Latest NBA Leads

Nikola Jokić Really Is a Unicorn

Kyle Koster
Abbie Parr/GettyImages
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The bad news for the Denver Nuggets is that they've had to scratch and claw their way through the season's first 24 games just to remain at .500 and in position to improve when it matters. The good news is that they have Nikola Jokić. A player who answers the question: what if we crossed Baloo from Jungle Book with a point guard in a center's body? Jokić was once again unstoppable in Wednesday night's overtime victory over New Orleans, collecting 39 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists on 17-for-23 shooting. As expected, his shoulders were broad enough to carry through overtime, evidenced by providing 11 of his team's 15 points.

This constituted the 61st triple-double of the 26-year-old's career. He just passed Larry Bird on the all-time list and figures to overtake James Harden immediately if current production persists. Catching Wilt Chamberlain for sixth (78) during 2022 is not out of the question. As reigning MVP winner, it will be difficult to repeat considering voters' penchant for new things. But it's also worth considering that he may be an undeniable force who could end up with a handful of the trophies on his mantle.

Jokić has played 472 career games, meaning he's posted a triple-double in 12.9 percent of his opportunities. Only Russell Westbrook (19.5 percent), Oscar Robertson (17.4), Luka Donćić (17.2) and Magic Johnson (15.2) have ever done it with greater frequency. There's an elite class of walking triple-doubles and Denver's big man is comfortably in the group.

The raw numbers are eye-popping. Jokić is sixth in scoring, second in rebounds and 12th in assists league-wide. He's eighth in shooting percentage and boasts a PER over 34 — nearly four clear of Giannis Antetokounmpo. No one else in the league has one north of 26. There's an easy argument to be made that he's improved on his historic MVP campaign of a year ago and is actually getting better with each passing day. Which must be downright terrifying to the rest of the Western Conference as passion to right playoff wrongs will be sky-high.

It's always been difficult to land on an appropriate comp because unicorns tend not to conform. In one moment Jokić is etching his name along side Chamberlain. The next, it's Magic. He plays differently than anyone who has come before, operating with grace and precision while steering a frame through turns it doesn't look built to handle. Your mileage will vary, but for some he remains the most spell-binding player to watch night in and night out. And as time passes and the numbers pile up, it's becoming increasingly clear that he's the most reliable as well. Rare is the off night. Rare is a night when the motor won't start.

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