Can Nikola Jokic Be the Star the Denver Nuggets Need?
Ever since February 22nd, 2011, the Denver Nuggets franchise has been in desperate search of a superstar to replace Carmelo Anthony. Despite a few solid seasons since that time, featuring players such as Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and Danilo Gallinari, the franchise has never truly had the star it craves.
However, last season may have provided a glimpse into the best player the team has featured in years with the emergence of rookie Nikola Jokic.
Although Jokic only averaged 10.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, Nuggets' coach Mike Malone appears to have confidence in the young Serbian.
Malone on if he can build a team around Jokic: "I think so"
— Harrison Wind (@NBAWind) July 19, 2016
Much of the hype around Jokic is based on his solid all-around stats last season in his rookie year. Jokic’s per-36 minute stats are among the NBA’s elite at a staggering 16.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks. Those numbers all come with a remarkably efficient shooting percentage of 53.5% over the entire season. His stellar stats got him a third-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting, and he ended the campaign with a solid nERD rating of 6.2, meaning that Jokic plus a team of average talent should finish 6 games above .500 over a full season.
Perhaps the best illustration of how spectacular his rookie season was is that the top comparable season according to our algorithms was Paul Millsap’s 2011-2012 breakout season, which propelled him to stardom for the Utah Jazz.
Jokic also had a big offseason, which saw him help his Serbian team to the silver medal in the Olympics. In their three-point loss to the USA, it was Jokic who led Serbia with 25 points in the near upset of the Americans.
Maybe the best thing for Malone and the Nuggets is that, despite the loss, Jokic was not intimidated by the best national team in the country.
Serbia's Nikola Jokic on Team USA "They're just another team"........
— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) August 21, 2016
The one question that remains with Jokic is if he will be able to handle an increased work load as he grows into a new role.
Last season, Jokic only played 21.6 minutes per game with a usage rate of 19.9%. With Malone already claiming he believes Jokic is a building block, those numbers are sure to go up and can sometimes slow a player down over the long haul of an NBA season.
Other advanced stats also show how incredible Jokic was last season with a value over replacement player of 3.0 and 2.2 defensive win shares. He also was third in the NBA in value added amongst players who played fewer than 30 minutes per game, trailing only Hassan Whiteside and Enes Kanter.
Jokic may be far less heralded than Karl-Anthony Towns, but if he can build on his rookie campaign, he may quickly prove to be a building block for the Nuggets. Like Towns, the sky is the limit for the 21-year-old Serbian center.