Nuggets Journal: Watching Nikola Jokic at EuroBasket is worthy end-of-summer treat

If you know where to look, basketball season has already arrived.

You don’t need to wait until Oct. 19, when Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make their highly anticipated returns in Utah for the Nuggets’ season opener. If you, like some of us at The Denver Post, need to get your basketball fix, we can’t emphasize enough: EuroBasket will scratch that itch.

(That’s to say nothing of the compelling WNBA playoffs, where former Nuggets associate Sue Bird is in the semifinals and fighting to seize a championship in her final season.)

This iteration of the European championship features three of the top five basketball players in the world, full stop. Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), generational star Luka Doncic (Slovenia) and Denver’s own humble two-time MVP, Nikola Jokic (Serbia), are slated for, at minimum, five group stage games followed by the knockout rounds.

If we were the gambling lot, there’d be a week’s worth of pay suggesting that next season’s MVP will come out of that trio. Jokic, the first back-to-back-to-back MVP since Larry Bird in the mid-1980s? The audacity! What kind of Rakija have we been slugging?

As if his tantalizing highlights populating social media weren’t evidence enough, the word from the Nuggets is that their franchise superstar is in the best shape of his life. They’ve sent various members of the team’s performance staff over to Europe to keep tabs on him, and other front office members will be there as Serbia inevitably reaches the knockout rounds in Berlin.

But for now, we’ll have to settle for a medal contender toying with lesser opponents like he’ll see for the next week. (All games are, conveniently, on ESPN+).

Watching Jokic slice apart the Netherlands in Serbia’s opening win Friday was akin to the carvings he’s accustomed to doling out against one of his favorite opponents – the Jazz. With any luck, Group D’s Serbia will meet Group B’s France later in the tournament, where Jazz-turned-Timberwolf Rudy Gobert will attempt to derail Jokic’s momentum. With any more luck, Jokic will barrel into Slovenia, where Doncic and fellow Nugget Vlatko Cancar will attempt to establish Balkan dominance over their buddy.

In the opener, Jokic had a team-high 19 points in 21 minutes, playing his brand of ruthlessly efficient basketball. For those who appreciate his unselfish approach while anchoring Denver’s offense, it’s even more prevalent with his national team, where Serbians are seemingly predisposed to share. Vasilije Micic tallied 12 assists, including one that found Joker rolling to the rim for a dunk. Jokic’s backdoor dime to a cutting Marko Guduric was an unnecessary reminder that he’s still among the best passers in the world.

And lest you think the tournament doesn’t mean anything to him, you should’ve seen him sing every word to his country’s national anthem before the game, stand and applaud his teammates’ effort as Serbia salted away the win and engage an official like only he can do. Yes, Jokic earned a technical foul when he went nose-to-nose with an official, who apparently wasn’t giving him the whistle he felt he deserved. So much for continental respect.

If you appreciate his unique dominance of NBA players, it’s endlessly entertaining to watch him in the element which bred his original foundation. On more than one occasion, a rowdy “M-V-P” chant bled through the broadcast from Prague. At ease in front of his countrymen – and still at the peak of his powers – Jokic walked off the court and thanked those in attendance.

If you enjoy watching the best basketball player in the world go to work, what are you waiting for?

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