Is the NBA’s “Joker” actually the second coming of “Larry Legend?”
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich hailed Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as a “reincarnation” of Larry Bird on Wednesday night. Jokic logged 25 points, 11 assists and four rebounds and was three-for-five from 3-point range as he helped the Nuggets top the Spurs 132-126 in the seeding round. Afterward, Popovich compared Jokic to the Boston Celtics legend.
“And Jokic, he’s like a reincarnation of Larry Bird,” Popovich said, per ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “He does everything. He’s amazing. They (Jokic and teammate Michael Porter Jr.) were great.
“They’ve (San Antonio’s young players) never seen anything like that. He’s stepping out and making 3’s. He’s rebounding the ball, there should be an NBA rule, you can’t tap it to yourself. He’s Moses Malone. You know, he’s down there and he jumps about a quarter of an inch, then he taps it two or three times and then he gets it and he lays it back in.
“It’s not just luck. He does it all the time. He is great on the board, he’s obviously maybe the best big man passer in the league. If not, then close to it. He’s a pretty special player.”
Jokic has blossomed into one of the NBA’s premier players in the last few seasons. He earned NBA All-Star Game selections in 2019 and 2020 and was named to the 2018-19 All-NBA First Team. He averages 20.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and seven assists this season and likely will add another All-NBA honor to resume.
Although Jokic’s numbers are admirable and bear some similarities to Bird’s, it’s worth remembering Bird was an NBA All-Star as a rookie, an NBA Finals winner in his second season (and later added two more championships) and won the NBA MVP award in three consecutive campaigns between 1984 and 1986.
Popovich, 71, has been an NBA coach since 1988, and his insightful comparison of the players’ respective games carry weight. However, those of us in this part of the world can spot the differences between Jokic and Bird easily.