It’s safe to say that Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is off to an incredible start to his NBA career.
After getting selected with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Jokic has been on the fast-track to superstardom.
In his rookie season, the 6’10” Serbian averaged 10.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 21.7 minutes. He took a massive leap forward in his second season, posting 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest. But, most importantly, he peaked towards the end of the season, emerging as a legitimate triple-double threat due to his elite passing skills for his size.
He ended up with six triple-doubles in 2016-2017.
This season, he continued his ascension, averaging 18.5 points, 10.7 boards and 6.1 dimes in 32.5 minutes over 75 games. He also continued to be a rare triple-double threat from the center position, recording 10 on the year.
That being said, Jokic clearly represents the future in Denver. While Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton and Paul Millsap all posed legitimate threats to their opponents all season long, Jokic’s ability to impact the game in so many different areas made him extra-dangerous.
Since Jokic was a second-round draft pick, his rookie contract has a team option in the fourth season. Therefore, there’s a tough decision that must be made. If Denver picks up the option, he will continue to play at a huge discount next season, but will become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019. If they decline the option, he becomes a restricted free agent and the Nuggets will be able to match any offer that he accepts.
That being said, if Denver allows him to become a restricted free agent, he will undoubtedly receive a maximum contract offer. The Nuggets would then be able to match that offer and would thus sacrifice a year in savings in order to guarantee that he will be with the team past next season.
Judging by the recent comments of a team executive, it appears as though they’re willing to offer Jokic whatever it takes to keep him in a Nuggets jersey for as long as possible.
“Nikola’s gonna be here for a long time,” Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said, per Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. “He’s a guy that’s been tremendous in how quickly he’s developed and a guy that we love. And he loves Denver. The sooner we can get his signature on a long-term contract, the better … whatever keeps him here the longest is best for us and best for the team.”
Regardless of what route the organization ends up taking, expect Jokic to stay in Denver through at least the end of next season. If he signs a max deal in restricted free agency, it guarantees his presence into the future (barring any trade, injury, etc.), but if the organization gambles and allows him to enter unrestricted free agency in the 2019 offseason, he could end up elsewhere if he doesn’t care about the financial incentive to stay in Denver.
Therefore, Denver might opt to decline his fourth-year option in order to diminish that risk, even if it requires matching another team's offer sheet.
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