Jokic, the NBA’s One True Unicorn

After Game 2 of the NBA Finals, in which the Heat gave the Nuggets their first home loss of the postseason, it appears that we're in for a championship series of six games or longer. That's longer than some people assumed it would go, but no one who's watched Miami the last two months should be surprised by a competitive Finals.

As of writing time, before Game 3 on Wednesday, it looks like the Heat could be further bolstered by the return of Tyler Herro, their third-best player in the regular season. Regardless of the lineups Erik Spoelstra plays and Herro's availability, Miami is not going to be toppled without a heroic fight.

Despite losing home-court advantage for now, Denver is still favored to win the Finals. This much is certain, however: if the Nuggets can't win three more games, it won't be because two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic didn't show up.

In Game 1, Jokic put up a 27-point triple-double, his ninth triple-double in the postseason. In Game 2, when Miami took some of his passing game away and stayed at home on Denver's role players, the Serb scored 41 points on 16-of-28 shooting.

After some unfair discussions and doubt during the regular season about his ability to deliver at the biggest moments, Jokic has made it clear that he's both the best player in the league and its most unstoppable.

But on top of that, I think he's also the most unique player in the league.

About a decade ago, the "unicorn" term started to be used to describe young, freakish players like Kevin Durant who, at center-like heights, were able to use a full array of basketball skills that we'd never seen from players at that size. As Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, and Joel Embiid began to thrive in the pace-and-space NBA, it became more fashionable to use the term.

Maybe we'll hear the term more as 7-foot-4 Victor Wembanyama enters the league for the Spurs as an offensive talent that can create, score, shoot, and might be a top-five rim protector as a rookie. But the unicorn term lost meaning as it became clear that not only were there several of these players, but that there would continue to be talents that didn't fit the mold of past generations as the new era of basketball evolved.

With Jokic, it's easiest to point to his assist numbers and passing as the thing that makes him the most unique. And while that's part of the truth, it's a bit too simplistic. After all, throughout NBA history, there have been excellent passers from the 5, going all the way back from Wilt Chamberlain to Jokic's counterpart in the Finals, Bam Adebayo. But Jokic has a level of court vision that few others in NBA history — center, guard, or forward — can match.

This play from the second quarter of Finals Game 2 is one of hundreds of examples I could pick of Jokic knowing where the best pass is and it immediately paying off with an easy shot and two points.

Jokic wasn't one of the very best passers in the league during his first couple years, but that potential could be seen from the get-go. In the past few seasons, after improving his conditioning, scoring, and ability to take over games, he's gone from a solid all-star to a two-time MVP, and a top-10 center all-time if he can win a championship.

But the biggest feather in the cap of Jokic truly being a "1 of 1" edition is simply in asking the question, "Is it possible that we'll see another player like him?" And I think the answer is a strong "probably not." After all, Jokic plays a position that is historically the most significant in NBA history, and with apologies to Bill Walton and Arvydas Sabonis, we've never seen the combination of playmaking, shooting, and scoring like this in the middle. Meanwhile, it seems much more likely in today's game that we'll eventually see players who roughly approximate the talents of Durant, Giannis, Embiid, and Steph Curry.

And although Jokic has now been an All-NBA fixture for about half a decade, it's worth remembering that he just turned 28 in February. There's a lot more of his career to be written. Regardless of whether the Nuggets win the title in about a week, I hope basketball fans can appreciate Jokic as a supreme talent and something we might not come close to seeing again.

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