What a year it was for rising big man Nikola Jokic, who seems to be on a collision course with greatness. Jokic had one of the most outstanding offensive seasons of all-time and seemingly made every player on the court with him better during his sophomore campaign. While there were obvious struggles defensively, Jokic single-handedly revolutionized Denver's offense and gave the Nuggets' a top-20 player to build around just 22-year-old.
Jokic finished the season with averages of 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists in 27.9 minutes per game but those stats do not tell the entire story. Jokic's season began stuck in an experiment that forced him to play power forward alongside the paint dominant Jusuf Nurkic, which ended so badly that Jokic offered to move to the bench so that he could move back to his natural position of center.
Jokic coming off the bench could only last for so long and on Dec. 15th, Jokic was reinserted into the starting lineup and everything changed.
Once Jokic stepped into the starting five, he turned the Nuggets offense into a machine that put up a league-best 113.3 offensive rating and scored 114.4 points per game for the rest of the season. Suddenly, Denver was tying the record for three-pointers made in a single game and posting historical offensive numbers. Make no mistake, this was because of Jokic.
Since Dec. 15th, Jokic averaged 19.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in 29.7 minutes per game while shooting an ultra-efficient 58.7 percent from the field, 34.2 percent from three-point distance, and 82.5 percent from the charity stripe, and even received a first-team All-NBA vote.
Harrison: I don't give out perfect grades because there's always room for improvement, but Jokic's year was everything the Nuggets could have asked for. He established himself as one of the league's best young players, revolutionized Denver's offense and put the Nuggets on the map nationally. Not bad for a previously unknown second-round pick.
Joel: Jokic made an almost magical metamorphosis from a young center with a lot of potential to the playmaking unicorn who, if his trajectory continues, appears to be on course to become Denver's next All-Star. And with this emergence, he has transformed the Nuggets from being rich in young assets but lacking a clear direction to a team on the rise with a clear identity as one of the best offenses in the league.
Kalen: What is there left to say at this point? Jokic had the best statistical season of any Nugget since Carmelo Anthony and had the best single-season Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in Denver Nuggets history. And did I mention he did most of this at age 21?
T.J.: Jokic gave the Nuggets' organization a clear direction for the first time save the departure of George Karl and Masai Ujiri. Jokic's advanced numbers have never been seen before in league history. Jokic single-handedly made Denver a playoff contender and willed the team to multiple victories on his own. Should I go on? There are not enough good things to say about Jokic and the season he had. Now, with Jokic at the helm, Denver can begin attempting to build a contending roster around him and his talents and do something that the Nuggets have never done before; win a title. For that, he gets a perfect score.
What aspect of Jokic's game did he improve on most this season?
Harrison: Passing, shooting, playmaking, really everything outside of his defense and conditioning. Jokic is the best passing center, probably ever, and the best part about it is that it rubs off on his teammates. Denver started playing the unselfish brand of basketball last season that will lead them to success if they continue on this path and we'll look back on last season when Jokic is a staple on All-NBA teams and at the All-Star game as the beginning of his rise.
Joel: Passing. It's the obvious answer, but he didn't earn the nickname "Magic Jokic" for nothing. And while other areas of improvement such as his ridiculously efficient mid-range shooting could also be highlighted, his flair and creativity in dishing out seemingly impossible dimes to his teammates are what actually made the highlights, and deservedly captured the attention not only of the Nuggets faithful but of NBA fans across the nation and globe.
Kalen: Everything. Though it appears Jokic will lose out on the NBA’s Most Improved Player award to the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s also important to keep in mind Antetokounmpo led his team in all five major statistical categories and was the first NBA player ever to finish top-20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. The fact Jokic is even being compared next to that level of effectiveness says all you need to know about how much he improved from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign.
T.J.: His mid-range scoring. Jokic's ability to hit shots in the mid-range is astoundingly efficient. Jokic leads the league in shots taken from 5-9 feet and did so while shooting 61.9 percent. He is also tied for first in shooting percentage from 10-14 feet at 54.1 percent. Without Jokic adding the mid-range to his game and becoming a three-level scorer, his passing ability would not be able to be highlighted in the same way.
What does Jokic need to work on this upcoming offseason?
Harrison: Conditioning. I'm of the belief that Jokic's defense will improve if he's in better shape next year. Jokic was exhausted over the second half of the season and it showed most on that end of the floor. A summer of conditioning and strength work should allow him to have more energy and impact on defense post-All-Star break next season and hopefully into the playoffs.
Joel: Conditioning. Jokic looked exhausted toward the end of the season, and if there's any cause for concern about what should unquestionably be a bright future, it's that he could fall short of his ceiling if he doesn't get himself into the best shape possible. He played just over 2000 minutes in 2016-17, but this will likely increase to around 2500 next season, and if he is to sustain and build upon his big breakout, he must improve his strength and stamina.
Kalen: Defense is the obvious answer here but almost every player on the Nuggets roster needs improvement in this regard. Instead, I’ll say his endurance and physique. Jokic often ran out of gas when he had to play more than 35 minutes and still has no definition in his arms or legs. Every great NBA player has a great body and if Jokic wants to become a true superstar, he’ll need to be able to bang with the biggest and best for more than 30 minutes per game.
T.J.: Getting some well-deserved rest. Jokic has not stopped playing basketball competitively for over two years now and for a guy who apparently could not do a push-up five years ago that has to have taken a toll. After the All-Star break, Jokic even started talking about how tired he was and it seems that maybe the exhaustion percolated into his play towards the end of the year. Hopefully, Jokic taking time with his family back in Serbia allows him to come back invigorated and ready to get back to work.