January 1, 2022
By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Nikola Jokic struggled in the fledgling stages of his National Basketball Association’s (NBA) career when he joined the Denver Nuggets and had to change his diet to become the league’s most valuable player in 2021, the Serbian centre said.
The 26-year old joined the Nuggets from modest Serbian side Mega Basket in 2015 and last season he became the lowest NBA draft pick to win the MVP regular season award averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 assists and 8.3 assists per game.
“I used to drink two or three litres of Coca-cola every day and I had my last can on the flight to the United States, Jokic told Serbia’s Arenasport television in an interview aired on Saturday.
“The first week in practice was tough. All my team mates were more physical and athletic, they could slam-dunk any way you like and I kind of wanted to go home.
“I am now in my seventh NBA season, having warmed the bench in the beginning and then I was given some ‘garbage time’ before I broke into the starting five. It was a process, though I suppose I took the road less travelled.”
Jokic said he only joined the NBA thanks to being shunned by European giants Barcelona during his first season at Mega Basket, who compete in a regional league incorporating teams from the former Yugoslavia.
“They turned up at our home game with Cedevita Zagreb to offer me a move but they put it on hold after I put in a very poor performance,” he said. “Then the Nuggets came and the rest is history.”
Jokic, who boasts exceptional long-range shooting as well as passing and dribbling skills for a 2.11 metres-tall centre, led the Nuggets to last season’s Western Conference finals averaging 29.8 points and 11.6 rebounds in the playoffs.
Having singled out Golden State Warriors’ triple NBA champion Stephen Curry and Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Durant as the league’s most impressive players, Jokic said he never looked up to any of his peers.
“Any of the top 20 players in the league can nail 50 points on you but if you start admiring them and accept that they are better players, you lose your competitive edge.
“I keep saying to everyone, though, if you don’t like Curry you don’t like basketball. Durant, in turn, is the best offensive player in the league. He is unguardable.”
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)