In 2013, the Denver Nuggets hired Tim Connelly as their executive VP of basketball operations, replacing Masai Ujiri, who left for Toronto, with the goal of bringing the first ever Larry O’Brien Trophy to the state of Colorado.
In his introductory press conference, he said all the right things, threw in all the appropriate buzzwords, and inherited a team with a key free agent (Andre Igoudala) and no clear path to the league’s elite.
“I am looking forward to building on the strong foundation that has already been established in Denver,” he said at the press conference.
Connelly quickly got to work and within a few seasons, there were few remnants of the previous regime. Like most executives, much of his job revolves around one fateful night a year, the NBA Draft.
He executed an excellent piece of business in the 2014 Draft, turning the pick which became Doug McDermott into Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic. He drafted prospects in the 2015 and 2016 Draft with Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray then managed to find plenty of value in the later selections with Monte Morris, Juan Hernangomez, and Malik Beasley, to name a few.
Little did he know at the time, the most important move he ever made was in the 2014 Draft, selecting Nikola Jokic with the 41st overall pick.
I doubt Jokic himself even knew he was changing the direction of a franchise as he slept through the draft, not realizing he was on an NBA roster until an excited brother woke him up to tell him.
“At that time, I didn’t think [getting drafted] was a big thing, because I didn’t imagine myself coming here.”
And thank goodness he did come over. That same Nikola Jokic has been named the NBA’s MVP, the world’s best professional basketball league’s most valuable player.
Denver Nuggets: What makes Nikola Jokic the MVP?
Nikola Jokic is an offense all unto himself. He has thrived on this roster surrounded by talented creators, and lethal shooters, but throw him on the worst team in the league and they’d still see a humungous leap in efficiency.
Hell, put him on a deserted island with a volleyball, a few palm trees, and some sand and I might pick that offense over most of the teams in the league.
To kick it off, this season, Jokic averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists (all career highs) while playing in each and every single game. He reached those numbers while shooting 57 percent from the floor, 39 percent from behind the arc, and 87 percent from the free throw line.
His usage percentage of 31.4 means that he’s directly involved in just under a third of all possessions. This also doesn’t account for the times when the mere threat of him posting up opens shots up for his teammates.
It can’t be understated how outstanding his efficiency is on offense when the opposing team knows Jokic is going to get the ball and literally cannot do anything but watch as he torches them.
There might be nothing scarier than a spread pick-and-roll with Jokic and [ball handler]. Standing at 6-foot-11 with the muscle to match, he sets solid screens, but with the ability to nail a three, hit a contested mid-ranger, or drive to the paint, he’s a nightmare for defenses.
Building on that, he is the best passer in NBA history.
That last sentence deserves its own paragraph, so I’ll let that sit there. But if you’re worried about how he might slice your defense, he can find an open man at any moment with an array of one-handed, off-balance, no-look, heck, give me all the hyphenated passes!
Some say the most demoralizing play for an NBA defense is the poster dunk. Jokic is making fans question that theory by catching defenders off guard with his vision. There’s a split second after most of his assists where the defender looks around to blame someone for not helping before noticing they’ve been sucked in, toyed with, and played by the galloping Serbian running back down the court.
If that humiliation wasn’t enough, he never showboats or taunts. It’s always a casual wipe of the hands on his jersey, as if it’s just another day at the office. Do you know why that is? Because it is just another day at the office for him.
But on the off chance that you’ve managed to stop all of those actions, got out to all the shooters, and shut off the backdoor cuts, the Nuggets can just dump the rock down to Jokic in the post, mismatch or not.
All he needs is a few seconds to bump the defender off balance, take a step back, create some space with a Dirk-like leg kick, and drill a high-arching fadeaway – the Sombor Shuffle.
The Tim Duncan of the Denver Nuggets
Speaking to a Serbian media outlet in a documentary on his career, Nikola Jokic said something that should bring a smile to every Denver Nuggets fan’s face. He said that when he came to the city, that he would like to be Denver’s Tim Duncan, in the sense that he stays with the one team that drafted him for his entire career.
“When I came to Denver, I said that I would love to be Denver’s Tim Duncan because he played his whole career in San Antonio. God willing, I would love to play my whole career in Denver.”
In Jan. 2021 Duncan himself had praise for the Joker when speaking on The Real Ones Podcast:
“I like watching Denver and Jokic. The Joker is a lot of fun to watch. His creativeness, his footwork, his passing – it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Not only has Jokic stayed in Denver and grown with this franchise, but Jokic’s career also parallels Duncan’s as he now owns the same hardware, the MVP trophy.
With no reason to think about Jokic jumping ship, Tim Connelly and the Nuggets front office can focus on adding another accolade to Nikola’s resume, an NBA championship.
Who knows what the future will hold for this MVP second-round pick and the Denver Nuggets, but with his future locked into Denver, a young core around him, and plenty of playoff success behind him, it shouldn’t be too long until Jokic adds to his trophy collection.