Nikola Jokic Turning into Key Piece for Denver Nuggets?

Jan 10, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the first half against the Charlotte Hornets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

Nikola Jokic continues to develop into one of the Denver Nuggets’ stars. With that said, is he turning into a key piece for the Denver Nuggets moving forward?

The Denver Nuggets found a diamond in the rough when drafting Nikola Jokic in the 2014 NBA Draft. With the 41st pick (second round) of the 2014 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets drafted the Serbian big man Nikola Jokic; however, Jokic did not play at all in the NBA in the 2014-2015 season, playing professionally in Serbia.

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After spending the 2014-2015 season in the Serbian League, Nikola Jokic left the league to make the transition to the NBA. Nikola Jokic entered the 2015-2016 as a relatively unknown players around the NBA; however, with Jusuf Nurkic sidelined do to knee surgery, Nikola Jokic was able to earn regular playing time early on in the season.

Early on in the season, Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne, and J.J. Hickson split time in the Denver Nuggets’ frontcourt. Lauvergne had a strong preseason, and he entered the 2015-2016 season as the favorite to earn playing time at center due to Nurkic being out indefinitely after offseason knee surgery. Lauvergne played well in his extended role for the Denver Nuggets, but Nikola Jokic gradually carved out a role in the rotation.

Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone has been impressed with Nikola Jokic over the course of the 2015-2016 season, which is evident by Jokic’s increased role on the team.

"I know Nikola Jokic, and I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the world. He’s a special young man, a special young talent, and he’s only going to get better as he continues to get stronger, learn the NBA, finish around the basket, defensively.” – Mike Malone"

Those are strong words from Mike Malone in regards to Nikola Jokic; however, it is tough to discredit the strong allegations. Moreover, Nikola Jokic has turned a page over the past six games for the Denver Nuggets, averaging 15.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks over 26.7 minutes played. With those types of numbers, Nikola Jokic is cementing his place in the Denver Nuggets’ rotation, and he looks to be the favorite to earn starts at the center position.

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After Jusuf Nurkic returned to the court, many believed that Nikola Jokic would take a back seat to Nurkic; however, Nikola Jokic continues to improve with an increased workload. Moreover, Nurkic carries injury concerns and fails to break the 20 minutes threshold on a regular basis. While Nurkic may be the better defender, you cannot argue with the type of production Nikola Jokic is putting up as of late.

Seldom, do players with Nikola Jokic’s skill-set fall to the second round of the NBA draft, but the Denver Nuggets seemed to have struck gold by drafting the 6’11’ Serbian with the 41st overall pick. While, at first, Nikola Jokic was seen as a complementary/bench piece for the Denver Nuggets, he, very well, could be the starter for the Denver Nuggets down the remaining stretch of the season.

The Denver Nuggets are competing for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but they should focus more on their rebuild and give their younger players a larger workload. With young players like Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Emmanuel Mudiay, the Denver Nuggets have a core of young, talented players capable of taking this team to the next level. However, competing for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference does not bode well for improving next season.

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It would be in the Denver Nuggets’ best interest to miss the playoffs this season and earn a higher pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. In the mean time, expect Nikola Jokic to continue to see an increased work load, with the potential of him earning regular starts at the five. Nikola Jokic is the real deal, and he could turn into a Marc Gasol type player with proper development.

Moreover, Nikola Jokic will represent the Denver Nuggets as a member of the All-World Team, along with Emmanuel Mudiay, in the Rising Stars Game during the All-Star break.