There’s no shortage of talent in the NBA, but there’s one thing that most people agree on: Nikola Jokic is currently the best player in the league.
Going into the 2023-24 season, the Nuggets star topped our updated player rankings. Jokic also found himself in the No. 1 spot on The Ringer, CBS Sports and HoopsHype. ESPN had him second to Giannis Antetokounmpo, but “mere percentage points” separated the two stars.
Jokic is a two-time MVP with five All-Star selections, five All-NBA selections, an NBA championship and a Finals MVP award, but he isn’t your typical best player in the league.
Here’s what you need to know about what makes Jokic so special.
Why is Nikola Jokic considered the best player in the NBA?
The short(er) version
Jokic is one of the most dominant offensive players we’ve ever seen. He is a threat to score an efficient 30 points on a nightly basis while recording a triple-double. He’s a force in the post, he can stretch defenses out to both the midrange and perimeter, and he’s one of the greatest passers of all time. He has shortcomings on defense, but he’s proven he can be effective in the right system.
Jokic is already one of the most decorated players of all time. After leading the Nuggets to the championship in 2023, we ranked him as the 19th-best player in NBA history, ahead of Jerry West and Dirk Nowitzki but behind Moses Malone and Oscar Robertson.
The long(er) version
Since becoming an All-Star in 2018-19, Jokic has averaged 23.7 points and 8.1 assists per game while shooting 56.3 percent from the field. His 3-point percentage has been up and down, but he can stretch the floor out to the perimeter.
At 6-11 and 284 pounds, Jokic has the size to bully most defenders with his back to the basket, and he has excellent touch and footwork. (More on all of that here.) The only player in the league who has been able to match his volume and efficiency on the low block the last few seasons is 76ers star Joel Embiid.
Jokic is a big-time pick-and-roll threat as well. You’re not going to see him catching alley-oops, but he can pick-and-pop to the midrange and he has one of the best floaters in the game.
This shot has become automatic for him:
There isn’t really anyone who can defend Jokic one-on-one anymore. Smaller players have no hope against him in the post. He can draw bigger players out of the paint with his jump shot or lose them with a series of Hakeem Olajuwon-like fakes. Not even Anthony Davis or Bam Adebayo, two of the best interior defenders in the NBA, could slow him down in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
The problem is that double-teaming Jokic isn’t a solution.
We debated whether or not Jokic was the best passing center in NBA history back in 2018. Now, the discussion is about where he belongs compared to all players, not just the ones at his position.
There are no limits to Jokic’s passing. He is often a step or two ahead of the defense. Not even his teammates can keep up with how quickly he processes the game sometimes. He makes crosscourt passes over multiple defenders look easy. He consistently threads the needle. Cut, and he will find you.
This is the type of stuff Jokic does on a nightly basis:
The ball doesn’t stick in Jokic’s hands as much as other superstars, either. He makes quick decisions and brings the best out of everyone around him.
Defensively, Jokic has his limitations. He’s not much of a shot blocker and he’s not someone who you want switching onto perimeter players. The Warriors had success against him in the 2022 NBA Playoffs by attacking him relentlessly in pick-and-rolls.
When he’s locked in and surrounded by versatile defenders, Jokic has shown that he can still be a difference-maker on that end of the court. He reads the game well, he has great hands and he’s still a massive presence in the paint at 6-11 with a 7-3 wingspan. That size and length make him tough to score over.
Jokic is also a dominant defensive rebounder. He’s a big reason why the Nuggets are one of the better teams in the league at limiting second-chance opportunities.
The nerd(ier) version
Advanced stats love Jokic.
For his career, Jokic has a Player Efficiency Rating — a rating of a player’s per-minute productivity — of 27.9, putting him behind only Michael Jordan for the best of all time. In 2021-22, Jokic posted the highest single-season PER (32.9) in NBA history, though Embiid is on pace to break that this season.
Over the last six seasons, only the Bucks won more regular-season games than the Nuggets. Denver has scored at a rate of 119.9 points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the court during that stretch. With him on the bench, the team’s offensive rating has plummeted to 108.4.
For context, that would’ve been the difference between the Nuggets having the best and worst offense in the NBA in the 2022-23 season.
Jokic has also been a historically good performer in the playoffs. He has the ninth-highest scoring average (27.5), 17-highest rebounding average (12.1) and 19th-highest assist average (7.3) on the big stage. There isn’t another player in NBA history who can match those numbers.
Jokic led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals in 2020. He then led the franchise to its first-ever championship in 2023 while averaging 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game.
Nikola Jokic stats
Nikola Jokic accolades
- 5x NBA All-Star
- 3x All-NBA First Team
- 2x All-NBA Second Team
- 2x Most Valuable Player
- 1x NBA Champion
- 1x Finals MVP
- 1x Western Conference Finals MVP
- All-Rookie First Team
Source : ESPN.com