Nikola Jokic Celebrated His Reinstatement by Vaulting Himself Into a Tier With Larry Bird

Nikola Jokic has had an eventful week, to say the least. The Denver Nuggets big man was the center of attention on Monday after he ran his shoulder into Miami Heat forward Markieff Morris from behind. The retaliatory act earned Jokic a one-game suspension, which he served Wednesday for Denver’s game against the Indiana Pacers. On Friday, the reigning MVP returned to action and put up a performance that placed him in the same company as the great Larry Bird.

Nikola Jokic dominated the Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, had to travel to Denver and face a rested Jokic. Chances are, they knew the night was going to be a rough one.

Right off the bat, Joker got down to business. The 6-foot-11 superstar scored 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the first quarter alone, helping the Nuggets jump out to a seven-point lead. While he had just four points in the second, Jokic pulled down eight rebounds in just over seven minutes of action. In the third quarter, Nikola added five points, five rebounds, and a trio of assists to the stat sheet. He then finished his night with another two points and five boards in the fourth, a period Denver was up in by as many as 15.

By the end of the 105-96 victory, Jokic had 22 points to go with a team-high 19 rebounds and 10 assists. His +19 was also the highest on the team, as all five of Denver’s starters finished in the positive.

Jokic is tied with Larry Bird for triple-doubles

Friday night, Joker recorded his second triple-double of the season. It was also the 59th career triple-double for the 26-year-old.

Jokic is now tied with Bird for eighth on the all-time triple-doubles list. Larry Legend recorded 59 triple-doubles across 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. Jokic, meanwhile, is just a handful of games into his seventh season.

“He’s one of the greatest basketball players ever, so my name being next to his means a lot,” Jokic said to ESPN after the win. “I’m just going to try to be the best that I can be and I have a couple of years left.”

Jokic will pass Bird with one more triple-double, with James Harden’s 61 serving as the next superstar to pass. Additionally, he and Wilt Chamberlain (78) are the only two centers inside the top 10.

Nikola Jokic is giving the Denver Nuggets another MVP performance

Last season, the 26-year-old Jokic won league MVP in convincing fashion. So far, the Nuggets center is making a strong case to go back-to-back.

Following a career-high 26.4 points in 2020-21, the Serbian is averaging 25.1 points through his first 11 games. But his field-goal percentage has seen a sizable increase, moving from 56.6% to 59.0%. The biggest reason is his efficiency from two, where the 6-11 center is hitting 67.4% of his attempts from inside the arc, compared to 60.6% last year. Jokic is also mastering the boards, averaging a career-best 14.1 rebounds.

As far as advanced numbers, Joker is proving himself as a viable MVP candidate. The center is the league leader in both offensive and defensive box plus-minus by a considerable margin. He also tops the league in win shares, value over replacement player, and player efficiency rating, or PER.

Tying Larry Bird in anything is an accomplishment, especially in a stat like triple-doubles. But it’s just one of the many impressive things Joker has done in his historic NBA career.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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