The drive from the Denver Nuggets’ arena to the city’s airport usually takes half an hour. That's where Felipe Eichenberger, the Nuggets’ director of performance and head strength-and-conditioning coach, often learns more about Nuggets center Nikola Jokić.
During some of their car rides this season, Eichenberger reported Jokić expressing feeling pleasantly surprised with how he played the previous night.
“I thought he was a lot better defender than he was,” Jokić said. Eichenberger replied, “Yeah, but you were pretty good on offense.”
Jokić’s response: “Yeah, but he was a really good defender last year. This year, I can’t even feel him.”
That Jokić feels unstoppable this season isn't a surprise.
In his sixth NBA season, Jokić not only remains on pace to record career-highs in points (26.2), field-goal percentage (56.7%), 3-point shooting (40.9%), rebounds (11.0) and assists (8.7). He has also ranked high among other NBA stars in several statistical categories. He ranks second in the NBA in triples doubles (15), which also ranks second in Nuggets franchise history for most in a season. He also fares sixth in assists per game, ninth in rebounds and 10th in points.
In what the Nuggets and Jokić consider as most important, he has helped the Nuggets (40-21) maintain a fourth-place standing in the Western Conference despite fielding eight new players and nursing a combined 163 games due toinjuries. The Nuggets have also gone 6-1 since point guard Jamal Murray suffered a season-ending ACL injury on his left knee, and Jokić has averaged 26.8 points on 59% shooting, 10.7 rebounds and 8.2 assists during that stretch. As Denver coach Michael Malone said, “his finger prints are all over everything we do.”
Therefore, the Nuggets have strongly touted Jokić as the most favored NBA regular-season MVP candidate. If that happens, Jokić would become the first center to win that award since Shaquille O’Neal did 21 years ago.
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