By now, Nikola Jokic’s unique passing ability is no secret, even on the national media stage which has tended to overlook the Denver Nuggets in recent years, as his flash, flair, and efficiency in creating easy looks for his teammates last season earned accolades not only from loyal fans and stat heads but also the likes of Charles Barkley, Jeff Van Gundy, and Bill Walton.
Still, sometimes it’s good to confirm that what we already know – or think we know – based on the good old eye test is backed up by the numbers. And in Jokic’s case, it certainly is.
The two lines in the graph above chart the rise of Jokic’s assist proficiency through the 153 games he has played thus far in his two-season career. The blue line might be less surprising, as it represents his assists per game, a number that would be expected to rise as he earned a larger role and along with it more minutes. The more telling figure, however, is the red line, which shows that not only has his per-game production consistently increased, but at the same time his assists per minute have as well.
Granted, this is among the simpler assist metrics (a good description of some of the more advanced ones can be found here at Basketball-Reference.com, which is also the source of the above statistics). Nevertheless, it is sufficient for our purposes here since we are only looking at The Joker’s performance over time in isolation, and not comparing him to other players. And we can clearly see a definitive and steady increase throughout his first two seasons in how prolific a playmaker he has been.
I would currently be prepared to put money down on him being the next in a fairly elite set of NBA centers who have averaged 5 or more assists per game, though I might be more reluctant to wager on this if the Nuggets were to acquire, for example, a ball-dominating point guard like Kyrie Irving who might take away touches from Nikola and alter Denver’s offensive flow. But for now, Jokic indeed appears to be on a 5-plus trajectory, and the addition of Paul Millsap, who like Jokic is an excellent passer who keeps the ball moving, will likely only facilitate this prospect.