Nikola Jokic was sleeping in Belgrade when he was elected in the draft of the NBA. It was June 26, 2014 and the name of the Serbian center did not appear until the second round, ranked number 41, tied with the Denver Nuggets. They were only a couple of steps better than the current Real Madrid player Walter Tavares (43rd, then at Gran Canaria) in a transfer market that crowned Andrew Wiggins and in which…
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Nikola Jokic was sleeping in Belgrade when he was elected in the draft of the NBA. It was June 26, 2014 and the name of the Serbian center did not appear until the second round, ranked number 41, tied with the Denver Nuggets. They were only a couple of steps better than the current Madrid player Walter Tavares (43rd, then at Gran Canaria) in a transfer market that crowned Andrew Wiggins and in which Joel Embiid, this season’s MVP, was third. Jokic, a KK Mega player, from the capital of his country, did not lose sleep over that. His challenge, he said, was the Euroleague. And neither did the American League consider him much less a treasure. In fact, when the Serb was recruited by Denver, the television network with the rights to the contest, ESPN, broadcast a fast food ad for the Mexican chain Taco Bell. Specifically, a burrito with rice, meat, sour cream and melted cheeses called Quesarito. He did not stop being curious in the case of a basketball player with some overweight problems and that he drank three liters of Coca-Cola a day. “I couldn’t stop, it was one glass after another,” he confessed.
Jokic landed in the NBA without great expectations, as evidenced by the report of a League scout written that summer of 2014 and made public a few days ago by former coach George Karl: “He lacks great speed and jumping ability. He may have a hard time against the other athletes. Limited by its lack of explosiveness.”
But the story has been another. That chubby boy that few believed in is today a dominant star in the NBA, a five-time all-star, the MVP of the season in 2021 and 2022 (no player in history reached the award after occupying such a low place in the draft) and the undisputed leader of the Nuggets who are looking for the ring in the final against Miami. Denver leads 1-0 after winning the first game 104-93 with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists from Jokic. From ugly duckling to swan, today everyone surrenders to a center with the clear-sightedness of a point guard, omnipresent on the court to score, rebound and assist, a dancer inside and out and the axis of the Denver team’s game not only for his physique (2.11m and 128 kilos), but above all for his intelligence. At 28 years old, quesarito Jokic reigns in the NBA.
“You can’t do anything against him. Joker. Even when you defend him well, he puts the ball behind his head like Larry Bird and gets it. You can only do it like this, ”said LeBron James, making the gesture of removing his cap, after one of Jokic’s exhibitions in the Western Conference final between Denver and the Lakers. It was a 4-0 sweep in which the Serbian excelled with impossible baskets such as a triple falling backwards, with the ball behind the neck and with Anthony Davis in front of him. “The Joker is changing the game before our eyes, like Jordan, Bird, LeBron, Curry, Kobe and Kareem,” praised the legendary Magic Johnson. And Shaquille O’Neal told him this Thursday in person: “I don’t give much credit to many centers, but I give you all the consideration in the world. You are very, very, very impressive.”
Jokic closed the regular season with averages per night of 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds (third in the NBA behind Domantas Sabonis and Anthony Davis) and 9.8 assists. He is the best passing rate in his career in the mecca of basketball and his record places him as the best assist center in the competition, behind only three outsiders, Harden, Haliburton and Trae Young. In addition, he is the man who came into contact with the ball the most times in the NBA course, an average of 98.6 times per game, at an average of 2.69 seconds per intervention. The ball flies faster and the play comes out cleaner when it passes through Jokic’s hands. In the heart of the zone is a torment for the rival. When he steps on the perimeter, he redoubles the threat with the shot from three (38.3% accuracy), penetrations or combinations. No one did more triple doubles than him this season, 29, more than double the second, Sabonis with 14, with Doncic (10) on the third step of the podium.
“Play chess on the court. Sometimes I think it’s a computer. He automatically reads what is around him and makes the right decision, ”says her coach, Michael Malone, who highlights humble leadership:“ She is a superstar without an egoism, she is ashamed to receive so much attention ”.
Jordi Fernández, first assistant at the Sacramento Kings, the Spanish coach with the highest position on an NBA bench, redounds to that total player profile. “He impacts the game at the highest level because he is extremely productive on three levels, rebounding, passing and scoring. That makes him a key piece in defense and offensive production, and to make his teammates better. And being a great leader, not necessarily with his voice, but above all with his example. Jokic always does what is best for the team. That makes him respected not only by his teammates but also by the rest of the League, ”says Fernández.
That range of resources was at the service of Serbia in the last Eurobasket, although a service sheet of 21.7 points, 10 rebounds and 4.3 assists per date was not enough to avoid a surprising fall in the round of 16 against Italy.
Back in the NBA, it’s the same voracious competitor. A joking guy off the track and with a very sharp winning character in it. In the Western semifinals he shoved Suns owner Mat Ishbia for holding the ball, and was fined $25,000. Now, in the final for the ring, no one doubts quesarito Jokic.
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