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Was Nikola Jokic's career-high 47 points his most impressive 40+ point game?

Harrison Wind Avatar
January 8, 2020

Nikola Jokic became the 21st player in the NBA this season to score 40 or more points in a game Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks.

Jokic tallied 47 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists in the Nuggets’ 123-115 win. He’s the fifth player (James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, D’Angelo Russell, Trae Young) and the first center to post those totals in a game this season. Jokic is also just the third center in NBA history (Moses Malone and Shaquille O’Neal) to score at least 45 points in a game without committing a turnover (individual turnovers were first recorded in 1977-78.)

It was Jokic’s fifth 40-plus point game of his career. But was it his best 40-plus point game?

Feb. 10 2017: Nuggets 131 Knicks 124

Final stat line: 40 points, 17-23 FG’s (73.9%), 2-3 3FG’s, 4-5 FT’s, 78.3 EFG%, 9 rebounds (4 offensive), 5 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, +19 in 37 minutes

37.3 Game Score, 31.1 USG%, 161 ORtg, 128 DRtg, 33 Net Rating

The Context: The Nuggets were just under two months removed from Dec. 15 2017 when Michael Malone stopped experimenting with Balkan Buddy Ball which involved heavy minutes with Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic playing alongside one another and for a period of time featured Jokic coming off Denver’s bench. Jokic was inserted into the starting lineup for good on Dec. 15 and the rest is history.

The Nuggets went on the lead the league in offense over the rest of the season and Jokic established himself as Denver’s franchise cornerstone going forward. Jokic’s 40 points against the Knicks actually came two days before the Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Trail Blazers. Nurkic played 11 minutes off the bench in this game.

The Game: The Nuggets were actually down double digits in the second quarter. Jokic started out slow, scoring four points in the first quarter before tallying 11 points on a clean 5 of 6 shooting in the second. Jokic then scored 18 of Denver’s 31 third-quarter points and showed off a skill that would establish him as one of the best offensive centers in the league over the next few seasons: his touch.

Jokic knocked in two triples against the Knicks but did most of his work from the midrange and from 5-9 feet away from the basket. He shot 61.9% from that zone in 2016-17, which led the league, and he went 4-4 from that area of the floor versus New York (Jokic also led the league in field goal percentage from 10-14 feet that season.) He got a ton of easy looks this game and the Knicks hardly guarded him in the first quarter. It’s clear Jokic wasn’t a focal point of the opposing scouting report yet.

What Sticks Out: Jokic didn’t have the toughest matchup in this game, a theme in three out of five of Jokic’s 40-plus point performances. His primary defenders were Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez, who both didn’t have a prayer in stopping him. The Knicks were awful this season and went on to finish 31-51 and had the seventh-worst defense in the league, and Jokic, who was just 21-years-old at the time, hardly missed. He posted a 78.3 EFG%, his highest out of his five 40-plus point outings. Wilson Chandler (19 points) was Denver’s second-highest scorer.

Nov. 7 2017: Nuggets 112 Nets 104

Final stat line: 41 points, 16-25 FG’s (64%), 4-9 3FG’s, 5-6 FT’s, 72 EFG%, 12 rebounds (2 offensive), 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, six fouls, +25 in 31 minutes

37.4 Game Score, 36.3 USG%, 145 ORtg, 88 DRtg, 57 Net Rating

The Context: Jokic entered the 2017-18 season with a lot more of a spotlight than he had the year before, and over the Nuggets’ first few games of the year the hype around him continued to build. Jokic tallied 29 points in the Nuggets’ third game of the season and then posted 28 points in New York a few weeks later leading into this matchup against Brooklyn.

The Game: Jokic relied on his jumper against the Nets on a night where no one else on the Nuggets had it going from the perimeter. As a team, the Nuggets shot 9 of 34 from 3-point range and Jokic was responsible for four of those triples. The rest of the Nuggets went just 5-25 (20%) from 3.

This was the most confident Jokic has ever looked with his jumper and for good reason. He shot a career-best 38.7% from 3-point range in 2017-18 and 19 of his 25 field goal attempts in this game came on jumpers from outside the paint. Jokic was launching one-dribble pull-ups from the top of the key, shots he rarely takes now. He was active on the defensive end too and Jokic finished with two steals (and could have gotten credit for one or two more) and two blocks. The Nuggets coasted past the Nets and held a 15-20 point advantage throughout most of the second half.

What Else Sticks Out: Jokic fouled out in just 31 minutes and still broke the 40-point barrier. He picked up his sixth personal with 2:59 remaining in the fourth and the Nuggets leading 108-91. Denver went on to win 112-104. Jokic didn’t have the toughest matchup in this game either and was guarded by Timofey Mozgov, Tyler Zeller, and Quincy Acy who were featured in the frontcourt for a bad Nets team.

Brooklyn finished 28-54 this season and had the 21st-ranked defense. Jokic got a little help from Paul Millsap (17 points) but the rest of the Nuggets really struggled. After the win, Jokic got MVP chants from the Pepsi Center crowd for what was, one of, if not the first time in his career. “That was funny,” he said about the chants after the game.

Jan. 13 2019: Nuggets 116 Trail Blazers 113

Final stat line: 40 points, 15-23 FG’s (65.2%), 4-7 3FG’s, 6-8 FT’s, 73.9 EFG%, 10 rebounds (1 offensive), 8 assists, 3 turnovers, +15 in 37 minutes

33.5 Game Score, 38.3 USG%, 141 ORtg, 118 DRrtg, 23 NetRtg

The Context: The Nuggets were rolling at 29-13 entering this matchup with the Trail Blazers despite three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — missing significant amounts of time due to injury. Harris was still out for this game and Barton had returned but this was just his second game back from a three-month absence. Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig started at shooting guard and small forward and played 37 and 25 minutes respectively.

Denver’s bench consisted of Monte Morris (27 minutes), Mason Plumlee (21 minutes), Barton (14 minutes), Juancho Hernangomez (12 minutes) and Tyler Lydon (six minutes) who the Nuggets would go on to decline their third-year rookie option on a couple months later.

The Game: The Trail Blazers were Jokic’s second-toughest matchup out of these five games after the Spurs. Portland was 26-18 at this point in the season but its defense was around league average and the Trail Blazers finished the season with the 16th-best defense in the league. Nurkic had been a difficult matchup for Jokic in Denver and Portland’s first few meetings after the 2017 trade, but Jokic dominated his former teammate in this game. He went right at Nurkic in the post to open the first quarter and scored the Nuggets’ first six points, which all came as a result of post-ups. Nurkic finished with just 12 points (5-15 FG’s), eight rebounds, and four assists.

This was a close game throughout and Jokic had some help. Jamal Murray finished with 24 points and had a number of key plays down the stretch that helped clinch the win. Murray (nine points) outscored Jokic (eight points) over the game’s final 12 minutes.

What Else Sticks Out: Jokic had a huge game, but registered a Game Score of only 33.5, the lowest of his five 40-plus point games. This was also just Jokic’s fifth-best Game Score of the 2018-19 season, a testament to the gaudy numbers he put up last season. If you’re curious, Jokic’s top Game Score during the 2018-19 season was his perfect triple-double against the Suns when he finished with 35 points (11-11 FG’s, 3-3 3FG’s), 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It’s also his highest Game Score (45.8) to date.

April 5 2019: Spurs 120 Nuggets 103

Final stat line: 43 points, 19-30 FG’s (63.3%), 2-6 3FG’s, 3-4 FT’s, 66.7 EFG%, 12 rebounds (6 offensive), 9 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, -11 in 38 minutes

41.4 Game Score, 39.2 USG%, 140 ORtg, 129 DRtg, 11 NetRtg

The Context: It was Game 6 against the Spurs, Jokic’s first potential closeout game in his first career playoff series. The Nuggets nearly fell behind 0-2 in the series but rallied in Game 2 after trailing by double digits before dropping Game 3, winning Game 4 in San Antonio and Game 5 in Denver. Jokic had been impressive in his first playoff appearance and tallied 29 points in the Nuggets’ Game 4 win but was still looking for his signature moment.

The Game: The Nuggets were forced to dig out of an immediate hole in the first quarter and trailed by 10 entering the second. Jokic and Murray combined to score 21 of the Nuggets’ 36 points in the second before Denver’s big man took over in the third. Jokic tallied 17 points over 11 third-quarter minutes on 8 of 9 shooting but the Nuggets didn’t give him any help the rest of the way. Denver was outscored 30-18 in the fourth (Jokic had 10 of the Nuggets’ 18 in the quarter) and had to wrap up the series at home in Game 7.

What Else Sticks Out: It was Jokic’s first playoff appearance, and against Gregg Popovich and the Spurs in an arena where the Nuggets historically haven’t found much success, Jokic wasn’t fazed. Everything is tougher in the playoffs. It’s tougher to run healthy offense. It’s tougher to get open shots against a more locked in and focused defense. But none of those factors affected Jokic in this performance. He played well enough to close out the Spurs but Denver’s defense didn’t come to play. The Spurs scored a series-high 120 points.

Jan. 6 2019: Nuggets 123 Hawks 115

Final stat line: 47 points, 16-25 FG’s (64%), 4-8 3FG’s, 11-16 FT’s, 72 EFG%, 8 rebounds (4 offensive), 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, +0 in 37 minutes

42.9 Game Score, 38.7 USG%, 155 ORtg, 116 DRtg, 39 NetRtg

The Context: The Nuggets were coming off their worst loss of the season to an undermanned Wizards team and were in desperate need of a win. Meanwhile, the Hawks, who beat the Nuggets at Pepsi Center earlier this year behind Trae Young’s 42 points, entered this matchup at just 8-28 and were losers of 12 of their last 14.

The Game: Jokic established himself in the post from opening tip. He scored 18 points in the first quarter and had 27 at halftime, the most points Jokic has scored in a half in his career. Jokic pummeled Atlanta’s bigs, Bruno Fernando and Alex Len inside all night and shot an efficient 12-17 from two point range.

When Jokic was out on the perimeter, the Hawks backed off and dared him to beat them from beyond the arc. He did just that and went 4-8 from 3-point range. As a team, Denver shot just 9 of 27 (33.3%) from 3 and Jokic’s teammates combined to hit only 5 of 19 (26.3%) of their triples. Jokic got a lot of help from Will Barton (28 points on 12 of 18 shooting), which was the best contributing performance he got from a teammate in any of these five games. He was flat out dominant.

What Else Stood Out: The Hawks like the Knicks and Nets were bad, but Atlanta may have been the worst out of the five that Jokic broke 40 against. Jokic set a new regular-season career high with 42 points with under six minutes remaining and had a great shot at 50. He had his second-highest highest Usage Percentage (38.7%) and highest Game Score (42.9) against the Hawks out of these five games but also was a +/- 0.

The Verdict

1. Forty three points in the playoffs against the Spurs

Scoring 40 points in a playoff game is a big deal — Jokic was one of just eight players to hit 40+ in a playoff game last year — especially when that comes in a potential closeout game against a coach like Popovich in a city where the Nuggets lost 14-straight games entering last year’s playoffs. The stakes, opponent, and how Jokic rose to the occasion elevate this performance above the rest. This wasn’t Jokic’s most efficient night (he recorded the lowest EFG% of his five games of 40+ against the Spurs) but he did garner his second-highest Game Score in a game where he had his highest USG% of the five.

2. Forty seven points against the Hawks

Jokic scored a career-high 47 against Atlanta and although it wasn’t his most efficient performance (his 72 EFG%, a mark which he also registered against the Nets, was tied for the second-lowest out of these five games) him recording his second-highest Usage Percentage and also the highest Game Score versus the Hawks puts this performance here. Jokic got some help from Barton and Monte Morris (14 points off the bench) but that was about it.

3. Forty one points against the Nets

Jokic shot a blistering 19 of 25 on jumpers against Brooklyn. He also played just 31 minutes, which was by far his fewest in these five games.

4. Forty points against the Knicks 

He tallied 40 in The Garden at at just 21-years-old and the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Danilo Gallinari. His 78.3 EFG% against the Knicks was also his highest in these five games.

5. Forty points against the Trail Blazers

Portland was Denver’s most formidable opponent of the five and Jokic was fantastic against the Trail Blazers, but Murray’s 24 points combined with the big plays he made down the stretch put it fifth on this list.


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