Nikola Jokic: A Budding Star for Denver Nuggets?


Nikola Jokic continues to start for the Denver Nuggets, and he shows that he can hold his own on the court, as of late.

Nikola Jokic entered the season as one of the primary backups for the Denver Nuggets off the bench. The Denver Nuggets hoped to utilize Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic as their big men to begin the season. However, Nurkic underwent knee surgery in May and has yet to return to the court. The Nuggets originally anticipated that Nurkic would open the season as their starting center, but his rehabilitation is taking longer than expected, with him planning to return in December.

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With Jusuf Nurkic progressing slowly in his rehab, Joffrey Lauvergne stepped into the starting center role for the Denver Nuggets. Lauvergne presented breakout potential in the preseason for the Nuggets, with solid rebounding and scoring skills. The Denver Nuggets leaned on Lauvergne early in the season to anchor their starting frontcourt; however, just a couple games in, he suffered an injury of his own and has not returned to the court since. With Lauvergne out due to a back injury, the Nuggets called Nikola Jokic’s number to fill the void left by their injured big men.

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For the first few games after Lauvergne’s injury, J.J. Hickson saw an increased workload and started several games, but more recently, Nikola Jokic vaulted himself into the starting lineup and looks to hold onto the spot for the foreseeable future. Jokic entered the spotlight after posting a massive 23 point, 12 rebound double-double against the San Antonio Spurs. The double-double marked the first of his young career. Following Nikola Jokic’s impressive performance against the Spurs, he earned his first start the following game, usurping Hickson.

Denver Nugget’s coach Mike Malone liked to use small-ball lineups early in the season, but he saw Nikola Jokic’s upside and planned to utilize his size and skill set moving forward. Jokic earned his first start of the season against the Phoenix Suns, but Jokic did not put up stellar numbers like he did against the Spurs. In his first start, Jokic registered six points, four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Despite the disappointing stat-line, Malone did not lose faith in what Jokic could contribute to the team while they are short-handed.

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Nikola Jokic received a second-consecutive start for the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets hosted the Golden State Warriors, and while the Warriors are a more supreme team than the Suns, Jokic improved his stat line in every major statistical category from the previous game. Against the Warriors, Jokic posted 11 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block in 27 minutes of play. With 11 points and 11 rebounds, Jokic notched his second double-double in the past three games. Malone’s decision to stick with the rookie big man paid off nicely; although, the Warriors walked away with the win.

After the Nuggets’ third-consecutive loss, the team welcomed the Los Angeles Clippers to the Mile High City. Once again, Malone used Nikola Jokic as his starting center, but matching up against DeAndre Jordan presented its difficulties for the rookie center. Despite Jordan’s defensive presence, Jokic stuffed the stat sheet for the second-straight game, registering 16 points, six rebounds, and two assists. The Nuggets did not pull out with the victory, but they get to see Jokic blossom before their eyes.

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If Nikola Jokic continues to develop as the starting center for the Denver Nuggets, he may start even after Lauvergne and Nurkic return. It remains to be seen how long Lauvergne is sidelined with his back injury, but back injuries are tricky because they can flare up at any moment. Also, with Nurkic not expected back until December, at the earliest, Nikola Jokic figures to see an extended run with the starting rotation. Jokic has not done anything to lose the job so far; thus, look for him to continue to develop as he gains invaluable experience starting on a daily basis.