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Celebrate Nikola Jokić, The Big Boy Who Can Pass

David Zalubowski/AP

We should revise our initial appraisal of Nikola Jokić: Denver’s second-year center can pass the ball, and deserves that reputation. Coach Mike Malone attributes the 21-year-old’s buttery playmaking to his past as a “fat point guard,” and though that chub has since been stretched thin over a 6-foot-10 frame, the skills remain: he posted 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists in last night’s win over the Mavericks. Here’s his slickest dish of the night, a no-look bounce pass to hit Gary Harris on a backdoor cut:


Nugget fans should be heartened by Jokić’s chemistry with Emmanuel Mudiay, as on display here; he also connects on a pretty lob pass from behind the arc and a baseball pass that spans most of the court.

On Saturday he served this nonchalant lob to Kenneth Faried:

And I still can’t shake the image of last week’s one-handed no-look, among my favorite plays of the season:


Playmaking big men are one of basketball’s highest pleasures, not just because they seem to find passing angles inaccessible to their smaller peers, and not just because it’s comical to watch them palm and effortlessly fling what’s to them a tiny sphere, but also because it’s a joy to see any athlete defies the traditional pigeonhole of their position. It’s why Joakim Noah used to be such a delight—hideously incapable of putting the ball in the hoop himself, but still worth running the offense through, still clawing his way towards triple-doubles—and why I was so bummed that Ben Simmons fractured his foot before we could get a decent look.

As the old-school center skillset looks to be aging poorly in an evolving game, it doesn’t feel outrageous to expect more and more bigs to enter the league equipped with guard-like skills. Jokić currently ranks third among centers in assists per game behind Marc Gasol and Mason Plumlee, and as he develops he’ll hopefully inspire a legion of rotund playmakers who happen to hit freak growth spurts.


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