Nikola Jokic Can Be The Franchise Player Denver Nuggets Need

Mar 27, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) is defended by Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) during an NBA game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) is defended by Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) during an NBA game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The Denver Nuggets haven’t had a franchise player since they traded Carmelo Anthony. However, they may have found one in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Ever since the Denver Nuggets traded forward Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks during the 2010-11 season, the organization has been searching for a superstar to build a team around.

In those past five seasons since the trade, Denver has had some solid production out of players like Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari. However, those guys haven’t panned out to be that vital superstar the Nuggets have been craving.

During the 2015 NBA Draft, Denver used the No. 7 overall pick to select point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. While Mudiay showed flashes that he has the potential to become the superstar the Nuggets are looking for — he averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game on 36.4 percent shooting — the organization’s 2015 second round pick may turn out to be the franchise player it’s been striving for.

Exactly 34 picks after taking Mudiay, Denver selected the 6’11”, 260-pound Serbian center Nikola Jokic. Although he only averaged 10 points and seven rebounds per game, the young center — he is only 21 years old — showed glimpses of budding potential that even made head coach Mike Malone confident in Jokic’s promising future with the team.

Rather than Jokic’s typical season average statistics, it is the per 36 minutes and per 100 possessions numbers he recorded in his first year in the association that accurately paint the hype that is generating around him.

Jokic’s per 36 minutes statistics were some of the best among the 2015 rookies last year. He averaged 16.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals and one block per 36 minutes. Those numbers were better most of third overall pick Jahlil Okafor’s per-36 numbers — Okafor averaged more points — and all of ninth overall pick Frank Kaminsky’s per 36 statistics. But Jokic’s per 100 possession numbers show why he is the candidate to build the Nuggets around.

Fellow 2015 rookies, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, are considered franchise players. If you compare Jokic’s per 100 possessions statistics to Towns’ and Prizingis’, Jokic is definitely worthy of being considered a franchise player as well.

The Serbian’s versatility on the offense side of the floor is what makes Jokic so intriguing. He has the ability to score inside, hit a spot-up jumper, stretch the defense because he can nail three-pointers or make a pass out of the high post.

The combination of his rebounding, shooting and passing skills gives the notion of Jokic becoming a franchise player for Denver. But if the Nuggets and Jokic want him to reach that ceiling, the 20-year-old will need to work on his defense as his career progresses.

While Jokic was so phenomenal on offense for Denver, his defense was lacking — especially on the perimeter.

Improving Jokic’s perimeter defense will take time. Developing quick twitch movement and defensive instinct is not something Jokic can develop overnight. However, he has the fundamentals to become an elite perimeter defender.

The younger center has a wingspan of 7-foot-3, which if he uses it correctly, can become an issue in passing lanes. Jokic has shown that he possesses strong hands when he collected passes in the post last year. If he can figure out a way to utilize those hands with his length on the perimeter, Jokic can progress and become an elite defender on the outside.

Another way for Jokic to become a better perimeter defender is for him to understand the basic fundamentals. At times last season, Jokic was too high and narrow in his stance on the outside. If he is able to learn to get lower and wider in his stance while not biting on ball fakes, he can contain opponents penetration and not be such a negative for Denver defensively.

Continuing to improve his body will be crucial for Jokic’s development. Big men typically take longer to develop than guards because of their body types, and Jokic is a classic example. However, Jokic still has some type to grow into his own, because remember, he’s only 20 years old.

Next: NBA Predictions: 2016-17 Win Projections For All 30 Teams

Jokic has already proven he can be an elite offensive player, but if he can become an all-around elite player for the Nuggets, he will be the person Denver builds its franchise around for years to come.