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Is Nikola Jokic the Best Passing Center of All Time?

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After his third season in the league averaging 6.1 assists and playing 75 games of a possible 82, rumblings of “is Nikola Jokic the best passing center of all time already,” started around the league.

What did Jokic do the following season? He improves in every statistical category bumping his 2018-19 stat line to 20.1-10.8-7.3, while also having one of the highest usage percentages in the NBA and generating a top-five Player Efficiency Rating (PER).

He also helped lead the Nuggets to a seven-game playoff series win over a Gregg Popovich’s Spurs and helped to take Denver the distance in their second-round series against the Portland Trailblazers as the second-youngest team in the NBA. Throughout the postseason, Jokic had the highest PER, second-highest Value Added score, and second-highest Estimated Wins Added both behind only Kawhi Leonard. Finally, to cap off Jokic’s huge season, he was rewarded with a First-Team All-NBA nod and finished fourth in the NBA MVP voting.

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Jokic’s fourth season may have been special, but it was even more remarkable that he was able to elevate his game in the playoffs to another level. He has the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways, but his passing is something that the NBA seemingly has never seen before.

Jokic stands at 7-feet even, 250 pounds and appears to be the most unathletic guy on the floor as he saunters up and down the court. The beauty in Nikola’s game is that despite lacking freakish athletic ability, he changes the game with his basketball IQ, his court vision, and his spectacular ability to make passes that point guards don’t even try.

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Jokic finished ninth in total assists in the NBA in 2018-19. He finished tied with PG De’Aaron Fox and above superstar point guards Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, and Deangelo Russell. The numbers and statistics support his claim as the best passing big in the game today, because his 7.3 assists per game make him the clear-cut top passing big, with Marc Gasol (4.4 APG) and Al Horford (4.3 APG) being second and third place.

But he doesn’t deserve to be compared to just his contemporaries; he should also be measured up with legends like Vlade Divac, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Arvydas Sabonis.

With rule changes creating a higher tempo and faster, higher scoring, layup or three-pointer style game, numbers are inflated in today’s game, so statistics are good, but they do not tell the whole story. For reference, Vlade, Wilt, Hakeem, and Arvydas all had career assist-per-game figures between 2.1 APG and 4.4 APG.

Jokic, despite splitting time at center in his first two seasons with Jusuf Nurkic, has a career APG of 5.1. It is safe to say that Nikola’s best years of basketball are still ahead of him, considering 2018-19 was his breakout season and he’s only 24.

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The conversation about Nikola’s pedigree in terms of passing big men is already, is he the best? If he continues his upward trajectory and adds longevity to his already impressive statistics he could start into the conversation of one of the best passers of all time.

Notable Centers best statistical APG seasons:
Wilt Chamberlain – 8.6 APG – 1967-68
Second best – 7.8 APG – 1966-67

Nikola Jokic – 7.3 APG – 2018-19
Second best – 6.1 APG – 2017-18

Joakim Noah – 5.4 APG – 2013-14
Second best – 4.7 APG – 2014-15

Vlade Divac – 5.3 APG – 2003-04
Second best – 4.3 APG 1998-99

David Robinson – 4.8 APG – 1993-94
Second best – 3.7 APG – 1992-93

Marc Gasol – 4.0 APG – 2016-17
Second best – 4.4 APG – 2018-19

Tim Duncan – 3.9 APG – 2002-03
Second best – 3.7 APG – 2001-02

Hakeem Olajuwon – 3.6 APG – 1993-94
Second best – 3.6 APG – 1995-96

Arvydas Sabonis – 3.0 APG – 1997-98
Second best – 2.4 APG – 1998-99

The Joker is one of the flashiest passers in the league and will frequently have the assist of the night. His ability to drill a full-court baseball pass dropped right in the hands of a sprinting outlet, or a sweet cross-court bounce pass on a fast break, or simply a backdoor cut, alley-oop or drop-off pass is second to none in terms of big men.

Nikola does it all and he’s become well known for his arsenal of no-look passes that range from over the head drop-offs to the slingshot style heaves that find an open shooter in the corner for three points. If his numbers didn’t already speak for themselves, his eye test definitely confirm his passing acumen.

For Nikola, all it takes is watching one game to see that he has the vision and ability to do something that other players of his size cannot. He drops the viewer’s jaw on a nightly basis with the way he moves the ball with pinpoint accuracy and how he facilitates the offense with such precision. This isn’t to take away from the fact that other big men have made some beautiful passes and that other players have had magical assist seasons, but simply put, statistically and from the eyeball test, Jokic is at the top of the game in terms of passing big men.

After four seasons, the conversation about Nikola’s pedigree in terms of passing big men is already, is he the best? If he continues his upward trajectory and adds longevity and sustained greatness to his already impressive statistics, he could start into the conversation of one of the best passers of all time.

Nikola’s best assist from each game 2018-19

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