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When was Nikola Jokic drafted? How the Nuggets landed the future MVP in a draft day steal

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When was Nikola Jokic drafted? How the Nuggets landed the future MVP in a draft day steal

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic made history Tuesday night when he was named the NBA MVP for the 2020-21 season.

Jokic became the lowest-drafted player to come away with the award. The Denver star also became the first center to win MVP since Shaquille O’Neal earned the honor in 2000.

The announcement was a moment two decades in the making for Jokic and the centers of the NBA. But it was also a reminder of how impactful second-round picks can be in the NBA Draft and how some talented players can slip.

When was Jokic drafted? And why did he last so long? Here’s a look at how the Nuggets were able to scoop up an MVP-caliber player so late in the 2014 NBA Draft.

MORE: Jokic’s MVP season was about much more than durability

When was Nikola Jokic drafted?

Nikola Jokic was selected with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He was selected one pick after Glenn Robinson III and one pick ahead of Nick Johnson.

At the time, not much was known about Jokic, an 18-year-old playing in the Adriatic League and, later, the Serbian League. He had averaged 11.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 25 Adrian League contests, but he wasn’t considered a big-time prospect.

In fact, the announcement of Jokic’s selection wasn’t even aired during ESPN’s coverage of the 2014 draft. His name simply popped up on the bottom line during a Taco Bell commercial.

Several prospects have that happen to them each year, but usually the network cuts back for the announcements of the bigger names in the draft. Jokic, an unknown, was not considered one of them.

NBA AWARDS: List of winners for MVP, ROY and more

Why was Nikola Jokic drafted so low?

Jokic lasted so long for myriad reasons that Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly explained in a 2019 interview. But the top issue seemed to be his body type.

“It’s such an inexact science,” Connelly said of the draft, per the Denver Post. “Nikola, up to that point, his professional numbers (in Europe) had not been something that would jump off the page, and certainly the body type is one that it’s easy to have questions about.”

Indeed, Jokic’s lack of athleticism and strength were a talking point in his early NBA seasons, but he has largely overcome them to turn into an MVP-caliber player.

But what made Denver willing to take a chance on him?

“We thought about past drafts of teams that missed on guys like him,” Connelly said on Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan. “Like Marc Gasol wasn’t exactly Adonis (a Greek mythological figure known for his physique) when he was selected in the second round and he turned into a great player. So, all of these things come into play and then you say, well, he’s an elite passer, he’s got great feel for the game.”

Certainly, that passing ability has translated to the NBA. And his “feel for the game” seems to be what led Denver to express interest in Jokic.

It’s a good thing they did. Jokic was ready to withdraw from the draft before the Nuggets gave him a promise that they would use the 41st selection on him. That sealed his entry into the 2014 draft and allowed the Nuggets to land him.

MORE: Why Derrick Rose received one first-place MVP vote

Who went ahead of Nikola Jokic in the 2014 NBA Draft?

Overall, 40 players went ahead of Jokic and, retrospectively, it’s hard to argue that any should’ve gone ahead of him. MVP runner-up Joel Embiid probably has the best case, if you want to have that argument.

However, Jokic leads the ’14 draft class with 64.4 career win shares, a metric that estimates the number of the wins created by a specific player, and it isn’t particularly close. The second-place man in the draft, Clint Capela, is nearly 20 win shares behind Jokic.

Of the 60 players selected in the ’14 draft, 25 players lasted three or fewer seasons in the NBA. Of those 25, 10 players went ahead of Jokic, including DeAndre Daniels, the 37th overall pick who never played in the NBA.

Here’s a full look at the 2014 NBA Draft, including the player selected at each spot and their total win shares for their career.

Pick Team Player Win Shares
1 Cavaliers Andrew Wiggins 18.9
2 Bucks Jabari Parker 13.5
3 76ers Joel Embiid 31.6
4 Magic Aaron Gordon 23.6
5 Jazz Dante Exum 3.1
6 Celtics Marcus Smart 24
7 Lakers Julius Randle 28.3
8 Kings Nik Stauskas 3.8
9 Hornets Noah Vonleh 9.2
10 76ers Elfrid Payton 15.9
11 Nuggets Doug McDermott 17.7
12 Magic Dario Šarić 16.4
13 Timberwolves Zach LaVine 17.8
14 Suns T.J. Warren 19.6
15 Hawks Adreian Payne -0.6
16 Bulls Jusuf Nurkić 19.7
17 Celtics James Young 0.8
18 Suns Tyler Ennis 1.3
19 Bulls Gary Harris 18.6
20 Raptors Bruno Caboclo 1.5
21 Thunder Mitch McGary 1.3
22 Grizzlies Jordan Adams 0.4
23 Jazz Rodney Hood 16.7
24 Hornets Shabazz Napier 8.1
25 Rockets Clint Capela 44.5
26 Heat P.J. Hairston 0.9
27 Suns Bogdan Bogdanović 12.5
28 Clippers C.J. Wilcox 0.1
29 Thunder Josh Huestis 0.7
30 Spurs Kyle Anderson 23.5
31 Bucks Damien Inglis -0.1
32 76ers K.J. McDaniels 1.3
33 Cavaliers Joe Harris 20
34 Knicks Cleanthony Early -0.6
35 Jazz Jarnell Stokes 0.6
36 Bucks Johnny O’Bryant 0.2
37 Raptors DeAndre Daniels
38 Pistons Spencer Dinwiddie 18.4
39 76ers Jerami Grant 25.8
40 Timberwolves Glenn Robinson III 7.9
41 Nuggets Nikola Jokić 64.4
42 Rockets Nick Johnson -0.1
43 Hawks Edy Tavares 0.2
44 Timberwolves Markel Brown 1.1
45 Hornets Dwight Powell 29.8
46 Wizards Jordan Clarkson 18.1
47 76ers Russ Smith -0.2
48 Bucks Lamar Patterson 0.1
49 Bulls Cameron Bairstow -0.1
50 Suns Alec Brown
51 Knicks Thanasis Antetokounmpo 0.9
52 76ers Vasilije Micić
53 Timberwolves Alessandro Gentile
54 76ers Nemanja Dangubić
55 Heat Semaj Christon 0.1
56 Nuggets Devyn Marble -0.3
57 Pacers Louis Labeyrie
58 Spurs Jordan McRae 1.7
59 Raptors Xavier Thames
60 Spurs Cory Jefferson 0.9

Suffice to say that the Nuggets made out like bandits in getting Jokic.

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Chris Paul, NBA Twitter react to Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk in Suns vs. Clippers

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Chris Paul, NBA Twitter react to Deandre Ayton's game-winning dunk in Suns vs. Clippers

Deandre Ayton was the hero for the Suns in their Game 2 win over the Clippers.

With less than a second left on the clock, the Suns were down one point and had just 0.9 seconds to get a shot off. Jae Crowder inbounded the ball on the baseline under the Suns’ basket and found Ayton cutting to the hoop.

Ayton threw it down. The play took just 0.2 seconds off the clock and sealed the 104-103 win for the Suns.

Here’s a look at the amazing finish.

Ayton and Crowder deserve a bulk of the credit, but Devin Booker had an impact on the finish as well. His physical screen on Ivica Zubac — who is seven inches taller and 35 pounds heavier than Booker — gave Ayton just enough space to get open off the cut and throw down the dunk.

And Booker put his body on the line despite playing with a bloodied nose that required stitches after an inadvertent hit from Patrick Beverley earlier in the game.

The Suns’ finish thrilled Phoenix fans as well as the team’s star point guard Chris Paul, who missed his second straight game in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He took time to celebrate the victory on Twitter and praised coach Monty Williams for his “big-time play call.”

Indeed, it was a nice play call, and Williams made sure Ayton was prepared to dunk immediately after catching the ball.

“DA — if he throws it, you gotta try to dunk it,” Williams said. “Okay?”

Ayton was ready and obliged. As a result of his make, NBA Twitter erupted and celebrated the exciting end to yet another tightly-contested playoff battle. 

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How Suns perfectly executed game-winning play — and why goaltending didn’t apply on Deandre Ayton’s dunk

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How Suns perfectly executed game-winning play — and why goaltending didn't apply on Deandre Ayton's dunk

Back in December 2017, the Suns and Grizzlies found themselves in a down-to-the-wire contest. Phoenix had the ball with just 0.6 seconds on the clock and the game tied at 97.

So what did then-Suns coach Jay Triano do? He unveiled a play that he had kept in his back pocket for years.

MORE: Chris Paul reacts to Deandre Ayton’s game-winning dunk

While standing on the sideline near the Grizzlies’ bench, Dragan Bender threw a pass toward Tyson Chandler that floated directly above the rim, giving Chandler the opportunity to slam it through the bottom of the net. Wait, you can do that?

“You cannot goaltend a ball that isn’t going to count,” Triano told reporters after the game.

More than three years later, Triano’s words were once again ringing throughout Phoenix Suns Arena. Coach Monty Williams drew up a similar play on Tuesday night, and his players executed it perfectly to give the Suns a stunning 104-103 win over the Clippers and a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals.

Look at this beauty:

OK, let’s break down what NBA TV’s Matt Winer called “The Valley Oop.” (Great work, Matt).

First, notice the positioning of DeMarcus Cousins. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue made a smart move by putting Cousins on Jae Crowder in order to make an inbound pass more difficult, but Cousins is squared up to Crowder, opening up the passing lane Crowder needs.

As for the action in the paint, Devin Booker sets a terrific screen on Ivica Zubac, allowing Deandre Ayton to break free. Could Nicolas Batum have bumped Ayton and recovered? Possibly, but he is understandably concerned with leaving Booker.

(NBA)

Once Ayton gets a step on Zubac running toward the basket, it’s on Crowder to put the ball in a spot in which Ayton can score. As you can see from the angle below, Crowder just narrowly avoids the backboard. The placement here is simply incredible.

“That’s definitely Jae’s game-winner,” Ayton said after the game.

deandre ayton suns play
(NBA)

Now, you may still be asking, “But why isn’t that a goaltending violation?”

As the NBA explained in its Last Two Minute Report from that December 2017 game, “Goaltending rules do not apply because (Chandler) makes contact with the ball off of a throw-in and not a live ball that has already legally been touched on the playing court.” Scott Foster, who served as the crew chief on Tuesday, offered the same explanation when asked about Ayton’s dunk.

Sometimes less than a second can be all the time in the world. Just ask any Suns fan.

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Clippers’ Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

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Clippers' Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

The box score from Tuesday’s Suns-Clippers game — a pivotal Game 2 win for Phoenix in the Western Conference finals — will show Paul George had a decent game.

Twenty-six points, on 10-of-23 shooting; six assists; six rebounds; and 5-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. He also scored his team’s last six points, all within the last minute, to help the Clippers to a 103-102 lead with just 8.2 seconds remaining.

The only stats that ultimately mattered in the Clippers’ 104-103 loss, however, were the final two free throws George — a career 84.7-percent free throw shooter — missed. They ultimately allowed Phoenix a chance at an unbelievable comeback victory, which may prove costly even as the series heads back to LA.

NBA MOCK DRAFT 2021: Who will Pistons, Rockets take with top picks?

Had George sunk both of those shots, the Suns would have needed a 3-pointer just to send the game to overtime. Had he sunk even one shot, they would have needed a 2-pointer. But he missed both, allowing the Suns to win on an inbound dunk with less than a second remaining:

Credit to Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and the Suns. That play will go down as one of the top plays in NBA playoffs history. But every heartbreaking loss needs a goat, and no one fits the bill better than “Playoff P,” who could have secured a win for his team with the simplest of basketball scoring plays.

Here’s the bright side for the Clippers, if there is one: They have already overcome 2-0 deficits in each of their first two series against the Mavericks and Jazz, respectively. That’s likely a cold comfort as George and Co. head back to LA, however. The scathing Twitter comments aimed at George likely won’t do anything to help, either:

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