Nikola Jokic blossomed from an opt-neglected center into one of the world’s best players after towing the Denver Nuggets to the National Basketball Association title.
June Mar Fajardo and Yeng Guiao were in awe of Jokic’s improvement as he displayed tremendous character, maturity and grit in powering the Nuggets to a 4-1 victory over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals best-of-seven series.
As part of the Gilas Pilipinas team that faced the Serbians in the preliminaries of the FIBA World Cup in 2019, Fajardo personally experienced the on-court brilliance of the 28-year-old Serbian slotman.
“I think he was already a great player when we played them in 2019,” said Fajardo, who was given the tough task of containing the 6-foot-11 Jokic during their 67-126 loss to Serbia in 2019.
“But he has become a better player as he displayed maturity in his game this season, especially during the playoffs and finals series.”
True enough, Jokic was a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
In fact, he was the first player in NBA history to lead the playoffs in total points, rebounds and assists with norms of 30.0, 13.5, and 9.5, respectively,
More than that, he made the rest of the Nuggets look good, especially playmaker Jamal Murray, who displayed a masterful performance in Game 3, and Aaron Gordon, who fired 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Game 4.
“He’s a plus factor. He was definitely a big help and an asset to their campaign,” said Fajardo, referring to Murray.
Guiao, who was handling Gilas Pilipinas in 2019, recalled how great of a player Jokic was even during that time.
“He was just toying with us when we played them,” Guiao said.
“That’s how great he was. Now, we’re seeing the best, even becoming better.”
Guiao said coaching against a great player like Jokic was already an accomplishment.
“I would consider it as one of my accomplishments, to coach against some of the best teams in the world and against some of the greatest players and one of them is Jokic.”
Guiao added that he was amazed to see Jokic setting the record for most triple-double performance in the NBA playoffs and he wasn’t surprised to see the Nuggets winning the NBA championship.
After all, Jokic may not be the most athletic but he was the most intelligent player on the floor during their title run.
“His IQ level, his intelligence is what makes him a dominant player. There’s a ceiling level when it comes to athleticism, but his IQ level is unique,” Guiao said.
“He’s a class of his own. I don’t think there’s another player you can see now who plays like him in the NBA or even in Europe.”
Guiao said he expects Jokic to become even better.
“He’s not yet at his peak. We’re going to be more amazed and more entertained in the years to come,” he added.