Nuggets center Nikola Jokic made history Tuesday night when he was named the NBA MVP for the 2020-21 season.
Jokic became the lowest-drafted player to come away with the award. The Denver star also became the first center to win MVP since Shaquille O’Neal earned the honor in 2000.
The announcement was a moment two decades in the making for Jokic and the centers of the NBA. But it was also a reminder of how impactful second-round picks can be in the NBA Draft and how some talented players can slip.
When was Jokic drafted? And why did he last so long? Here’s a look at how the Nuggets were able to scoop up an MVP-caliber player so late in the 2014 NBA Draft.
When was Nikola Jokic drafted?
Nikola Jokic was selected with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He was selected one pick after Glenn Robinson III and one pick ahead of Nick Johnson.
At the time, not much was known about Jokic, an 18-year-old playing in the Adriatic League and, later, the Serbian League. He had averaged 11.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 25 Adrian League contests, but he wasn’t considered a big-time prospect.
In fact, the announcement of Jokic’s selection wasn’t even aired during ESPN’s coverage of the 2014 draft. His name simply popped up on the bottom line during a Taco Bell commercial.
Several prospects have that happen to them each year, but usually the network cuts back for the announcements of the bigger names in the draft. Jokic, an unknown, was not considered one of them.
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Why was Nikola Jokic drafted so low?
Jokic lasted so long for myriad reasons that Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained in a 2019 interview. But the top issue seemed to be his body type.
“It’s such an inexact science,” Connelly said of the draft, per the Denver Post. “Nikola, up to that point, his professional numbers (in Europe) had not been something that would jump off the page, and certainly the body type is one that it’s easy to have questions about.”
Indeed, Jokic’s lack of athleticism and strength were a talking point in his early NBA seasons, but he has largely overcome them to turn into an MVP-caliber player.
But what made Denver willing to take a chance on him?
“We thought about past drafts of teams that missed on guys like him,” Connelly said on Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan. “Like Marc Gasol wasn’t exactly Adonis (a Greek mythological figure known for his physique) when he was selected in the second round and he turned into a great player. So, all of these things come into play and then you say, well, he’s an elite passer, he’s got great feel for the game.”
Certainly, that passing ability has translated to the NBA. And his “feel for the game” seems to be what led Denver to express interest in Jokic.
It’s a good thing they did. Jokic was ready to withdraw from the draft before the Nuggets gave him a promise that they would use the 41st selection on him. That sealed his entry into the 2014 draft and allowed the Nuggets to land him.
Who went ahead of Nikola Jokic in the 2014 NBA Draft?
Overall, 40 players went ahead of Jokic and, retrospectively, it’s hard to argue that any should’ve gone ahead of him. MVP runner-up Joel Embiid probably has the best case, if you want to have that argument.
However, Jokic leads the ’14 draft class with 64.4 career win shares, a metric that estimates the number of the wins created by a specific player, and it isn’t particularly close. The second-place man in the draft, Clint Capela, is nearly 20 win shares behind Jokic.
Of the 60 players selected in the ’14 draft, 25 players lasted three or fewer seasons in the NBA. Of those 25, 10 players went ahead of Jokic, including DeAndre Daniels, the 37th overall pick who never played in the NBA.
Here’s a full look at the 2014 NBA Draft, including the player selected at each spot and their total win shares for their career.
|40||Timberwolves||Glenn Robinson III||7.9|
Suffice to say that the Nuggets made out like bandits in getting Jokic.