Two years ago in the NBA playoffs, three inches from each other’s lips, Nikola “The Joker” Jokic and Devin Booker almost appeared to French-kiss each other. But the lip action wasn’t amorous.
Denver Nuggets superstar Jokic had just smacked the ball with force from a Booker teammate. Booker, himself a Phoenix Suns shooting sensation, came to defend his teammate from the harsh foul. But Jokic towered over him by six inches and some 80 pounds.
His two gigantic Serbian brothers in the stands threatened to charge the court and fight the entire Phoenix Suns team. It was Europe against America, still foes after all these centuries.
This incident provides the backstory behind the big trade the Suns made for superstar Kevin Durant this week. Wallowing in fourth place in the NBA’s Western Conference, the Suns know they can’t win the NBA title because Jokic – the best hooper in the universe – plays for the Nuggets. His team sits atop the conference dominating, dazzling, and disconcerting all NBA opponents.
The acquisition of Durant has fans in Phoenix and others saying the team is now the favorite to win the NBA title. Wishful thinking. Unwise, informed basketball analysis.
It won’t happen.
Because of Jokic’s spectacular skills, primarily, and his talented teammates. And Joker’s fiery competitive nature – and willingness to fight for what he wants. Fighters tend to end up winners in sports. Larry Bird comes to mind.
The Joker now is well on his way to winning his third-straight league MVP. Not Kevin Durant. The Joker. As great as Durant is, Joker is considerably better. This season he’s putting up collective stats almost no one ever has.
To date the Serbian Assassin is pumping in 25 points per game, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing 10 assists. Soak that in. Averaging a triple-double as a center, he’s the best passer in the league, not this year but also ever, along with this year the NBA’s most versatile and most efficient shooting 62 percent from the field.
Astronomically mind-boggling stats, people
The king of basketball. On his way to consideration for Greatest of All Time. And in his prime, only 27 years old.
A great teammate who doesn’t ask to be traded because he doesn’t think his teammates are good enough – like Durant. Instead, he makes them much better and shows them how to enjoy team basketball, the art of deft passing rather than, like most other NBA players, selfish one-on-one chucking from way out and standing around half-assing on defense and not blocking out on rebounds.
Durant has always been an exquisite shooter and still is. He’s averaging 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists on 55 percent shooting. But study these numbers. Only has half as many rebounds and assists as Joker.
Not as complete and skilled a player. Accept this truth: the marvelous Kevin Durant, one of the greatest hoopers ever certain to be in the Hall of Fame, is not on the same level as the Joker. Not now. Not this season nor the past several. Empirically true. Indisputable.
Chilling to think about.
So the Suns have all these hopes that with Durant they’re bought their ticket to the NBA title and a giddy downtown victory parade. But the numbers of the two superstars tell you the Nuggets are better.
You may be thinking “but what about the rest of the players”? Sure let’s do that. Jamal Murray of the Nuggets is a better point guard than Chris Paul, who is older, slower, and less productive. Murray averages 20 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds on 46 percent shooting. Paul scores 13 a game and adds 8 assists and shoots 42 percent.
Merely studying the stats it’s not really close. It’s even less comparable when you witness Murray’s athleticism powered by young legs versus the slower-moving Paul.
Still not convinced?
Deandre Ayton is having a productive season playing center for the Suns: 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 assists. Solid but nowhere near the player Jokic is.
Aaron Gordon, a Nuggets forward, is statistically and athletically at least as good as Ayton and certainly quicker and more efficient. A dunk machine, he’s averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds on 58 percent shooting. Game after game, Joker finds this guy for backdoor dunks in highlights the NBA hasn’t produced since Pete Maravich.
Michael Porter stands out for the Nuggets also with long-range shooting. Pumping in 16 a game and hauling down 5 boards, he’s a 47 percent shooter who will intensify pressure on the Phoenix defense.
Then there’s this all-important consideration. Joker has never won an NBA title. Critics will anger him through the playoffs with snipes that, while he’s won MVPs, he hasn’t led his team to a championship. Until he does that, they’ll say, he doesn’t belong in the conversation of all-time greats. Watch him prove all of them wrong, all those so-called basketball experts who don’t understand how great basketball is supposed to be played.
Durant has won a title but really Steph Curry had a lot to do with that. Come playoff time, no one anywhere in basketball will be more motivated to shut up all the naysayers than Jokic. He will not back down from Durant, Booker, or anyone else in his way. And his teammates will back him up – in a fight if need be — because they love playing with him.
Being his teammates, they’ve discovered the joy and power of cohesive, interdependent basketball where who scores matters less than making the smart and smart pass for the best shot.
By acquiring Durant, the Suns think they’ve solved the Joker dilemma.
But the Joker will ultimately be on them.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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