When you see Nikola Jokic, a comparison with Tim Duncan seems off. They would not be the two players that you would easily compare to each other. Even though numbers-wise, their points and rebounds are quite similar (both average about 20-10 for the most part of their careers), there’s more to their game.
From an offensive standpoint, Duncan played for a coach who had a system that revolved around moving the basketball, unlike the current Nuggets whose offense revolve around Jokic getting to a result. This is where the difference in assists comes from. When Duncan passed, it was to make the offense move and continue. In comparison, the system Jokic plays in allows for him to create a resolution, which means when he passes, it's for a teammate to shoot and he is awarded the assists. This is why Jokic is averaging almost double the number of assists Duncan did (6.5 to 3.0 assists).
It is also a known fact that Jokic isn't the best defender, but Jokic actually averages more steals than Duncan, who is considered to be an incredible defender. However, the difference in their stats lies in the era they played in. Duncan mostly played in an era in which it was okay to camp into the paint and bigs did not have to go out and guard in the perimeter. Jokic is put in a different scenario with the rise of high pick-and-roll schemes and with teams hunting for mismatches more than ever before. However, we do have to acknowledge that Duncan in year 15 could still run faster and jump higher than the current Jokic.
Comparing Jokic to Duncan may seem like apples and oranges. Maybe the better question to ask is can Jokic be the next Duncan? I’d have to say yes.
First, it’s rare you see players these days who wanna stay with their team, especially in a small city like Denver. Jokic wants to be there. Duncan stayed in San Antonio for 19 seasons and even became an assistant coach briefly. Can you imagine Nikola asking out of Denver? I don’t think so.
Second, they make people better. Whether on or off the court, they try to uplift the community they are in. Rather than move to a situation that is already set up, they would rather create and build it themselves. That’s why both are beloved in their respective communities.
Lastly, I do believe that despite their confidence that they are great players, they still carry a humble demeanor. They prefer to deflect praise or create humor out of it. Both of them are players that you just want to root for because they have no “yabang”, no antics, and some humor, but mostly they just all-out ball.
The one thing that Jokic needs, of course, is to win a championship. That’s the main thing that’s missing in his resume and winning at least one will make the Duncan comparison even better. Jokic was even quoted as saying he wants to be “the Tim Duncan of the Denver Nuggets.”
At the end of Jokic’s career, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he is in the same conversation with Duncan as one of the greatest bigs the game has ever seen.