“He’s going to be a beast”: Nikola Jokic coming into year 3 stronger, more agile thanks to Steve Hess’ swan song project

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Steve Hess, the Nuggets' head strength coach for the past 20 years, is leaving the organization this summer to join Panorama Orthopedics & Spine Center as their chief performance officer.

Hess, who grew up in South Africa, leaves behind a legacy as Denver's first and only strength coach in the franchise's history and has watched over players from Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, to Earl Boykins, who Hess says he spotted a 315-pound bench press for, to Denver's current roster including Wilson Chandler, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and of course, Nikola Jokic.

In fact, Hess' final project with Denver centered around Jokic — the Nuggets' 6-foot-11 Serbian center who spent his offseason back home with family, friends, and of course, the fiery South African. Hess was in Sombor, Serbia, for nearly two weeks in June ensuring the 22-year-old got stronger and refined his body ahead of a pivotal third season in Denver.

"He got stronger. He just worked out right now with an amazing pull-up," Hess said on the Vic Lombardi Show on Altitude 950. "He's going to be a beast. This cat got stronger. He got ridiculously stronger. He's faster, more agile. I'm so excited to see him (next season), I can't even wait."

Here's a thread chronicling Jokic's offseason workouts in Serbia. 

After Denver's first practice following last season's All-Star break, Jokic said he was "really tired." Michael Malone confirmed Jokic's second-half fatigue, citing that there was "a lot of pressure" on Jokic's shoulders and maybe that was getting to the young big man.

"I know he’s tired," Malone said in February. "He went down to the All-Star break fatigued and was obviously very busy down there. But we have to play through him more and the guys around him have to help him out."

Hess' travels to Serbia and the program he's likely laid out for Jokic, who is now back in Denver for the remainder of the summer, will try to continue to build muscle and prevent fatigue from setting in again next year. Jokic is slated for more minutes and an even larger role, so he'll need the added strength.

A true member of Nuggets' royalty, Hess will be remembered as the most energetic and positive person in any room he walked into. His attitude and drive will certainly be missed around Pepsi Center and Denver's facility. He is replaced by Felipe Eichenberger, the Nuggets' assistant strength coach for the last five seasons.

"On my casket, I'm going to have 'Nuggets' tattooed on it," Hess said.

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