A year into his NBA career, Nikola Jokic has already become an NBA cult hero. Although your run-of-the-mill basketball fan couldn’t pick him out of a lineup if they had five tries, he’s one of the most-talked-about talents within NBA circles.
Despite playing fewer than 22 minutes a game during his rookie season, and despite the Nuggets having zero idea what to do with him through the first quarter of the year, Jokic went on to earn a third-place finish in the NBA Rookie of the Year voting, only trailing Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.
But if you look past the media hype and the simple boxscores, there’s a case to be made that Jokic was the best rookie in the NBA last season; in fact, according to one stat, he may have been the best center in the entire league (if you count Draymond Green as a power forward).
Now, I’m not the most qualified person to be explaining Basketball Reference’s Box Plus/Minus (BPM) stat, so if you’re interested about the actual breakdown, read a detailed explanation here. In short, though, what it does is try to measure an individual player’s true impact on the court by taking into account all aspects of their game.
Whatever it means, BPM really looks fondly upon Nikola Jokic, grading him out as the 11th best player, and best rookie, in the NBA last season.
Of course, though, there is reason to be slightly dubious. While the top-10 looks fairly spot on, the only player who’s more surprising than Jokic may be the person he’s tied with in BPM, Cole Aldrich.
While Aldrich is a solid player, he’s an NBA journeyman, having spent time with five organizations in six season, only starting a total of 23 games. That’s not exactly top-15-player-in-the-NBA material.
Still, the fact of the matter is that Jokic is an extremely talented young player, the type of player the Denver Nuggets can center their franchise around.
For him, the biggest question heading into the 2016-17 season will be whether he can handle the increased workload the Nuggets will throw at him.
Again, Jokic only averaged 21.7 minutes per game last year. If he makes the leap to 30-plus minutes a game, we could see a regression — unless we don’t, of course.
In the 10 games Jokic did play 30 or more minutes in last season, he averaged 16.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. If he can replicate that type of output for a full season, you can bet that nobody will be underrating Nikola Jokic anymore.