On his way from the locker room to the main court, you can sometimes see Denver Nuggets rookie center Nikola Jokic skipping through the hallway -- perhaps loosening up, perhaps enjoying his youth. No matter what he's doing, the 20-year-old is enjoying a fine rookie campaign.
Jokic ranks sixth among rookies with 8.7 points per game -- teammate Emmanuel Mudiay ranks fifth with 10.6 points -- and fourth behind fellow rookie big men Jahlil Okafor (17.4 ppg), Karl-Anthony Towns (15.5 ppg) and Kristaps Porzingis (13.9 ppg). Jokic averages just 18.8 minutes per game, good for a three-way tie at 13th among rookies, and he ranks second in field goal percentage at 54.3 percent.
Last night against the Indiana Pacers, Jokic turned in his fourth highest scoring total of the season with 18 points on 6-11 shooting, including four steals in 24 minutes of action. He did all of his work in just three quarters, as the only action he got in the fourth quarter was for a quick defense for offense substitution (he subbed out in four seconds). After the game, Jokic was asked if he wants to play more in crunch time and handled the question like a seasoned veteran.
"That's is Coach's decision, I don't want to mess with him," said Jokic. "When I get in I give him 100 percent, that's it."
Jokic has been forcing Malone's hand all season with his play, and he's worked his way into the starting lineup for 14 of his 39 games. Jokic can score in a variety of ways, and he has been working on his Dirk Nowitzki step-back jumper which he unveiled against Jordan Hill here:
In addition to his play, Jokic boasts a light-hearted personality that was on full display after the Pacers game. Altitude TV's Vic Lombardi had an in-game interview with Jokic's two older brothers: Strahinja, 33 years-old, and Nemanja, 31. The two attend every game of their little brother's -- even driving to preseason games and to NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Nemanja played college ball at the University of Detroit Mercy, where the 6-foot-6-inch forward averaged 3.36 points per game.
Lombardi asked Jokic about his brothers post-game in the locker room (that I was a party to), and Jokic seemed a bit nervous about what his two older brothers might have said about him. Here's the back-and-forth between Lombardi and Jokic:
Lombardi: I visited with your brothers in the stands tonight, they go to every game. You should have heard... Some of the words they were calling you man...
Jokic: I don't want to translate that.
Lombardi: They were saying nothing but good things, trust me.
Jokic: I know. I know. Did they say something in Serbian?
Lombardi: [They were] very nice. Very nice, in Serbian.
Jokic: I will not translate you that. I hear them [during the games].
Lombardi: One of your brothers talks a lot. He's very loud. Which one is loud?
Lombardi: Do you hear them during the game?
Jokic: Yeah, yeah. I will not translate you that.
Lombardi: What does he tell you?
Jokic laughing: Nah. No, no.
Jokic was a great sport during the interview, but it looks like we'll need our own Serbian translator to figure out the advice he receives from the two during games. And here is Lombardi's in-game interview with the Jokic brothers, as captured by BSN Denver's An Nguyen from the Altitude broadcast.
(Nemanja is on the left in the Nike jacket and Strahinja is wearing the white and black Jordan brand shirt.)
Phenomenal family support from the Jokic brothers.