Nikola Jokic is one of the most talented players in the NBA. The Denver Nuggets center is only 24 years old, can bang with the best big men in the league, pass like a point guard, and grab any rebound that comes his way. He can shoot the ball from deep and take it inside, and is in many ways the definition of a positionless NBA player. One thing that he isn’t, however, is athletic.
In a recent video. Jokic showcased his lack of hops in a spectacular missed dunk.
In a league where posterizing dunks and high-flying feats of athleticism still dominate the highlight reels, Nikola Jokic has made his name without any hops whatsoever. The video shows Jokic approaching the basket with confidence, jumping as though he were going to throw down a nasty windmill dunk, and barely leaving the ground in the process.
His teammates can be seen visibly laughing at the failed attempt. This comedy, however, is not at the expense of Jokic. His play style requires no athleticism and instead relies on skill. In a league where guys who only have athleticism are growing increasingly obsolete, Jokic is thriving in ways few big men were able to in the past despite maybe having the worst vertical leap in the NBA.
Jokic is, in many ways, a player who entered the league at the exact right time and ended up in the perfect situation.
Nikola Jokic’s skills
The Denver Nuggets run a system that doesn’t necessarily use each position in the way that it is traditionally used. Instead, they use multiple playmakers and find the player with the best available shot.
In many ways, Nikola Jokic serves as the point guard in a majority of the play, as his ability to pass from both the post and outside makes him nearly impossible to guard. Jokic averages six assists through six games in the 2019-20 season, and five for his career.
He can go off on the scoreboard, but it isn’t his default to pound the ball. His value lies in his use as the ultimate utility player on offense. At 16 points per game, he is quite a bit lower than most of the other young stars in the league, but it does not diminish his value.
Jokic will make the right play for the team, not for himself. Even at 20 points per game, where he was last year, it’s not the type of scoring one expects from one of the league’s best players.
The boards are where Jokic is most like a traditional big, however. While this is where his lack of athleticism could hurt him, his instincts for the game that helps him on the offensive side and his ability to use his body to get inside make him one of the best rebounders in the NBA. He’s on pace to average just under 11 a game for the season for the third year in a row.
The Nikola Jokic path to success
Jokic isn’t the first player of his mold. In the past, players like Vlade Divac and Brad Miller got by on skill more than athleticism, and even athletic players like Wilt Chamberlain and Hakeem Olajuwon did so while being able to incorporate skill. Jokic is, perhaps, the first big man in the NBA to do what he does as effectively as he does.
Perhaps, Jokic will be an albatross in the future when people look back, or maybe he will be the new prototype for a positionless big man. Whatever he is, it is working.
The Nuggets became one of the best teams in the NBA last year, and they could be headed toward another great season this year. At just 24, we might not have seen the best of Jokic, and this should frighten the NBA.