Legendary NBA coach Gregg Popovich was quoted two years ago as saying that Nikola Jokic is “a reincarnation of Larry Bird.” Now that the Joker is closing in on a possible MVP three-peat, it is valuable to compare his current season to the last man to achieve such a thing; Larry Legend in 1986.
Jokic and Bird are both “lumbering” basketball players. That is, they don’t fly like an MJ or have the insane physique and athleticism of a Giannis. They simply play the game the right way, both boasting all-time basketball IQ’s.
While you’ll find more dunks and ankle-breakers in a Larry highlight reel, he still relied heavily on his mentals, making passes that no one else can make. No one else but the Joker that is. That’s the eye test, but what do the numbers say?
It’s harder to find differences than similarities between Bird’s 1985-86 season and this current season for Jokic. Looking at per-game stats, Larry averaged 9.7 FGs, while Jokic is averaging 9.4. It is important to note that the Joker is doing this with a .620 FG%, while Larry boasted .496, shooting slightly better from 3.
Both players average 0.6 blocks per game, and Larry averaged 2 steals to Jokic’s 1.4. Each player gives up just over 3 turnovers and nets about 5 free throws while hovering around the same points per game.
The first glaring difference is the average minutes played. The Nuggets this season have been putting away a lot of NBA teams early, and their bench has drastically stepped up from last season. As a result, Jokic has not needed to play much in the 4th quarter, averaging only 33 minutes to Larry’s 38.
When looking at stats per 36 minutes as opposed to per game, Jokic really begins to stand out. He makes almost a full-field goal more on two fewer attempts than Larry, keeping pace with Byrd’s 3-point shooting. The Joker is more efficient on free throws and scores more points at 26.6 to Larry’s 24.5.
And then you have assists and rebounds.
Joker is averaging a triple-double per 36 minutes, grabbing 11.8 rebounds and dishing out 10.6 assists. Larry, on the other hand, was not even averaging a double-double. He came close with 9.3 rebounds, however, he surprisingly only averaged 6.4 assists. Per 36 minutes, the only categories where Bird bests Jokic are 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage, and shot attempts.
When you step back and think about how influential and prolific Larry Bird was, and then look at these statistics, there really shouldn’t be any question that Jokic is right there with him.
One of the main arguments against giving the Joker his 3rd MVP trophy in a row is that he is not to the standard of a man like Byrd. This is simply statistically untrue.
I leave you with this; Nikola Jokic’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) this season is 31.9, which is 4th all-time for just a season. Larry’s 3rd MVP season his rating was 25.6, or 211th all time. Jokic deserves his three-peat.
Join our Discord to leave a question or comment regarding this article. We have sports fans talking betting all day — every day! JOIN THE DISCORD NOW AND QUALIFY FOR PRIZES & BETTING SWAG!