Serge Ibaka opts out of Toronto Raptors’ $25m contract extension

The return of one of the most superlative long-shot Finals heroes of all time is not only a big deal in Los Angeles but also nationwide. Nuggets guard/forward Nikola Jokic said on Wednesday he…

Serge Ibaka opts out of Toronto Raptors' $25m contract extension

The return of one of the most superlative long-shot Finals heroes of all time is not only a big deal in Los Angeles but also nationwide.

Nuggets guard/forward Nikola Jokic said on Wednesday he has returned to practice at a level that is “probably at the top of my game”. OK, but is it really?

Of the NBA’s six highest-paid players, Jokic’s is the second highest by per-game salary ($6.2m) on average. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the player with the best per-game average, with his 22.5 average.

Jokic puts up the second highest average (7.9) of players who make $10m or more, behind only Golden State Warriors teammate Draymond Green ($13.6m).

Jokic and Green have good, young and consistent guard play. Green is 10th in the league in steals (2.9 per game), Jokic has never thrown out a turnover in the NBA season’s opening week.

The biggest difference is efficiency: Green shoots nearly 38% from the floor, Jokic nearly 42%, putting them both in the top 20.

Jokic’s steals differential is -0.1, fourth-best in the league, while Green is over 0.5, eighth.

Green has the least steal differential among players who make more than $7m, dropping the same amount of points (66) against opponents over the year.

Since 2013-14, Jokic’s numbers are clear: 19th-best defensive rating, 4th-best block percentage, 6th-best steal percentage. Green is 21st and tied for 7th, with a -5.2 rating (where the team is winning 50% of its defensive possessions).

If the trend holds, Jokic will be the league’s best defensive guard this season.

Jokic is the seventh-highest-paid centre. Michael Beasley of the Miami Heat, the only NBA player with a higher salary than him, averaged 21.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game on the season’s opening night. He’s got (at least) a starting spot for opening night, if not the regular season

His game is on fire. His name will be in conversations about the NBA’s all-time best centres – and he’s a clear favourite to win Defensive Player of the Year.

What remains to be seen is if Jokic, with his versatility, gives Denver the sort of dynamism that their superstar frontcourt are lacking at times.

Whatever the price tag, Jokic is clearly an asset.

But as the NBA teeters at the nether reaches of its lock-it-up-and-die approach to high-priced free agents, I don’t think it’s implausible to suggest that the payday is worth more than some guy with about one-half of Jokic’s efficiency.

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