Why the NBA world loves Nikola Jokic - the Nuggets' goofy, 7-foot Serbian star who's been compared to Tom Brady and is dominating the playoffs

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Jokic's current stardom is even more impressive when considering his humble beginnings growing up in Serbia.

Jokic's current stardom is even more impressive when considering his humble beginnings growing up in Serbia.
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Jokic grew up playing basketball, but played several other sports, too, including soccer, water polo, and harness racing.

Jokic grew up playing basketball, but played several other sports, too, including soccer, water polo, and harness racing.

Source: Sports Illustrated

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Despite being an active kid, Jokic was considered "obese" growing up, according to a former coach. Jokic had a love of sweets and drank as much as three liters of Coke per day.

Despite being an active kid, Jokic was considered "obese" growing up, according to a former coach. Jokic had a love of sweets and drank as much as three liters of Coke per day.

"It was glass after glass. I couldn't stop," he told ESPN's Zach Lowe in 2017.

Sources: ESPN, Sports Illustrated

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When Jokic was 17, playing professionally in Serbia, he was 7 feet and weighed 300 lb, but couldn't do a push-up.

When Jokic was 17, playing professionally in Serbia, he was 7 feet and weighed 300 lb, but couldn't do a push-up.

Source: Sports Illustrated

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Despite concerns about his body, the Denver Nuggets scouts liked Jokic's talent enough to eventually take him with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

Despite concerns about his body, the Denver Nuggets scouts liked Jokic's talent enough to eventually take him with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
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However, Jokic remained overseas for another year and would have longer if not for a well-timed, poor performance.

However, Jokic remained overseas for another year and would have longer if not for a well-timed, poor performance.

According to Sports Illustrated, Jokic was prepared to sign a multi-year deal with FC Barcelona to stay overseas, delaying his move to the NBA. But while playing in front of Barcelona officials, he had a horrible, 4-point, 3-rebound game that gave them pause. When they delayed the signing, he decided to join the Nuggets in 2015.

Source: Sports Illustrated

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Jokic still had work to do when he got to Denver. He gave up soda entirely, drinking his last Coke on the flight to Denver.

Jokic still had work to do when he got to Denver. He gave up soda entirely, drinking his last Coke on the flight to Denver.

Source: Sports Illustrated

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Jokic also had to improve his strength. The Nuggets put him through a plank test when he arrived from Serbia, and he couldn't do a plank for longer than 20 seconds.

Jokic also had to improve his strength. The Nuggets put him through a plank test when he arrived from Serbia, and he couldn't do a plank for longer than 20 seconds.

Source: ESPN

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Jokic's rookie season began slowly, but he eventually showed glimpses of his unique talent as he got more playing time.

Jokic's rookie season began slowly, but he eventually showed glimpses of his unique talent as he got more playing time.

He averaged 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists his rookie year, eventually making the All-Rookie First Team.

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Jokic has made gigantic leaps each successive season, raising his scoring averages from 10 to 16 to 18 to 20 over his career. He made his first All-Star team in 2018-19 while averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists per game.

Jokic has made gigantic leaps each successive season, raising his scoring averages from 10 to 16 to 18 to 20 over his career. He made his first All-Star team in 2018-19 while averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists per game.
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Jokic has become one of the NBA's elite triple-double threats. Over the last three seasons, he has 28 combined triple-doubles, fourth-most in the NBA.

Jokic has become one of the NBA's elite triple-double threats. Over the last three seasons, he has 28 combined triple-doubles, fourth-most in the NBA.
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Former NBA guard and ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups compared Jokic to prime Arvydas Sabonis — a huge compliment.

Sabonis was a Lithuanian center with the skills of a point guard. He dominated European leagues for years, but didn't come to the NBA until he was 31, meaning many American basketball fans never saw him in his prime.

Billups said Jokic is giving a glimpse at what Sabonis was like in his prime.

Source: ESPN

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His game was lovingly described by SB Nation's Seth Rosenthal as playing as if he was wearing flip-flops — a strangely perfect simile.

This dude plays every minute as if he’s wearing flip-flops yet is a borderline MVP https://t.co/uamMsu90px

— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) March 27, 2019
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What stands out most about Jokic is his passing. He's one of the best passers in the league, and by far the best among big men. He used to dub himself "a fat point guard."

What stands out most about Jokic is his passing. He's one of the best passers in the league, and by far the best among big men. He used to dub himself "a fat point guard."

Source: Sports Illustrated

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His passes range from beautiful no-looks...

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... to laser passes that somehow bend around defenders...

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... to full-court touchdown passes...

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Jokic's teammate Paul Millsap even recently compared Jokic to Tom Brady.

Jokic's teammate Paul Millsap even recently compared Jokic to Tom Brady.

"He's like a quarterback out there," Millsap said. "I consider him like a Tom Brady. He's always going to pick you apart and make the right reads. Commend him for doing that at this stage in his career. It's unbelievable."

Source: ESPN

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Some think Jokic's unique sense for passing comes from playing water polo. He said he's always willing to try a different pass.

"If I see something, even if it's risky, I am going to try it," Jokic told ESPN. "Because maybe that mistake is going to open up something else, or next time it is going to be there just to give it a chance."

Source: ESPN

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Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas compared Jokic to a brilliant painter: "He's an artist. If you ask famous painters, 'How’d you do that?' they say, 'I just did it.' It's the same if you ask Nikola: He has a hard time explaining. He just does it and it happens."

Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas compared Jokic to a brilliant painter: "He's an artist. If you ask famous painters, 'How’d you do that?' they say, 'I just did it.' It's the same if you ask Nikola: He has a hard time explaining. He just does it and it happens."

Source: The Ringer

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Jokic has taken his game up a level in the playoffs. He is averaging 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists per game on 50% shooting, 38% from three, while leading the Nuggets to their first series win in 10 years.

Jokic has taken his game up a level in the playoffs. He is averaging 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists per game on 50% shooting, 38% from three, while leading the Nuggets to their first series win in 10 years.
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Jokic impressed observers in the second round of the playoffs when he had to play 65 minutes in a quadruple-overtime game. He totaled 33 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists, but the Nuggets lost to the Blazers.

Jokic impressed observers in the second round of the playoffs when he had to play 65 minutes in a quadruple-overtime game. He totaled 33 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists, but the Nuggets lost to the Blazers.
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Despite improving his conditioning, few would have described him as being in elite shape. Jokic laughed about the comments about his conditioning.

Despite improving his conditioning, few would have described him as being in elite shape. Jokic laughed about the comments about his conditioning.

"To be honest, sometimes it is funny for me just because [sometimes what they say] it's true, and [yet] I am still playing in the NBA.

"Someone said, 'He's not even in shape.' I am playing in 80 games and he said that I'm not even in shape."

Source: ESPN

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Jokic's personality has made him beloved in the NBA, too. He's nicknamed "Joker" because of his last name and his wry sense of humor.

Jokic's personality has made him beloved in the NBA, too. He's nicknamed "Joker" because of his last name and his wry sense of humor.
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An ongoing subplot of the NBA playoffs has been Jokic's struggles with the microphones at postgame press conferences.

He told ESPN: "It's a fight ... hopefully at the end of the season, I am going to beat the mic."

Nikola Jokic vs. the postgame mic is the closest series this playoffs 😂 pic.twitter.com/RGgEVGY708

— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) May 6, 2019
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Jokic's brothers have also gained notoriety in the NBA world. Both former basketball players, they moved to the U.S. with Jokic and now follow him around.

Jokic's brothers have also gained notoriety in the NBA world. Both former basketball players, they moved to the U.S. with Jokic and now follow him around.

Said Jokic of his brothers: "They look like serial killers, but they are actually really nice people when you meet them."

Source: ESPN

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He's kept pieces of his upbringing with him. He told ESPN's Zach Lowe that he kept a stash of Serbian meats in his home, just for when he misses home-cooking the most.

He's kept pieces of his upbringing with him. He told ESPN's Zach Lowe that he kept a stash of Serbian meats in his home, just for when he misses home-cooking the most.

Source: ESPN

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Jokic also owns three horses back in Serbia and still loves watching horse racing. "I enjoy animals. Their nature. They're really good animals. Every different horse has a different personality, like a human," he said.

Jokic also owns three horses back in Serbia and still loves watching horse racing. "I enjoy animals. Their nature. They're really good animals. Every different horse has a different personality, like a human," he said.

Source: ESPN

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In some ways, Jokic is still the goofy kid from this old passport photo:

Looks like someone will be getting a new passport today! pic.twitter.com/cy8UQm61sH

— Yugobasket (@yugobasket) April 22, 2019
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