When examining the best center in the NBA, there isn’t as much of a debate today as there would have been in year’s past. Entering last season, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid were in the conversation with Nikola Jokic. As things progressed, it became pretty clear who the most valuable one was.
KAT was in and out of the lineup, and Minnesota couldn’t win any games regardless. The 76ers got swept in their playoff series. Simmons or not, Embiid should have been good enough to guide them to one win. And Jokic, along with the help of Murray, helped his team to TWO 3-1 comebacks in the playoffs.
Jokic put up monstrous numbers during the team’s run to the conference finals, and hasn’t slowed down at the start of 2020-21. He’s been on a tear, and this isn’t a fluke or coincidence.
Nikola Jokic is the best center in the NBA. The next several paragraphs will explain why.
Nikola Jokic: His Offensive Game Is Nearly Flawless
Nikola Jokic can knock down the three. He can also put a spin move on his defender and get from the top of the key to the paint relatively quickly for a man of his stature. He has a mid-range jumper and a floater that he can get off whenever he’d like to.
Jokic isn’t known as a scorer, despite averaging close to 24 points per game this year, and nearly 20 per game for his career. He’s known for having impeccable footwork, and being able to give the business to whoever his matchup is. He would not let Rudy Gobert stop him or the Nuggets from making their 3-1 comeback in the opening round of the playoffs in the bubble last year.
Jokic is averaging double-figures (rounding up) rebounds for the fifth straight season. All centers are expected to be able to dominate on the glass, but it’s just another bonus with Jokic. His passing ability is off the charts. He is the second player in NBA history, and the first in nearly 60 years to put up 150 points, 75 rebounds, and 75 assists through his team’s first seven games. The only other guy to do that, is Oscar Robertson.
Jokic’s averages through seven games: 24 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists per game. This is unlikely to hold up over the course of a long season, but it’s incredible to watch. He seems to have gotten even better in the few months the team was off. And he’s still just 25, turning 26 next month.
He Holds His Own on Defense
It’s very rare for a center not known as a defender to be effective. The only other guy besides Nikola Jokic who isn’t exactly a liability, but isn’t stout on defense would be Nikola Vucevic. Like Jokic, Vooch has an incredible offensive game, and a jumper that hardly ever fails him.
Watching the Nuggets, it becomes clear pretty quickly how good Paul Millsap and Gary Harris are on the defensive end. They’re the anchors of the team. Jokic holds his own around the rim, and isn’t horrible when he has to defend around the perimeter. Just two years ago, Jokic finished 15th in the NBA in defensive rating.
If you need him to drop down and wait for the player to drive, he can do that. And he’ll more than likely alter the shot successfully without committing a foul. He won’t be able to handle the best ball-handlers at the top of the key, but often, he won’t get blown by.
Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert are far better defender than Jokic. But in head-to-head matchups, he’s still able to outperform those guys and lift Denver to wins. Isn’t that what being the best means?
If you had to pick one center to avoid playing for an entire year, while facing all of the others, chances are that Nikola Jokic would be your answer. He can make shots from anywhere on the floor. He has the clutch gene of a guard, whereas few other big men can be trusted to score in crunch time.
He has the passing ability of prime Rajon Rondo, and even close to that of LeBron James. Averaging 12 assists a game is no fluke. A player has to have guys around him that can score off these feeds, which Jokic does. And, he’s likely creating 15-20 looks per game for teammates. Because every beautiful pass made cannot lead to a made basket.
When you’re built like Jokic, you can dominate around the free-throw line area. You can control things from the three-point line. And you can also just post-up until the defender runs out of energy.
If you try and double-team him, Jokic will just fire the ball to whoever is open, and will get a credited assist or a hockey assist.
Nikola Jokic is the best center in the NBA. There is no debate. You can try and fight it. But you’ll lose. I won’t take no for an answer on this one.
And neither will Matt Huff, director of recruiting and development for Crown Hoops. He wrote an article during the postseason that will support the points of this piece. I didn’t draw any of what I wrote here from Matt, but it’s great to find somebody who expressed their agreement in writing.
76ers fans don’t want to hear this. Timberwolves fans don’t want to hear this. But, it’s the truth, and you have to accept it. Nikola Jokic is the best center in the NBA.