The closing moments of the fourth quarter surprised no one when the Dallas Mavericks played the Denver Nuggets this week. The Nuggets got the ball into the hands of Nikola Jokic, and the sixth-year center added to his outstanding start to the season by knocking down a bucket with 2.4 seconds to go, sending the NBA game to overtime.
Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, and LeBron James are all among the best in the business. However, the numbers show that there is no one more reliable with the game on the line these days than Nikola Jokic.
Nikola Jokic proved to be a second-round steal
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The wait for Nikola Jokic was worth it as far as the Denver Nuggets are concerned. The Nuggets drafted Jokic midway through the second round in 2014, but the native of Sombor, Serbia, was still a teenager and opted to stay in his homeland for a final season.
Jokic closed out his European career by earning MVP recognition in the Adriatic League, where he averaged 15.4 points and a league-best 9.3 rebounds in 24 games. Jokic also averaged 18.4 points and 10.4 rebounds in 14 Serbian League contests.
He reported to the Nuggets the following season and averaged 10.0 points and 7.0 rebounds as a rookie despite playing under 22 minutes a game. He upped his averages in each of the next three years and fell back only so slightly to 19.9 points, 7.0 assists, and 9.7 boards in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.
Even if he does little more in his career – a highly unlikely scenario – the Nuggets got great value out of the 41st pick of the 2014 NBA draft. Despite skipping his first season, Jokic has played more games than all but two fellow second-rounders from that class. He’s third to Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Clarkson in the entire draft class in career points and No. 1 in rebounds.
A monster start to the 2020-21 NBA season
Nikola Jokic is in the middle season of a five-year, $147.7 million contract, and the 25-year-old center seems focused on showing he’s worth every penny. Jokic has posted four triple-doubles in his first eight games, missing two other opportunities by a rebound apiece.
His early-season averages are off-the-board good: 25.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 10.9 assists.
The 124-117 loss in overtime to the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 7, 2021, dropped the Denver Nuggets’ record to 3-5. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on the part of Jokic. After shooting 3-for-12 for 10 points and grabbing five rebounds in the first half, Jokic was unstoppable the rest of the way. He was 11-for-19 after halftime, finishing with 38 points and 11 rebounds.
Jokic’s bucket with 2.4 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter forced overtime.
No one is more clutch than Nikola Jokic
The Basketball-Reference.com website is a treasure trove of NBA statistical information. Besides the usual game, season, and career data for all players, the site allows subscribers to break down certain data culled from play-by-play information for each game.
When Nikola Jokic hit the clutch shot to force overtime against the Dallas Mavericks this week, there was a sense of déjà vu in the basketball community. That’s because no one has been better in the clutch than Jokic since he came into the league in 2015.
Here’s the query supporting the assertion: Shooting percentage in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime on attempts that could tie the game or give his team the lead. Limiting the list to players with 15 or more attempts since the start of 2015-16 (Jokic’s first in the league), the results show:
- Nikola Jokic, 10-for-20, 50.0%
- Harrison Barnes, 7-for-17, 41.2%
- Blake Griffin, 6-for-16, 37.5%
- C.J. McCollum, 7-for-19, 36.8%
- Victor Oladipo, 8-for-23, 34.8%
Understandably, there’s a bias toward the guys who play in the blocks. But the numbers produced by some other big names are a revelation:
- 6. Kawhi Leonard, 9-for-26, 34.6%
- 8. Carmelo Anthony, 8-for-26, 30.8%
- 11. Russell Westbrook, 14-for-52, 26.9%
- 12. Jimmy Butler, 8-for-30, 26.7%
- 14. Stephen Curry, 4-for-16, 25.0%
- 19. (tie) Paul George, 6-for-27, 22.2%
- 19. (tie) LeBron James, 6-for-27, 22.2%
- 23. Kevin Durant, 4-for-21, 19.0%
- 29. James Harden, 3-for-20, 15.0%
- 30. Kyrie Irving, 2-for-15, 13.3%
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.