Nikola Jovic more than a name
There is an obsession with versatility and length in the NBA today.
Orlando Magic fans need not know about this. They don’t need another conference on length, the ability to defend multiple positions, and all the rest of the binding projects.
The league has undoubtedly moved in that direction.
It’s basketball without a position. The only positions that matter are the positions you can defend. This is the purpose of each project. The players who skyrocket the draft boards are the ones who show they can check off multiple boxes on the checklist.
It’s leading to more and more incredible players – and incredibly talented players – entering the league and redefining what’s valuable.
If there was a super strong case for picking Chet Holmgren with the first overall pick, it’s that versatility and collection of skills that draws everyone in. He is not alone of course. The league is looking for players like him.
They won’t let another Nikola Jokic slip through the cracks. Offensively, teams are ready to rethink how they create their offense and how they use these players with non-traditional skills.
It is certainly a more qualified league than ever. And bigger players have to be able to do more and more.
That’s why Nikola Jovic cemented his first-round status. The NBA won’t let another Jokic slip through the cracks anymore. And Jovic will take advantage of it.
Nikola Jovic is an intriguing big prospect who plays like a guard and has all the skill and versatility the league loves. Jovic is more than his name and someone to watch.
He’s a 6ft 10in Serbian striker who can seemingly do it all offensively. He averaged 12.0 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game in all competitions for MEGA Basket. He shot 33.3% from beyond the arc in all competitions.
He moved from the junior team to the senior team last year, averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 35.6% from beyond the arc in 27.8 minutes per game once he got there.
In 2021, at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup, he averaged 18.1 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game, leading Serbia to a fourth-place finish. Of note in this tournament, he scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in the semi-final loss to France (he missed all six of his 3-pointers and, of note, Victor Wembanyana only played nine minutes in the match).
The numbers don’t quite reflect what makes Jovic so special.
Jovic is truly a bodyguard to a great man. He is adept at attacking the basket on the dribble and performing closeouts. This is where his athleticism really comes into play. He can finish hard with a dunk or create lay-ups with a touch around the basket.
His movement is super smooth for a guy his size and he drives fast and decisive when the lane opens up for him.
But he really has all the skills of a goalkeeper. He is good at creating his own shot from the dribble. He displayed plenty of stepping back and dribbling moves to create shots and highlights.
His teams used him as a keeper. So even in a world where there are no positions, Jovic still stands out. He would be ordinary if he was 6 feet 6 inches tall. But because he’s 6-foot-10, he stands out.
All eyes are on him and this helps to highlight his flaws.
Jovic is good at creating for himself. But he still needs to improve as a passer and playmaker. Teams have run him in limited pick and rolls and he has all the passing tools and abilities. But it’s something he will have to continue to develop.
His 3-point shot also shows plenty of clues to be there. But the percentages still need to increase. But he has all these abilities.
Offensively, Jovic can do anything. Or at least it can potentially do anything. And that’s the part that’s super exciting for Jovic.
But there are the other parts of his game that are concerning. Especially defensively.
Jovic is known in draft circles for being a negative defender – not just a bad defender, but a really bad defender. There just isn’t much to get excited about him defensively.
He averaged 0.5 blocks per game in all competitions last year. So it’s a big one that’s not a great shot blocker.
It’s good, he basically played guard. But the tape isn’t soft either.
He was beaten by the dribble as he struggled to switch hips and keep changes in direction. Faster guards just blew it and drove to the basket at will. Jovic is not able to stay ahead of smaller and faster players.
Bypassing the screens, Jovic struggled to anticipate the screens and work around them while staying connected to his man. It constantly lagged and was unable to keep up with players when they showed up on screens.
He’s a bit better on the ball where his size causes problems on the perimeter and closes passing lanes. But Jovic needs to improve as a ball defender and perimeter defender.
The NBA is a bit bigger and the league will likely use him as a forward rather than a guard like they did for their club team. He’s probably slipping as a stretch-4 in the NBA. But it would still be up to the teams to keep him in the perimeter.
In a league that is increasingly filled with oversized players doing what guards do, it seems useful to have more size on the ball and more ability to get bigger with skilled players. The Magic certainly believe in that philosophy given the players they’ve drafted.
Jovic fits this modern philosophy. Teams will have a lot of fun playing with it by placing it in different places on the floor. He is more than capable as an offensive player of attacking the basket and scoring as a group. If his 3-point shooting continues to improve, he can make teams pay deep.
But in the NBA, your position is who you can defend. And that’s the biggest question for Jovic.
Can he improve his defense enough to play the field himself and take advantage of his attacking skills? Those offensive skills are impressive, but the question will be whether they stand out as much in the NBA as they did in Eurobasket and its home league in Serbia.
Defense is the key to everything. And Jovic can’t be that negative on the pitch defensively. This is why a player who has a clear offensive talent for the lottery is considered in the 20s in this draft class (a relatively weak draft class at that).
Jovic fits the modern NBA for his versatility. He is a bodyguard for an attacker and that will serve him well. It is an offensive trait sought by the NBA.
The question will be how Jovic fits in with the rest of the puzzle.