In this era when selfless superstars like LeBron James and Steph Curry have won eight NBA titles between them, here comes Nikola Jokic, the sport’s best all-rounder, who could win one of his own. If Jokic does that, he becomes one of the great pro basketball stories of all time. He is already the most complete big man since young Bill Walton, as complete a big man as the sport has known.
Jokic is so good. That doesn’t mean he and the Nuggets are a lock to win the title because they got an easy Game 1 against the Heat. Just enjoy what you’re watching as you watch these NBA Finals because he’s the best all-around player we have right now, better than LeBron and better than Steph and better than Durant and Joel Embiid. Good for Embiid winning the MVP award, by the way. But come on: no one is more valuable to his team than Jokic to the Nuggets.
He comes at this time after being the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA draft. No one has ever drafted that low ever won two MVP awards. Jokic a. Not only was he drafted so low, but he had enough afterthought that when the Nuggets selected him in the second round, a Taco Bell commercial aired on television. There were eight other foreign-born players drafted among the 40 drafted before him. It wouldn’t matter if he wasn’t the most important player right now. But he is. He came to all of this from a time like this.
Did the Nuggets know what they were getting? Did they think they were getting a big man who would do what he did in pro basketball without jumping very well, and who would roam the court like the Amazon truck? Of course, they didn’t. We never know. When the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis, they called him a unicorn. They absolutely thought Porzingis could be the kind of franchise-altering player that Jokic has become in Denver. It didn’t work that way. It worked like gangbusters in Denver.
Again: That’s not to say the Nuggets are about to kick out Jimmy Butler and the Heat. We’ve seen too many of the Heat now to think they’ll go easy; that they are about to be rolled by the Nuggets as well as the Nuggets play and as well as they played in Game 1.
Butler and the Heat were getting rolled in Game 1, and didn’t reach the line, and missed 3s so badly you thought they’d turned into the Celtics in Game 7 at Boston Garden the other night. They were down 20 points and they had a perfect excuse to send this one after being barreled with the Celtics at Boston Garden after losing that 3-0 lead. And they still cut Denver’s lead to nine points in the fourth quarter before the Nuggets retired again.
Do the Nuggets look like they’ve finally arrived? They do. They were this good throughout the regular season, and then people started to be shocked that Michael Malone’s team would continue to be this good once the playoffs started. Could the Nuggets stand up and sweep this thing away? They are good enough to do that. That doesn’t mean they will. That doesn’t mean the Heat are going to go away. Maybe the Heat can find a way to neutralize Jokic. No one has done it yet. No disrespect to Embiid, but if you really thought he was more valuable than Jokic this season, you watched the wrong movie.
It is the way Walton played when he came to Portland and the Trail Blazers became the best team in the world before Walton started getting hurt. The Blazers won a title and were 50-10 the year after. Then Walton couldn’t take the pain in his legs and feet anymore and didn’t finish that season and things were never the same for the Trail Blazers after that.
“Without him, a brilliant team has become a less than ordinary team,” wrote the great David Halberstam in “The Breaks of the Game.”
The Nuggets would be a less than ordinary team without Jokic.
He’s not a glamorous star like LeBron, Durant, Steph and even Jimmy Butler. The only time he’s felt like the face of the league is right now, and that includes when he won those two MVP awards. But he plays the game like Walton did as a center. He makes everyone around him better like Walton did when he came to the league from UCLA. If you’re in the right spot, he’ll pass the ball to you like Walton did. If you’re not, you might want to watch him lead fast breaks like he does, or step back and put the ball behind his head and make a 3-pointer.
And here’s the best part, if you love the Nuggets or just love watching basketball well played: the guy from Serbia is still only 28 years old. If you keep the score at home, that’s a decade younger than LeBron. He is seven years younger than Steph and he is six years younger than Kevin Durant. He is the same age as Giannis.
In the world of load management, the most consistent season games Jokic has ever missed are the 13 he missed this season, the season he basically averaged a triple-double with 24.5 points per game and 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists. You show up to a Nuggets game and you know Jokic is going to play. And then, man oh man, does he play, scoring and rebounding and – again – passing the ball as smartly as any 6-11 big man has ever passed.
“I’m not forcing it,” he said after scoring 27 points and having 14 rebounds to go with 10 assists in Game 1.
“That’s how I learned to play,” Jokic said.
LeBron, to me, is the best all-around player in a career I’ve ever seen, besides being an accomplished teammate. He was always able to lift his teams when his teams had a chance at this time of year. But the Lakers had no chance against the Jokic and the Nuggets. Of course, Jokic had help. Jamal Murray is once again playing his own game at a high level. But the Lakers didn’t have an answer for Jokic as no one had an answer for Jokic this season.
Win or lose is already a story for all time in basketball, the guy from Serbia who was just the 41st pick to do what he has done so far. We are perhaps only beginning to discover how far he can go.
WE NEED MORE TED LASSO, AARON RODGERS A FLORHAM PARK FIT & A SALUTE TO SARH LANGS…
This season certainly feels like last season when the Mets’ starting pitchers pitch.
I don’t want to hurt anyone, it’s not my nature, everyone knows how generous I am, but I don’t care if Shannon and Skip break up or not.
Now, I freely admit that would actually mean having seen Shannon and Skip yell at each other before.
All this time after the first movie, if “Ocean’s 11” or “Ocean’s 12” or “Ocean’s 13” comes on TV, I absolutely go through with it.
One more thing about television?
I’ve been amazed all season at the twists and quibbles about the final season of “Ted Lasso.”
It was awesome, and the last episode was awesome, and I still wish there was a way for the show to last for years.
“Ted Lasso” happened when we needed something exactly like it during COVID, and I still wish there was a way for it to stick around, just a little longer.
We see, day after day, that the Jets have done the right thing, one hundred percent, by not letting the Aaron Rodgers case drag on.
And doesn’t it already look like the guy has already been hanging out at Florham Park for years?
It doesn’t even feel like news anymore when the Knicks fire another GM.
It’s always worth remembering that a Knicks team in this century won over 50 games in a season and Carmelo Anthony was the star of that team and finished third in MVP voting that year.
It’s no small thing when you close the books on ‘Melo.
Wasn’t then, isn’t now.
Do you know who Jaylen Brown is?
He’s a younger version of Russell Westbrook.
So Nick Nurse gets recycled in Philadelphia and Frank Vogel gets recycled in Phoenix and Monty Williams gets recycled in Detroit and, well, everything old is new again in the NBA, right?
My friend Stanton is right: it’s not just the Giants who could use DeAndre Hopkins, the Jets too.
I wasn’t as excited about Josh Donaldson’s return as I thought.
The best October in baseball this season will be with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
Do you know why LIV doesn’t want you to know what her ratings really are?
Because you could put those odds in a shot glass.
There is no braver and better citizen in the baseball community, and no more popular than Sarah Langs – an MLB researcher who is a thousand times bigger than that – who is now battling ALS at an age far too young.
So while everyone thought of Friday as Lou Gehrig Day, as a way to raise awareness and funds for ALS research, anyone who knows anything about Sarah or her story thought of Friday as Sarah Langs Day. .
If you can contribute, do so.
Not just for Sarah, but for anyone with a disease for which there is no cure.