Celebrating an NBA championship is always nice. 

Nikola Jokić enjoyed the celebration, smiling with his teammates, throwing Jamal Murray into the pool, and leading just about everybody, know that he wanted to stay on the championship parade. The crowd cheered loudly back on June 15th at Civic Center Park in perfect harmony and elation.

It was a great moment in Denver Nuggets history, and it was made greater that it came from Jokić. The Nuggets superstar was genuine in his gratitude towards the fan base, a group that he may not have fully appreciated up until that point.

Nuggets fans adore Jokić, celebrating his quirks and mannerisms, allowing him to fully be himself rather than pine away for something that he’s not. There’s no looking around at other superstars and wishing they were leading the team instead. Jokić is Denver’s superstar, and it appears that Denver is Jokić’s city in turn. The Serbian big man has invoked Tim Duncan’s name on multiple occasions as a one-team superstar that Jokić would like to emulate. Duncan, like Jokić, was a quirky superstar, and San Antonio Spurs fans loved him dearly for it.

It’s hard to imagine accomplishing much more in eight years of a career than Jokić has already accomplished at this stage. Sure, he could have won rookie of the year or added some All-Defensive team honors like a LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jokić has similar prerequisites to those players at this point in his career though. All three of LeBron, Giannis, and Jokić won back-to-back MVP awards in their sixth and seventh seasons. Giannis and Jokić each won their first championships and Finals MVPs in their eighth seasons, while LeBron won his first championship in his ninth year.

This isn’t to say that Jokić is tracking toward a LeBron James-esque career. More accurately, Jokić is on pace to simply do some incredible things in comparison to the rest of NBA history. He and Giannis are following very similar career tracks and will likely end up in a similar place on the NBA’s hierarchy. Where that ends up being likely depends on championship races of the next five to seven seasons.

At this current moment, it’s difficult to argue for Jokić being a top 10 player in NBA history or the greatest center of all-time or anything like that. To reach those aspirations, there must be prolonged success, multiple championships, and a run of dominance like few have ever seen.

To that end, the last three years of Jokić’s career stack up against just about anybody in history. Jokić is the only player in NBA history who can say they accumulated 5,500+ points, 2,600+ rebounds, and 1,800+ assists in any span of 215 games in their career. In fact, you can add on another 15 games for anyone in NBA history, and they wouldn’t accumulate the regular season numbers Jokić did. Those statistical barriers are of course artificial, but they show just how few players in NBA history have ever been as productive as Jokić. When he wants to score, he scores. When he wants to rebound, he rebounds. When he wants to pass…you’re already dead.

It was the incredible statistical production that helped Jokić achieve those first two MVPs, but it was his team, particularly Jamal Murray, that afforded an opportunity to win the first championship in franchise history. Having a great team around him removed some pressure from Jokić. The 2023 Nuggets won’t go down as the greatest team in NBA history, but they did what they had to do to have success in every playoff series. Jokić was at the center of it all, averaging crazy, crazy numbers in each matchup:

  • vs Minnesota Timberwolves (5 games): 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 48.5 FG%, 50.0 3P%
  • vs Phoenix Suns (6 games): 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 59.4 FG%, 44.4 3P%
  • vs Los Angeles Lakers (4 games): 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, 11.8 assists, 1.25 steals, 1.25 blocks, 50.6 FG%, 47.1 3P%
  • vs Miami Heat (5 games): 30.2 points, 14.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.4 blocks, 58.3 FG%, 42.1 3P%

Nobody in NBA history has ever averaged the 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game that Jokić just averaged in the playoffs. There were signs that it would happen though: in the previous two playoff runs without Jamal Murray, Jokić averaged 30.2 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 5.3 assists across 15 games. That’s nearly identical in two of the categories and decidedly far away from the third, but it makes sense that Jokić would struggle to make plays for others if those players struggled to hit shots.

More than anything though, it’s the level of impact that Jokić has had on his teammates, on his opponents, and the game of basketball that have shifted the perception so much. Every teammate swears by him, getting to know him and his unselfish nature over a period of time. When he wants to take over a game, Jokić very rarely leaves his teammates behind, instead bringing the entire team with him as a playmaker and facilitator of great, team basketball. Opponents see this, and they are helpless to stop it. They are wowed by Jokić’s touch around the rim, his incredible vision, and how deceptively athletic he actually is. From Jokić’s endurance to play long stretches to his strength to wear opponents down or his deft, graceful footwork, opponents very rarely leave a matchup with him thinking worse of Jokić as a player.

Jokić has changed things so much for the center position that teams and fans are wondering if entire offenses can be funneled through the big man going forward. Domantas Sabonis and Alperun Sengun are similarly positioned as elite passers at center and subpar vertical athletes. Seeing Jokić have success allows other teams to emulate the Nuggets with their own talented bigs. For a while, it felt like the center position was dying a slow, painful death, with centers going forward looking more like Draymond Green or PJ Tucker than Nikola Jokić or Joel Embiid. Now, it seems teams are getting bigger again, often playing two skilled bigs next to each other in a direct reflection of the size evolution.

Jokić has been a big part of that change, which checks off another box that all-time greats generally make happen: they force the game of basketball evolve. Think Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, or Shaquille O’Neal, or Stephen Curry. Is Jokić in that category yet? Probably not, but his prime years aren’t even over.

It’s unprecedented what Joker’s done in his career the last few years. Nobody really argues that. What they might argue instead is what it means for Jokić’s place in NBA history. The aforementioned LeBron James is likely too far away. What about the aforementioned Tim Duncan? Could Jokić catch Duncan on an all-time list? It would be difficult to match Duncan’s five championships, three Finals MVPs, 15 All-Defensive team nods, and Rookie of the Year trophy back in 1998. Jokić has opportunities to do things Duncan never did like winning back-to-back championships or leading the NBA in assists. Still, it will probably be years before anybody can actually have a conversation featuring Jokić and Tim Duncan together.

Has Jokić matched the peak years of Dirk Nowitzki? Dirk won an MVP award in 2007 and a championship in 2011, but Jokić now has two MVPs and has matched the ring while putting together some of the most impressive statistical seasons anyone ever has. It might be fair to at least put Jokić’s peak above Dirk’s peak. There’s little comparison between their longevity because Dirk played until he was 40 years old. Who knows what Jokić’s career will bring going forward? He might retire after his next contract. He also might continue to play deep into his career since there’s no need for him to be extremely athletic to be successful.

Those are two all-time bigs that made their mark during this century. Other bigs that Jokić may be compared to when it’s all said and done: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and Hakeem Olajuwon. Those are the giants of the industry, the great bigs (along with Duncan) that the game has ever seen. Jokić is on his way to joining that group if he continues a linear trajectory. Life is anything but linear though, and to place him there prematurely would likely be a mistake.

Hell, even Shaq himself inducted Jokić onto a personal list of the greatest centers in NBA history.


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Moses Malone deserves his flowers for sure, as does Bill Walton. Dwight Howard gets a mention due to his defensive prowess, but it’s clear the direction that Jokić is going and is on his way to passing those guys already. Players like David Robinson and Patrick Ewing are in a similar tier to Jokić at the moment, but even they might step aside for Jokić when it’s all said and done.

Where Jokić ultimately ends up is a mystery. What matters is this: for every NBA franchise, there is a defining player. This is a player who brings authenticity and pride and excellence to the table, offering legitimacy to an entire franchise no matter the circumstance. For the Golden State Warriors, it’s Curry. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s Duncan. For the Dallas Mavericks, it’s Dirk.

For the Nuggets, Jokić is the all-everything player they’ve needed so badly, an era-defining superstar that completely changed the team. For most fans, that’s enough.