The 2023 NBA Finals are officially underway, and the Denver Nuggets dispatched the Miami Heat in their series opener on Thursday night. Though the San Antonio Spurs missed out on the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, the organization received a friendly shoutout from Nikola Jokic during a postgame interview following his historic triple-double on the brightest stage in basketball.
When Naismith Hall of Famer and NBA TV analyst Grant Hill asked Jokic which players he modeled his game after growing up overseas, he rattled off a handful of names, including Spurs legends Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Boris Diaw. His answer was not too shocking, especially considering he showed The Big Fundamental some love with a similar sentiment at media day earlier this week.
Jokic is one of the most dominant forces in the league, but his path to superstardom was far from straightforward as the 41st pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. The seven-footer gradually refined his game to cater to his strengths and offset his weaknesses, becoming a one-of-a-kind point center. While he is unique, it is simple to see how Duncan, Aldridge, and Diaw influenced his wide-ranging repertoire.
The Serbian sensation is fundamentally sound, with lovely footwork and elite discipline like Duncan. He has the same smooth turnaround jumper and soft touch in the paint that helped turn LaMarcus into a perennial All-Star. Unrivaled court vision and creative passing are his calling cards, and it might be fair to assume Jokic learned a trick or two from watching Diaw dish the ball from the high post.
Hearing Jokic shower former Spurs with praise on national television is a welcomed change of pace from the typical uninformed remarks from the legions of aggravating talking heads. With that in mind, perhaps the usual suspects will sing a different tune now that San Antonio has secured a cornerstone talent like Victor Wembanyama, who might eventually challenge The Joker for NBA supremacy.