at the end of his rant.
Uh, yeah. Most definitely Nick.
Wright missed the entire point
Wright was apparently so consumed with his argument that he completely missed the most obvious point looming over him.
It’s an all-star game.
An exhibition. A low-stress contest that often looks more like a warm-up line than an actual NBA game.
Unlike the MLB All-Star Game, which for a time determined home-field advantage for the World Series, the NBA’s exhibition is just that — a weekend full of events meant to collect the stars in one place in a relaxed setting for the benefit of the fans.
When the festivities kick off with a celebrity game in which a Peloton instructor wins the MVP award (Alex Touissant) and Machine Gun Kelly is the participant with perhaps the most name recognition, it’s safe to say the results on the scoreboard are not the highest priority.
If Cole Anthony dunking in Timberlands is what passes for a standout moment, then maybe the basketball is secondary to the showmanship.
What Wright more or less glossed over was that Jarrett Allen ate the fourth-quarter minutes in Jokic’s stead. The same Allen is a hometown star for the Cavaliers and was a disrespected all-star snub before earning his spot. It’s not a stretch to think the Cleveland fans enjoyed watching Allen and Cavs teammate Darius Garland get some all-star run together.
So what if Jokic rode the bench for the fourth quarter? Sitting the fourth wasn’t a huge blow to his ego, and playing down the stretch in the All-Star Game could have been disastrous.
Jokic had nothing to gain by playing the fourth quarter
Wright called out Jokic’s MVP legitimacy, questioned a former executive who said he might be the No. 1 expansion draft pick, and moved him down the NBA pecking order for not playing the fourth quarter.
Jokic had nothing to gain from playing in the final frame, though.
Sure it’s an exhibition, and the stars playing in the All-Star game hardly exert maximum effort, but there is always a risk for injury in any athletic contest. It was a risk not worth taking for Jokic.
The Nuggets cannot afford to lose his all-around brilliance, even for a week or two. They’re hanging onto the No. 6 seed in the west, just three games behind the No. 4 Jazz. At the same time, only three wins separate Denver from the No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers. One bad week or a month of a hobbled Joker could send the Nuggets tumbling down the standings.
With Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray still on the shelf, the Nuggets need Jokic to continue his first-half brilliance for the rest of the season to have any hope of postseason success. None of Denver’s rotation regulars come close to matching Jokic’s PER; Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, JaMychal Green, Will Barton, and Zeke Nnaji are the only ones who come close.
Does Jokic sitting the fourth quarter of an All-Star Game mean anything in the grand scheme of things? Only if you judge superstars by their all-star stats, or you’re Nick Wright and you’re desperately looking for any ammunition to defend your ridiculous position.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference