Nikola Jokić is the first center to have 18+ assists in a game since ’68
BEST PASSING CENTER EVER

Nikola Jokić is the first center to have 18+ assists in a game since ’68

Nikola Jokić is the best center in the game right now, period. What Jokić did last night illustrates how many ways the man who brought us the Sombor Shuffle impacts the game. 19 points, 12 rebounds, 18 assists, 3 steals, 1 block. The last center to dish out 18 assists in a game wouldn’t be most people’s top guess.

The top 15 assists performances by a center in NBA history are shared between Nikola Jokić and Wilt Chamberlain. If there was ever a doubt who the best passing big man ever was, that doubt is gone. In an era of pace and space, perimeter play, and shooting more threes than layups, Jokić is the fulcrum of a deadly, dynamic offense. No-one is surprised Jokić is on that list, but Wilt Chamberlain? Wasn’t he the selfish 100 point guy?

Well, yes he was. In a way, Wilt was like Kobe. When asked about taking a lot of shots in 11/12, Kobe said, “What was I supposed to do? Pass it into Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown?” Wilt had a similar situation for most of his career. It’s not that he couldn’t pass and create for others – Wilt chose not to.

Convinced he was doing the right thing, Wilt would get very annoyed by the media constantly criticizing snd questioning his style of play, most often described as selfish. Wilt would lead in stats, and Russell would win titles. So after winning a title in ’67 by playing a more team-oriented basketball style, Wilt decided to lead the league in assists. 

“A couple of times he went to a teammate with a hot hand and told him he was going to give him the ball exclusively because the other guys were wasting his passes and he wouldn’t win the assist title that way.”

Bill Libby, Goliath

Wilt’s selfishness was a symptom of his obsession with stats. Chasing the assists title was just another form of that and equally problematic for building a winning team environment and culture. Shooters playing with LeBron can relate – there’s a limited number of open shots you get to miss before getting traded. 

That’s why Jokić’s stats are more impressive to me. He’s doing it within the flow of the game, not making the game about his numbers. Being a non-athletic international player, Jokić and Denver still don’t get the props they deserve. If he goes on, Nikola could be your dark-horse MVP candidate.