On Wednesday night, the San Antonio Spurs got a firsthand look at a potential future star in Michael Porter Jr. and a current All-Star Nikola Jokic. The two players combined for 55 points, 19 rebounds, and 11 assists to help the Nuggets take down the Spurs 132-126. Following the loss to Denver, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gave compliments about both players and even compared one to several all-time greats.
Gregg Popovich Praises Nuggets’ Porter, Jokic After Loss
Being the humble, respectful coach that he’s known to be throughout his career, it was no surprise that Popovich gave praise for the Nuggets players. When asked about Porter Jr. and Jokic, Pop told the media postgame, “Porter’s, you know, he’s a fine young talent. And Jokic is like a reincarnation of Larry Bird. He does everything, he’s amazing.”
That’s a strong comparison from Pop, but witnessing Jokic’s abilities firsthand clearly gave him a reason to make the statement. The Nuggets All-Star had 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting including a 3-for-5 rate from three-point range. He also dished out 11 assists for his team in their six-point win and grabbed four boards.
As part of another reply, Pop gave another comment comparing Jokic to a different legend.
“He’s Moses Malone, you know he’s down there, he jumps about, you know a quarter of an inch, and he taps it two or three times then he gets it, he lays it back in,” Pop said.
Back in 1996, both Larry Bird and Moses Malone were named to the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list. As of 2020, ESPN ranked Moses Malone No. 18 and Bird at No. 7 on their best players of all-time.
Heading into the NBA restart, they ranked the 50 best players for Orlando. Nikola Jokic cracked the top 10, ranking at No. 9 overall. That’s certainly telling, and there’s no doubt Popovich may even be secretly recruiting him with his latest comments.
The Serbian star still has a ways to go to catch up in terms of the stats and achievements of both all-time greats. He’s been in the league since 2015 with Denver and already achieved two All-Star appearances. For his career, Jokic has almost 6,400 points along with 3,632 rebounds and 2,059 assists. Add in 419 steals and 265 blocks for what is a great start to his career.
The Nuggets are off to a 2-1 start in the bubble and currently third overall in the Western Conference. However, they trail the Los Angeles Clippers for No. 2 seed by just a half game now.
Pop Comments on Spurs Players’ Development
In the Spurs’ loss, several of the team’s younger players had notable performances. Second year Spurs power forward Drew Eubanks came off the bench to play 18 minutes. He’d contribute 12 points and haul in five boards. Keldon Johnson also contributed from the bench with 20 points, six rebounds, and two assists.
“I think so. Players develop with minutes for sure,” Pop said when asked if this was a best-case scenario for Johnson to get experience.
“He’s worked hard, the opportunity came and he’s certainly taken advantage of it and done a really good job,” the Spurs coach commented.
Another question for Pop brought up younger Spurs players and how having to face Jokic could help their development.
Pop agreed. “They’ve never seen anything like that. You know he’s stepping out and making threes, he’s rebounding the ball, you know there should be an NBA rule you can’t tap it yourself,” the Spurs coach joked.
The firsthand experience was part of what Popovich called his team’s main goal for the NBA restart. Rather than chasing the No. 8 playoff seed, which the Spurs were doing well until the past few games, Pop said he’d be more focused on the development of his players.
Without former All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge down low to handle someone like Jokic, it certainly gave other talents a chance to gain some experience.
However, when you’re drawing comparisons to Larry Legend and Moses Malone, it definitely makes for some tough assignments for those newer San Antonio Spurs players. Tough love, right?