It’s about time we started respecting the Joker

It’s about time we started respecting the Joker

Far from the traditional dominant big man, Nikola Jokić is the most unique player in the league right now. And he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves – sort of.

Unfortunately, his playstyle and general image as a player means the likelihood of him ever being considered among the top three in the league is slim, no matter how good he becomes. But let’s at least set the bar at him being a top 10 player.

The recent Bleacher Report Top 100 put him eight overall, which is the highest anyone has ever dared to place him in such rankings. Hopefully, it will set a trend of more respect on the Sizeable Serb’s name, because, while this particular BR piece gave him the much-needed credit he’s deserved, many NBA fans don’t consider him in and amongst the league’s top 10.

While big men like Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis have hints of MVP status, and the term “dominant big man” is bandied around them constantly, Jokić always seems to be considered in a different light to these two. But once again, why?

His base stats of 20 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists are something only matched by the ever-inefficient yet also just as intriguing Russell Westbrook. Of course, no other center averages anything remotely close to this. The stats are absurd for anyone, let alone a 7ft tall without much athleticism.

But the numbers are obvious to most fans as being pretty good at a minimum. However, numbers aren’t the main reason Jokić should, at the very least, be widely considered a top 10 player. It’s the uniqueness of someone like Jokić that just makes him stand out.

His skillset is not only a rarity, it’s an absolute first in the modern NBA. Granted, there have been a fair share of big men over the years who can pass well, but Jokić’s passing is only elevated by his incredible IQ. This is what sets him apart from anyone currently or historically at this point in his career.

Sure, the list of great passing big guys features some of the most illustrious names in the league’s history, including Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, Arvydas Sabonis, Vlade Divac and Pau Gasol. But at the volyme Jokić is throwing out dimes left, right and centre, there’s no reason he can’t establish himself amongst this elite company.

The one stat that jumps out is the 1,006 assists throughout his first three seasons is the most by a big man since Maurice Stokes through 1956-1958.

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to say Jokić is the best passing big man in 60 years of NBA basketball, just from his first three seasons – that’d be an absurd claim regardless of how well he passes the ball.

The point is, this is what he can become. The no-lookers. The quarter-back-esque full court passes. The pass-it-through-an-opponent’s-legs-like-they’re-not-there dimes are all moves we just don’t see big guys pull off or even attempt.

When you consider all the incredible records that  have been broken and the advances in how skilled players are in the modern NBA era, it raises the question; why aren’t more big men like this? Why aren’t there other players like Jokić?

What he is able to do in terms of dictating the pace of an offense is something that’s a fine art. And this season, more than any, he is just amplifying his skillset to the world.

The team success of Denver has been rightly coveted by most media outlets. But packaging up the success story of Nikola Jokić with the rest of Denver’s starless roster seems a horrible disservice to the man himself. With no disrespect meant whatsoever to the Nuggets, it’s clear Jokić is the focal point of their offense and, despite how well they’ve started as a whole, he deserves most of the plaudits.

Nickname him any DC villain you choose. Call him a unicorn if you really must. But one thing we need to start calling Jokić is a top 10 player in the NBA.

Anything aside from this is just unacceptable.

Featured photo – via AP Photo / David Zalubowski / NBAE / Double Clutch illustration