There’s little presumption to the idea of Nikola Jokic as the starting center for the Nuggets. He has his max contract and the support of the Franchise and fans alike. Nikola, from images surrounding the uniform/branding reveal, has spent his spring shedding weight and working on his footwork.
Already an advanced stat and offensive darling, Jokic is doing things on the offensive side of the ball that put him in lofty company. Larry Bird, Kareem, Wilt. Those are the names that his first three NBA seasons have him in company with. He performs better in most analytics than just about anyone in the NBA. Fivethirtyeight.com put Jokic in the top-3 in “box plus-minus” and called him one of the best young NBA players of all time. Even if the praise Jokic is receiving is hyperbolic, it is supported by incredible statistics.
It’s more than that for Denver fans, though. We realize he’s a stats darling. He also fits the temperament of the Nuggets, the mold of what a championship Denver squad would look like. Amid all the LeBron and Kawhi posturing, nobody has asked if we want or need that type of talent here. Of course those guys are generational talent and any team in the league would benefit from their involvement.
There is a part that’s largely ignored and that’s compatibility or fit.
LeBron does not fit the Nuggets. Kawhi does not fit the Nuggets. There’s one ball and it belongs in the hands of #15. Bron can take the freakshow to LA or Philly. Those places are better suited to his ability and his place as the top player in the league. In Denver, all he (or Kawhi) would do is take touches from Jokic and that in my opinion would do more damage to Denver’s trajectory than good. Given the urgency the front office had in securing Nikola’s max contract, it seems the team feels the same.
Beyond Jokic, Denver has Mason Plumlee and rookie Thomas Welsh at the position. Plumlee showed signs of being a rim-protecting defensive playmaker during the Nuggets stretch-run. Having spent most of the season as a stopgap following the Millsap injury, Plumlee finally settled in for the last 20 games and showed the skills that, if continued, should guarantee Mase the backup center spot.
Welsh at 7’1″ and 255lbs. is similar, physically to both Jokic and Plumlee. Between his Junior and Senior seasons at UCLA he worked on his three-point shooting and put up much improved stats from beyond the arc in his senior season. He averaged over 10 rebounds and shot 83% from the free-throw line. If Welsh is able to secure one of the 15 roster spots, he could be a valuable 10-12 minute guy, protecting Plumlee and Jokic from another big-minute season.