Although it will require a blind leap of faith on your part, trust me when I say Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is playing the greatest basketball you’ve never seen.
In NBA history, only two players have averaged a triple-double for an entire season: Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook. After the Nuggets beat Philadelphia 115-103 in a victory as easy as a lazy Saturday afternoon, I dared to ask aloud: Could Jokic, averaging 24.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 11.0 assists through nine games, be the third player to pull of that amazing feat?
“I don’t see why not,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone replied. “He’s going to get the minutes, he’s going to get the opportunity. We know that (Jokic) is an efficient scorer. He is a tremendous playmaker and he’s a heckuva rebounder. I think he’s one of the few players in the NBA that you could realistically say would have a chance to average a triple-double on a season.”
What’s more, Jokic is an under-the-radar candidate for MVP. His passes are sleight of hand that could make David Copperfield jealous. At age 25 and newly married, Joker has found his voice as a leader. At the risk of being accused of being a hopeless bromantic, dare I also say: Our soft and cuddly center formerly known as Big Honey has grown into a buff, sexy man.
But to say Jokic is unappreciated might be an understatement. Heck, in his home city of Denver, Joker is nearly invisible.
As you might have noticed while stuck inside this winter, hunkered down until the coronavirus storm passes, the dispute involving the Nuggets and your least favorite cable TV provider rages on, with no end in sight to the bickering. I’ve got no interest in taking sides in this silly fight between billionaires, other than to confess: I miss your face, Scott Hastings.
So while Leroy Jethro Gibbs and his NCIS crew wander into my family room every time I turn on my television, it’s nearly impossible for Nuggets fans who live in Colorado to find a center whose 7 feet tall. Go figure. I guess we could always buy a ticket to a home game … wait, what? I forgot. The new normal stinks.
Can you keep a secret? I ventured to the dark side of the internet, where all that scary malware resides, trying to find a free steam of the Nuggets game in Philadelphia. How did it go? Well, probably because I have the technological IQ of a fence post, my search resembled an old dude in bermuda shorts and black socks shuffling down a beach, wielding a metal detector on a stick, hoping to find spare change in the sand. No luck.
Yes, I did catch a brief glimpse of Joker riddling the Sixers with an assist. But I quickly gave up trying to watch, distracted by a nagging pop-up add in the middle of the screen that kept asking if I needed a hot date in Denver on a weekend night. Do these internet pirates not know I’m married? Sheesh.
So if you really miss Jokic swishing jumpers as TV play-by-play guy Chris Marlowe shouts something about a bunny hop in a pea patch, I’d suggest you pay the freight with AT&T for the fully certified stream of Nuggets games and quit your belly-aching. Or pay the freight to watch Joker on the tube and still belly-ache about those rich guys stepping on our necks, if that makes you feel better.
Although Jokic scored 15 points and dished 12 assists against the Sixers, he fell one rebound short of a triple-double because a rare easy victory in this young Denver season allowed him to rest easy on the bench during the fourth quarter.
“He doesn’t go into games saying, ‘I’m going to get a triple-double tonight.’ He’s just playing his game. And that’s what we need from him. We need scoring, we need the playmaking, we need the rebounding,” Malone said. “That’s why he’s playing at an MVP level, because he’s doing it at a high level every single night.”
During Jokic’s next stop, the Little MVP Train That Could pulls into New York City. Virus willing, the Nuggets will play a Sunday matinee against the Knicks in the hype capital of the world, then venture into Brooklyn, where the never-wrong national pundits can compare Jokic side by side with Kevin Durant.
Fair or not, for his MVP candidacy to gain nationwide traction, Jokic needs to do more than win the respect of the analytical geeks. We need New York to buy into the MVP narrative about our little Joker from the Lost Time Zone.
I asked Jokic if he liked the Big Apple vibe.
“They have a lot of good restaurants in New York,” Jokic replied.
If the MVP candidacy of Joker can make it there, he can make it anywhere.
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