NBA Injury Report: Denver Nuggets Superstar Nikola Jokic Avoids Major Knee Injury
Reigning MVP fortunately avoids major setback
The Denver Nuggets were surely fortunate that their best player has apparently avoided a major injury, especially at these early stages of the new 2021-22 NBA Season. Reigning Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic sustained a knee injury in the Nuggets’ recent match against the Utah Jazz. It was apparent that he bumped knees with Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, and Jokic did not return to the game after that knee collision.
The Nuggets lost that game to the Jazz via a 122-110 decision, but it is without a doubt that they had a huge chance of winning if Jokic had stayed in the contest. Jokic exited during the second quarter and logged only 15 minutes of play, but he already put up an incredible stat line of 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, while drilling all of his three triples, making five of his seven trips to the free throw line, and missing only one of his nine total attempts from the field.
In six games this season, the Serbian big man is putting up another outstanding stat line of 24.0 points, 14.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game. He is also producing a very good set of shooting percentages that include a stellar 61% overall clip from the field, an even more tremendous 42% clip from beyond the arc, and a 75% clip from the free throw line. He is still the all-around dynamo that he is throughout his very productive career, and he is even more efficient this time around.
In a column that Dan Devine wrote for The Ringer NBA last January, he pointed out how defenses have continuously failed in guarding Jokic and the many things that he does well on the offensive end of the floor. Devine says that Jokic has been the focal point of this Nuggets’ offense, and that is why the team cannot afford to lose him if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs this season.
Jokic has been the beating heart and bellwether of a surging Denver side—winners of five in a row and eight of the past 10—that enters Friday’s meeting with the Spurs in fourth place in the West, within shouting distance of the L.A. teams and Utah for conference supremacy. And the closer the Nuggets get to that conversation, the more prominent a candidate their 25- year-old center becomes in a Most Valuable Player race that promises to be fascinating all season long. There’s a reason that no true center has won MVP honors since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000; in an increasingly perimeter-oriented league dominated by big-wing playmakers, it’s tougher than ever for big men to ascend to stardom. Jokic transcends traditional strictures, though, by marrying a game that fits seamlessly into thoroughly modern offenses with a frame that would’ve fit perfectly into the “you’re going to bang in the post for 40 minutes” days of yore.
Jokic is working out of the post more this season than anybody but noted low-block mainstay/MVP rival Joel Embiid, and while he’s not living at the line like the Sixers star, he is getting there nearly six times per game, a career high. He’s also grabbing nearly 11 percent of Denver’s missed shots, his highest offensive rebounding rate in four years, and averaging a league-high 4.7 second-chance points a night. It rarely scans as dominant, in the same way that Shaq or Embiid might, but at 6-foot-11 and 284 pounds, Jokic is an absolute menace of an interior scorer to deal with, totaling more points in the paint per game than everybody but Zion Williamson, Andre Drummond, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Jokic, who just turned 26 years of age last February, was selected as the 41stoverall pick during the 2014 NBA Draft. He did not immediately suit up for the Nuggets as he played one more season in the Adriatic League, before taking his talents to Denver at the start of the 2015-16 NBA Season. At 6-foot-11 with no obvious elite athleticism in his physical prowess, Jokic was overlooked by scouts who were concerned about how he can adjust and adapt to the faster pace of play in the NBA.
In his first season with the Nuggets, Jokic started in 55 of the 80 games that he played as a rookie, and logged 21.7 minutes per contest. He was able to put up a decent stat line of 10.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.6 blocks per contest, while also producing a good set of shooting percentages that include a 51% overall clip from the field, a 33% clip from the three-point line, and an 81% clip from the free throw line.
But Jokic would go on to improve his numbers and his skill set year after year, and he has collected tons of individual accolades along the way. Before he stepped foot into the NBA, Jokic was recognized as the ABA League Top Prospect and ABA League MVP in 2015. In 2016, he made it to the NBA All-Rookie First Team, and was then named as the Serbian Player of the Year in 2018. Jokic has also notched three NBA All-Star appearances, has been named to the All-NBA First Team twice and the All-NBA Second Team once, and was named as the league MVP just last season.
As per a column written by Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer NBA last May, he pointed out how Jokic has managed to be the league’s clear-cut choice to be the MVP last season. He may not be the most athletic and the most mobile big man out there, and he may not be the best operator on the defensive end of the floor, but it is also a fact that he was unstoppable last season, and that his high impact of play on offense was more than enough to catapult his name to the top of the MVP ladder.
Nikola Jokic doesn’t look like a typical Most Valuable Player. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning two-time MVP, is a physical marvel, the type of one-of-a-kind athlete who can leap defenders in a single bounce. Jokic, meanwhile, can barely jump. But this season, the Nuggets big man has become unstoppable, even as he plays at a glacial pace. Jokic is averaging 26.2 points on excellent efficiency from all over the court while posting 10.9 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game. He could go down as one of the game’s greatest passers ever, and the Nuggets are rightfully feeding him touches to generate baskets more times per game than any other player in the NBA. This season, Jokic has changed who he is as a scorer and defender, while simultaneously becoming one of the most dependable players in the league: He’s logged the second-most total minutes (behind Julius Randle) and he’s the only 2021 All-Star to appear in every game.
Because of Jokic, Denver is still competing for home-court advantage despite dealing with key absences and recently losing Jamal Murray to a torn ACL in his left knee. This season, Jokic has been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. But he doesn’t care. The Nuggets use Jokic everywhere. He brings the ball up the floor, runs pick-and-rolls as a ball handler, and sets picks for others. He can even run off screens and hit jumpers on the move. He can hit 3s off the catch (at a 42.1 percent clip on this season), or drive into pull-ups and turnarounds ( 48.1 percent on all dribble jumpers). Jokic is a 6-foot-11, 284-pound guy who may not look like someone who can do everything on the offensive end of the floor, but he does on a nightly basis.
Of course, this team is also filled with intriguing and talented pieces that make full use of Jokic’s extraordinary skill set on offense. They acquired a solid power forward in Aaron Gordon via a mid-season trade deal last year with the Orlando Magic. The high-flying Gordon comes in with a versatile skill set on both offense and defense, and is now averaging a decent stat line of 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.8 blocks per contest. He is making a nice 55% overall clip from the field, but he is struggling with his 21% clip from the three-point line and a 67% clip from the free throw line.
On top of that, Michael Porter Jr. completes the Nuggets starting frontcourt, alongside Jokic and Gordon. Porter, who just turned 23 years of age last June, is entering his third year in the league. He was selected as the 14thoverall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but it is also a fact that he was touted as one of the most talented players in that class, and he would have gone higher in the draft if he was not injured at that time. Porter showed that he is capable of being a triple threat scorer in his first two years in the league, and he averaged 19.0 points on great shooting percentages of 54% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc.
However, the Nuggets are still waiting for the return of their star point guard Jamal Murray. Murray is still recovering from a Torn ACL injury he suffered last season, and is yet to log a game for the Nuggets. In the 48 games that he suited up for the Nuggets last season, Murray put up a stat line of a career-high 21.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per contest. He also shot a good set of shooting percentages that included a 48% overall clip from the field, a 41% clip from beyond the arc, and an 87% clip from the charity stripe.
Still, Jokic’s offensive brilliance last season helped the Nuggets tally a lot of wins even when Murray went down with the major injury. Add to that the fact that Porter is becoming an elite scorer at this early stage of his career, and the Nuggets surely have enough arsenal to win. Murray’s return will surely make things easier, but it still boils down to Jokic’s health and availability if the Nuggets want to win the coveted championship this season.
Murray’s torn left ACL was supposed to spoil Denver’s season. But the Nuggets are winning without him, including nine of 10 since his injury, and three of four games the guard missed earlier this month due to a right knee soreness. During this time, Jokic has continued to post MVP numbers, but Porter has also made a leap from wow, this is a really good 22-year-old to wait a minute, has this 22-year-old just become a star? Porter is averaging 24.5 points on 43.4 percent from 3 while tacking on 7.6 rebounds and playing competitive defense since April 6, when Murray first missed a game due to his sore knee. In Murray’s absence, Porter has picked up most of the slack.
Porter can fling shots from anywhere, with defenders’ arms in his grill, and remain unbothered. He drains in-between shots with pull-ups and floaters, and he’s improving at finishing at the rim. This isn’t just a hot shooting stretch, either; Porter has shot the lights out since he was a toddler. He’s thriving now because of the progress he’s made as a ball handler. In past years, he was relatively stiff off the dribble and lacked advanced moves. These days he’s unleashing complex moves and doing a masterful job of reading defenders before using counters to score. Porter might be the no. 2 option even after Murray returns from his torn ACL. But having too many dynamic scorers is a good problem to have. The future remains bright in Denver.
After their recent wins against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, and Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jokic will finish their current three-game road trip with two tough contests against Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Memphis Grizzlies.
After those two games against the Grizzlies, the Nuggets will head back to Denver to host a five-game home stand with the first match coming against Christian Wood, this year’s second overall pick Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and the Houston Rockets, and the second game against Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and the Miami Heat. The third game will be a tough matchup against Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Chris Duarte and the Indiana Pacers, while the last two games will be against Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks, and Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and the Portland Trail Blazers.