Denver Nuggets: How Nikola Jokic went from unknown to MVP

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports) /

Nikola Jokic has had an incredible MVP deserving season carrying the Denver Nuggets to a top seed in the West. Here is his story on how he went from an unknown foreign big to one of the most dominant centers.

Nikola Jokic was born in 1995 in Sombor, Serbia, a war-torn country by the time he was four years old. He found basketball through his older brothers and ended up playing professionally at the age of 17. At first, his coaches at Mega Basket junior team, his professional team in Serbia, did not let him practice because he was overweight.

Jokic says he used to drink three liters of coke per day growing up and often had cheese pies for breakfast. His strength coach declared him obese after he could not do a single push-up. At the time he was 6-foot-11 and over 300 pounds. This was despite him playing multiple sports including basketball, soccer, and volleyball.

Today, he credits his ability to play multiple sports with the way he sees the floor and how he can make incredible passes. One of the more interesting sports he continues to play is water polo, which is where he believes his ability to throw full-court dimes has come from.

After just three practices after he shed a bit of weight, the coaches knew they had a star on their hands. His willingness to pass and create for his teammates was incredible and despite him being 6-foot-11 with the frame to destroy anyone on the block he was routinely found at the free-throw line trying to dissect the defense with his passing.

Going into the 2014 NBA Draft, Jokic was still incredibly unathletic and according to an NBA scout: “The guy had no muscle definition. He couldn’t really jump.”

Despite his physical flaws and the negative stereotypes foreign players were receiving, the Denver Nuggets ended up selecting him in the second round with the 42nd pick.

Incredibly, Jokic did not expect to make the leap to the NBA for a few more years, he was ready to play for FC Barcelona’s basketball club. However, they wanted to watch him play one last time, and he came out to the tune of four points and three rebounds with no defensive effort.

After this single game, Barcelona backed out of their original deal and Denver was able to convince him to come workout with the team in the United States, following the end of his professional season in Serbia.

Before the start of the 2015 season, he shed 35 pounds of weight to be better prepared for the pace of the NBA game. He did not expect to have much playing time, however, he finished the season with 10 points, seven rebounds, and just under three assists. He was third in Rookie of the Year voting and was named to the All-Rookie first team.

The quiet big man has been on an incredible journey since then, in his second season in the league he averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists with 58 percent shooting from the field. He ended up being sixth in the league in field goal percentage and seventh in the league in overall box plus-minus at 7.3. He even had a higher win share per 48 minutes than the eventual MVP, Russell Westbrook(!). This was clearly a sign of things to come especially as we look back on the historic season, he has had this year.

This season, Jokic came into camp looking his absolute best. He clearly lost a bunch of weight following the NBA Bubble and is moving so much better as a result.

In February he revealed he had lost 20-25 pounds going into the season. While he is not quicker or more elusive, he is more energetic and willing to run the floor and play both sides of the court. His defensive effort this year has been the best of his career, he is coming out to challenge shooters and not hanging around in the paint in drop coverage as much.

During this injury-plagued season for the Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic has been dominant all season long, keeping them afloat and leading them to a top-four seed in the powerful western conference. The Joker is close to averaging a triple-double with 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists this season. He is third in total assists this season with 576, just 19 back from the “Point God”, Chris Paul.

After the injuries, the Denver Nuggets have had at their guard positions, The Big Honey has been asked to do even more with facilitating. He’s bringing the ball up the floor, running the pick-and-roll, and making all the best decisions in the flow of the offense. He has yet to miss a game this season and is top ten in the association in all the major stats: tenth in scoring, ninth in rebounds, and sixth in assists per game.

This season he has had such a dominant campaign, being the favorite for the MVP since the end of February. Incredibly, to begin the year he had betting odds of +2,500 to win the award and is now -10,000 (according to Vegas Insider). He has had a remarkable career so far, and Nuggets fans should be ecstatic for the future with him, Michael Porter Jr., and Jamal Murray.

Next. Comparing Nikola Jokic to the top 5 MVP candidates. dark