Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic is becoming the next Tim Duncan

NBA Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
NBA Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports) /

Denver Nuggets’ all-star Nikola Jokic is becoming the next Tim Duncan

The 2020-21 NBA season is in its embryonic stages, with teams only playing three games so far. One could argue though that Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is playing better than anybody out of the gates and he’s looking like an early lock as a top MVP candidate.

The two-time NBA All-Star is averaging a triple-double through the Nuggets’ first three games with lines of 24 points, 14 assists, 12 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting a career-high 62 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc.

The team is off to a bit of a bumpy start at 1-2, but Jokic looks to be in the best shape of his career and seems to be entering a different stratosphere as a superstar player. He’s already cemented himself as the best big man in the game, but now he is seriously in the conversation as one of the five best players in the entire league currently.

More from Sir Charles In Charge

Nearing his 26th birthday Jokic is entering rarified air as one of the NBA’s elite’s and to me is ascending to a level that is reminiscent of NBA Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.

Obviously, their playing style is vastly different, Duncan wasn’t the passer Jokic is and Jokic probably isn’t the athlete Duncan was. I’m not comparing their skillset’s though, but more so how they both make everyone around them better and elevated the cultures of their respected franchises.

The Serbian big man has a very similar demeanor to the former back-to-back MVP, endearing and goofy to his teammates off the floor. But on the floor, both Duncan and Jokic are quiet assassins that appear sometimes to be aloof, but mainly sport a stoic and composed approach. In the past, Jokic has been criticized for not taking his offseason approach to his body seriously and being a liability on the defensive end of the floor. He seems to be dialed in though on both of those things for the 2020-21 season with a new level of confidence, turning him into a Duncan-like figure for the new generation of players.

People will focus on the accolades for Duncan’s career the multiple MVPs, five-time NBA champion, 15-time NBA All-Star, and now a Hall of Famer. What made “The Big Fundamental” great though and unlike any other superstar ever, was his selflessness and humility. His former teammate Tony Parker summed up Duncan’s leadership and contributions to the Spurs championship runs over the course of two decades, in an August 2018 piece for The Player’s Tribune thanking the Spurs organization for his 18-year career with the team.

"“That was always our secret weapon, to me: You see this all-world player, this All-NBA First Team, MVP of the Finals, about to be MVP of the league guy, and here he is in practice, willing to be coached like he’s fighting for a spot on the team. It was unreal. And if you think that’s too passive for a star player to be? Well, then you’re not thinking it through on Tim’s level. Because Tim knew the truth: which was that to let himself be coached in this way, you know … that’s true charisma, and that’s true swagger. It’s like he was challenging everyone else in our gym: The best player in the entire league is willing to put his ego aside for the good of this team–are you?” (h/t“And that was the deal, you know? Guys would come in, take a look around, and eventually they would do as Tim does. That was Spurs Culture.”"

It was that humility that Duncan exuded that became infectious to his team and helped coach Gregg Popovich instill his principles and philosophies that much easier. For as great as his offensive post game was or as effortless as his bank shots were, Tim Duncan’s best asset was his leadership ability and selflessness which was a far cry from other NBA great’s like Michael Jordan, the late Kobe Bryant, and Larry Bird who were aggressive with how they guided their teams.

Jokic seems to have learned from Duncan’s style and adapted it to his own personality, reconfiguring the Nuggets culture in the same way Duncan did for the Spurs.

The assertiveness Jokic now displays on the floor is a very apparent difference from his demeanor from year’s past, but it’s his evolved approach to the game that is leading the way towards his “Duncan years” if you will. The stats are impressive and flashy but it’s the things Jokic is doing off the floor that you can’t really quantify that is paying off massively for him and his teammates.

In a recent article, The Denver Post’s Mike Singer wrote on Jokic’s new mindset with both coach Michael Malone and forward Michael Porter Jr. praising the man affectionately known to Nuggets fans as “The Joker.”

"“I feel really fortunate to be able to coach a superstar that is as humble as he is,” Malone said. “Because he sets the example.”“The best teams I’ve ever been around have been teams that actually got along. You heard stories about that in San Antonio for years. Their culture, guys actually spending time with each other, enjoying each other, respecting each other,” Malone continued on. “There’s plenty of teams that are dysfunctional, that don’t get along, that have star players that are fighting for the limelight. We don’t have that, and again, that starts with Nikola. Being selfless is a part of our culture.”Porter Jr. solidified those words from his coach with praise of his own for Jokic.“No matter if he plays good or bad, he’s always in the weight room after the game, he’s always making sure he gets his recovery in before he leaves the arena,” said Porter. “I think there were times early on in his career where he was just criticized. ‘You don’t know what Joker you’re going to get from night to night.’ That’s not even a thing anymore.”"

Denver’s playoff run to the Western Conference Finals in the NBA bubble clearly ignited something in Jokic and has made him set on keeping the Nuggets as legitimate title contenders. It’s easy to get lost in the flashy passes, the unicorn-like numbers, the effortless triple-doubles, Jokic is now ninth on the NBA’s all-time list with 43 triple-doubles and should climb those rankings with no issue throughout the season.

However, it’s the little things once again that Jokic does in the locker room, in practice, behind-the-scenes that the fans and ESPN so to say aren’t going to glamorize that is most exciting to me. He also doesn’t do it with much bravado so it doesn’t get attention in the same way as maybe some other stars get covered, at his core he’s just a lovable kid from Sombor who loves the game of basketball.

That affable nature is what has made Jokic a god of sorts to Nuggets fans like myself and the ultimate representation of a city and franchise that most NBA superstars and pundits don’t give the time of day to.

Jokic himself understands this may be better than any other star in the league, in terms of what he means to the Nuggets and what he could bring to the franchise. Speaking during an interview from February of 2019 with Altitude Sport’s Vic Lombardi, he talked about how ironically he could become the Tim Duncan of the Denver Nuggets.

Ultimately I don’t know if the Denver Nuggets will repeat their bid of making the Western Conference Finals this season or win a championship anytime soon. The Spurs didn’t win a championship in Duncan’s first MVP season back in 2002 either and the same may go for Jokic, who clearly seems capable of winning the award for the first time of his career this year.

But as someone who grew up in the heart of the Spurs dynasty and revered their stability and winning ways for years, the fact the Nuggets my favorite team now have an otherworldly culture-changing superstar in almost identical fashion to Tim Ducan and what he brought to San Antonio is surreal.

dark. Next. NBA: 5 big takeaways from the 2020-21 opening week

Denver’s goal this season will be once again to bring the city it’s first NBA title, but if that bid fails Nuggets fans can at least relish in the fact that they’ve got a true one of a kind anomaly in Nikola Jokic, who will have the team competing in the ever loaded Western Conference at the bare minimum for years to come.