Nikola Jokic is a passing big man unseen to the NBA. The cornerstone, the franchise player on an up-and-coming western conference contender. It wasn’t supposed to be this way though.
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2020 Nikola Jokic passes on NBA teams
2014 NBA teams pass on Nikola Jokic
Watching Nikola Jokic last season in the playoffs, I began pondering how this player could be passed on 40 times before being selected by the Denver Nuggets in the 2014 NBA Draft. The 41st overall selection. 11th pick of the 2nd round.
Many teams regret passing on Nikola Jokic as Nikola Jokic is passing on them.
Before the NBA
Nikola Jokic is from Sombor, Serbia. Joker is the youngest of three brothers. This older brothers are about a decade older than Nikola. Both were basketball players, one player college ball at Detroit Mercy.
Looking up to his older siblings, Jokic started playing basketball at a young age. In 2012 Jokic signed with Mega Vizura of the Adriatic League and the Serbian League.
I wondered what had happened. Had Jokic just simply slipped through the cracks because he was a European player? Jokic who is Serbian was a standout center in his homeland as a teenager.
The very curious story of Nikola Jokic isn’t one where he grew 9 inches one summer, a la Dennis Rodman or Anthony Davis. Is it location?
Serbians in the NBA
Former NBA All-Stars drafted in the 1st Round of the NBA Draft include Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovich. In 2003 Serbian super prospect Darko Milicic was drafted 2nd behind LeBron James and ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh.
I finally set out yesterday to find out the exact reason for Nikola Jokic not being taken seriously back in preparation for the 2014 NBA Draft.
When I started searching for answers I was having trouble finding them. Some thought he was overweight, but is this really reason to not draft a jump shooting 7’0 footer. Nikola Jokic has unseen passing abilities?
Then I found footage of the 2014 Nike Hoops Summit. The hoops summit is an annual high school all-star game pitting Team USA vs. Team World. Played at the Rose Garden in Portland. Its alumni since the first contest in 1995 includes most of the NBA’s biggest stars. It’s an elite game especially for overseas talent.
Watching the video above, Nikola Jokic was showing the shooting, passing, and elusiveness he displays now, back in 2014. The scrimmage isn’t against bums either. Did you notice his skill and dominance in this video was mostly against top NBA prospect Karl Anthony-Towns?
It seems the scouts looking at the players just paid no attention to Nikola Jokic. Nothing else makes much sense. Given that this has been the only reasoning I can consider plausible, other than just being incompetent at their jobs.
I read some early comparisons on the Joker. George McGinnis was one I didn’t understand at all. McGinnis was an athletic jumper who ran the floor with one handed wind-up dunks and finger rolls. I find that comparison just ridiculous. Another comparison was Dirk Nowitzki. I assume its because they’re both white, foreign, 7’0, with a jump shot.
If I would have said a 25-year-old was the best to ever do something, well, I can’t imagine previously I would have. I’m not talking potential, I’m talking about right now.
Nikola Jokic is the best passing center to ever play in the NBA. Jokic and his approach to the game from a passing standpoint differs just in the mentality he takes distributing the ball. This the biggest difference that leads me to say that I unquestionably think he is the best passing big ever, and the numbers support it.
The Vision: See and Skill
Wes Unseld had a superior outlet pass, Nikola Jokic has that pass too. No look, over his head, behind the back in the paint. Passes, passes, passes. Tip passes. Out-of-bounds outlet passes. Half court in-bound, wrap-around passes.
Bill Walton and Wilt Chamberlain could pick you apart on the blocks. Chris Webber was exceptional from the elbow. Shaq and Olajuwon could make you pay for bringing a double team.
Nikola Jokic does everything passing the ball with a Pete Maravich type-of-flair. No look, in the paint, behind-the-back, with inches-of-room to spare, passes on the money.
At a glance some fans will see some of these passes and say “that was amazing but it’s half luck”. Maybe you’ll change your mind when you see him behind-the-back or over-his-head with perfect precision over and again.
After seeing some of these a few times, they will continue looking as lucky as the first time you witnessed them. After seeing the same “lucky” pass 10 times, then you realize luck has nothing to do with it.
The Complete game
All this talk of passing could lead an average fan to not realize the 2x NBA all-star also averages over 20-10. Teamed up with young guard Jamal Murray, the Nuggets have a nice young tandem moving forward.
You could see the talent back in 2014. Most teams in the NBA completely ignored Jokic. Denver saw it, whether orchestrated or dumb luck, the Nuggets drafted Jokic and have a very unique superstar who will be entering his prime shortly. The future looks bright for Nikola Jokic and the fans in Denver rooting for their Nuggets.