Two 2nd Round Draft Picks Each Get Historic Triple-Doubles

The rarest players are the ones whose transition to the NBA is a sure thing. Shaquille O’Neal was a sure thing. Tim Duncan was a sure thing. LeBron James was a sure thing. The overwhelming majority of most basketball players are not sure things.

This is part of what makes basketball such an incredible sport. Players who excelled at previous levels can flame out spectacularly at the game’s highest level; players who merely whelmed at previous levels can become literal phoenixes. Within the last week, we have received two remarkable reminders of this second phenomenon.

Draymond Green

Does Green famously kick his opponents in the testicles? Yes. Is Green arguably the most important piece in Golden State’s juggernaut? Also, yes.

But unlike Kevin Durant (2nd overall pick), Steph Curry (7th overall pick), and Klay Thompson (11th overall pick), Green was selected 35th overall. Scouting didn’t see his rise, arguing that he compared favorably to players like Jared Dudley and Luke Harangody. Look at this evaluation of the man:

Weaknesses: One of those great college basketball players that doesn’t excel in any one particular area … Tweener, undersized for a physical forward yet lacks the athleticism of a wing … Lacks explosiveness, agility, elusiveness and quickness off the bounce … Under the rim finisher, which is troublesome when you consider his size … Not a threat to shake his defender off the dribble … Minimal upside … Vulnerable defending quicker guards on the perimeter … Could stand to drop some weight …

Are scouts dumb? No. But they were limited in their ability to imagine what Green might be able to accomplish which, to this point, is an NBA Championship, two All-Star teams, and two runner-ups for the NBA’s Defensive Player Of The Year.

Part of what those scouts were unable to imagine is just how effective a player willing to minimize scoring can actually believe. Green proved the point Friday night, posting the NBA’s first ever triple-double that didn’t involve points. His line – a staggering 4pts/12rbs/10ast/10stl/5blk – is simply unheard of and, to boot, it was one point shy of a 5×5, one of those odd statistical anomalies that only the most multi-tooled players are capable of achieving.

If Green’s triple-double underwhelms, perhaps the only other thing worth noting is this: only one other player has ever gotten double-digits in rebounds and assists and steals, and that player was in the process of producing a quadruple-double. Needless to say, Green’s achievement was exceedingly rare.

Nikola Jokic

Jokic was drafted even later than Green – he was taken 41st overall. Draft experts talked predictably about the Serbian:

 Weaknesses: An average athlete lacking great speed and leaping ability … Foot speed is a big liability. He may struggle to stay in front of NBA athletes at the center position … Needs to improve as a post player, gain strength and develop a repertoire of back to the basket moves … Defense is a real weakness at this point due to lack of lateral speed and lack of strength. His length is a big plus, but he’ll need to continue to work on becoming stronger and learn to anticipate in order to overcome his lack of quickness … Despite being a younger guy, his upside appears limited by his lack of explosiveness and foot speed …

And again, the issue here is imagination, because Jokic achieved his own unheard of triple-double the other night. In an absolute evisceration of, oddly, Green’s Golden State Warriors, Jokic posted 17pts, 21rbs/12ast, making him the only guy who has managed do that. (If you ignore the points, his achievement is still worth celebrating, as he is also the only guy to get 12 or more assists and grab 21 or more rebounds in a single game.) To look more closely at what Jokic achieved, a broadening of the search terms to players who achieved 10pt/20reb/10ast triple-doubles reveals a predictable who’s who of great players: Charles Barkley, Chris Webber, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Garnet, Pau Gasol, Dennis Rodman and (website favorite) Fat Lever.

Conclusion

In both cases, scouts and their teams failed to imagine a player’s maximal possibilities. This is understandable of course, especially considering how many players fail to achieve even a quarter of what Green and Jokic both have. But if their drafts were redone today, and given perfect vision, it seems quite likely that both of these players would have been top-five picks at the minimum, as both of them have proven value well beyond what was originally imagined. They have also each achieved a little bit of something that this post’s first three players never did.

The Nikola Jokic That Avoids Foul Trouble Is Terrifying

Nikola Jokic is a monster.

Although he is currently only averaging 11.6pts/7.5rbs/3.3ast. In theory, those numbers are good, but not great, and hint at the sort of middle-of-the-road grinder that most teams would love to have. Except those are Jokic’s numbers in only 24 minutes per game. He’s averaging roughly a half of a basketball game per night, far fewer minutes than the game’s biggest and brightest stars traditionally play. Over the course of 36 minutes, Jokic is hinting at the capability to produce 17.4pts/11.2rbs/5ast, an absolutely sensational line that takes a player from being somebody that other teams might want on a roster to being a player that other teams might build around.

Jokic’s drawback is his adjustment to the American game. Although he puts up numbers, he also fouls a lot. He often finds himself riveted to the bench after only short bursts of in-game action owing to his propensity to defend hard. Worryingly, his fouling has shown no signs of slowing down, as his fouling rate from his rookie season (4.3 fouls per 36 minutes) is ticking upward this year as he is getting slightly more burn (4.6 fouls per 36 minutes). What this unfortunately means is that he is often unable to unleash his potential owing his inability to actually stay on the court.

Jokic has perfectly sumarized himself in the last week. In a win against the Portland Trailblazers, Jokic for 13/4/5 in only 19:23 of game time, owing to having also picked up five fouls. In a win against the New York Knicks, Jokic went for 10/9/5 in only 20:13 of game time, again owing to having picked up five fouls. Those are both beastly performances for having only averaged twenty minutes per game – and to be fair, the Nuggets won both games – but the mind reels at considering what he might be capable of if he was playing 31 minutes a game instead.

Or maybe 38 minutes instead. That’s what Jokic managed last night after fouling only once. His resulting production – a stellar 27/15/9 (on 13/17 from the field) – is precisely the sort of game that fans are imagining whenever Jokic takes the floor. The issue is whether or not he can ever figure out a way to consistently stay there.

There’s one other excellent reason to get excited about Jokic’s career. If the Serbian big man’s numbers aren’t enough to get the blood flowing, his passing absolutely is. To that end, we have all of the following passes as evidence:

And this one:

And this one:

And this one too, because what the hell:

The tempting thing to do now is sift back through NBA history to find big-men who were equally adept at passing. This though is unfair, as Jokic is 21, and is growing into his game, and holding his youthful play up against one of the game’s all-time titans sets entirely unreasonable expectations that nobody should be forced to measure up to. It would frankly be an injustice to both Jokic and the player to compare them to one another, and that isn’t what this website will ever be about.

With that said, here is a video of a very calm big man throwing a very calm pass precisely on the money for the easy layup: