Fantasy Basketball: Is Nikola Jokic Trending Towards Being a First-Round Pick Next Year?
Nikola Jokic had a slow start to his sophomore season for the Denver Nuggets. He was struggling to fit in as part of an ill-conceived twin-tower experiment alongside fellow big man Jusuf Nurkic, and when it became clear this pairing wasn't going to work, Jokic was the one who got moved to the bench.
Perhaps Nuggets head coach Mike Malone is a numberFire subscriber, because he eventually saw the error of his ways and realized that Jokic was the better option in the middle. And since being reinserted into Denver's starting five at the center position, Jokic has had a bona fide breakout.
He's been the ninth-ranked player in nine-category leagues in his 23 games since the change, posting averages of 19.9 points, 0.9 threes, 9.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 2.5 turnovers in a fairly modest 28.3 minutes per game, along with a scorching hot shooting split of 60.6% from the field, 40.0% from long range, and 82.4% from the free throw line (resulting in a ridiculous 67.3% true shooting percentage).
If you eliminate the first few games of the transition, in which Jokic was feeling out his new role, you've got an even more impressive sample of fantasy dominance.
Among the Elites
Since January 1, the Joker has ranked sixth overall in nine-category leagues, trailing only Karl-Anthony Towns for the honor of top center in fantasy hoops over that span.
When comparing Jokic's performance in the new calendar year with the other top fantasy centers -- those who went in or around the first round of drafts this year -- the Serbian big man fits in just fine.
Towns had an average draft position (ADP) of sixth across the industry this season, DeMarcus Cousins went seventh, and Anthony Davis was picked eighth. Meanwhile, Jokic had an ADP of 43, yet he's putting up numbers comparable to those three dominant bigs in fewer minutes.
To that point, if we were looking at per-36-minute value, Jokic would be the number-one big man with a bullet so far in 2017, with averages of 26.4 points, 1.2 threes, 12.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 3.2 turnovers.
In just his second NBA season, the 21-year-old Jokic has already become an excellent middle-ground between Towns, Davis, and Boogie Cousins. All three of those guys may score, rebound, and block more than Jokic, but not by much, and they generally fall behind him in terms of assists and overall percentages. There are basically no holes or weak spots in Jokic's fantasy line right now, as he is quickly becoming one of the truest nine-category threats in the game.
Putting This Hot Streak in Perspective
If you want an idea of just how special his line over this last month-and-a-half truly is, just imagine if he were able to turn the averages over his last 15 games into a full season. He'd be the first player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists per game while shooting over 50.0% from the field since Kevin Garnett did it in 2004-05 (when he was the second overall player in nine-category fantasy leagues).
In fact, there have only been six players to hit those averages as a baseline in NBA history: Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Garnett.
Talk about elite company.
Now that we've seen what Jokic is capable of, it's hard to treat him as anything less than a first-round asset going forward. If you managed to buy low on him early in the season, good on you. If you drafted him in the third or fourth round and stuck with him through the hard times, your patience is now being rewarded.
It looks like this is just the beginning of what could be a long period of Jokic being a first-round draft pick in fantasy hoops. At the very least, his first-round status for next season is looking more like a given by the day.