Will Nikola Jokic crack the top 10 in fantasy this season?

Nikola Jokic is having a fine season, but what would it take for him to join the top 10 the rest of the way? Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

Last season, Nikola Jokic had an outstanding sophomore campaign in the NBA, turning in a top-20 fantasy performance by ranking 18th on the Player Rater, but can he crack the top 10 this season?

Here is how his Player Rater categories break down, comparing 2016-17 with his production so far this season.

John Wall was the gatekeeper of the top 10 on the Player Rater last season, with a score of +14.1. However, Jokic was very young, at only 21 years of age, and he didn't solidify his starting job for the Denver Nuggets until around the midway point, so there was a legitimate line of thought that Jokic would make himself into a top-10 player this season.

However, Jokic ranks in almost the exact same space thus far this season, coming in at 17th on the Player Rater, based on averages, with a score of +10.7. The current gatekeeper to the top 10 is Damian Lillard, with a score of +12.7.

Looking at Jokic's Player Rater footprint for this season, the biggest drop from last season is in field goal percentage, which is down from 57.8 last season (good for +3.61 in the Rater) to 47.4 this season (+0.55 in the Rater). Jokic is up roughly 0.5 Player Rater points on average across each of FT%, 3PM, REB, AST and STL. He is roughly similar but down less than 0.2 Player Rater points in both BLK and PTS.

All told, if Jokic were currently replicating his Rater score for field goal percentage with the rest of his stats constant, he would be ninth on the Player Rater, just ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns. But since the time scales are so long for each season, it seems unlikely that merely hot or cold shooting could explain such a big drop in field goal percentage.

Let's look a bit more closely at what happened as we try to determine how realistic Jokic's quest for the top 10 in the Player Rater actually is.

Per Second Spectrum, Jokic's shot types and efficiency per shot type can be broken down to help identify where his scoring efficiency has dropped this season.

A few areas stand out to me:

1. Jokic's eFG% on both standstill layups (-14.0 eFG%) and driving layups (-12.7 eFG%) is down dramatically this season.

2. Similarly, his eFG% when posting up on either the left (-19.8 eFG%) or the right (-14.5 eFG%) is down dramatically this season.

3. He is shooting relatively more jumpers (increase in percentage of shots that are catch-and-shoot or catch-and-shoot relocating) than he did last season.

These trends could be largely explained by Jokic adopting more of a perimeter-based, high-post, offensive-hub role this season while playing with scoring guards more than true point guards. Jokic's style helps the Nuggets in real life because it allows them to play two scoring guards in the backcourt in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

However, because neither is a true point guard, this has a negative impact on Jokic's shooting percentages because:

1. He isn't being set up as well in positions where he can attack the basket and/or score.

2. He isn't getting the ball where he likes it in the post to allow him to launch into his moves.

3. He's spending more time on the perimeter and taking more jumpers, which are less efficient shots on the whole.

As a result, Jokic is doing more creating and having less created for him, plus defenses are focusing more on him this season than they were when he was a relative novelty last season.

When we put these things together, it seems unlikely that Jokic is going to have a renaissance in his scoring efficiency any time soon. Thus, the question becomes, can he reach top-10 status in a realistic way without the efficiency?

To answer that question, let's look at how Jokic measures on the Player Rater over the past month, as his role has seemingly solidified during this stretch:

As it turns out, the breakdown of the past month is promising. Jokic's ability to distribute the ball at a high volume (7.3 APG during the past month from the center slot) and incremental net improvements in the other counting categories were enough to get him into the top 10 on the Rater, all other things being equal.

His field goal percentage (43.7 FG%) and free throw percentage (79.4 FT%) are both down the past month, but the field goal percentage seems unsustainably poor for a center, even with his more perimeter-based role. Plus, his free throw percentage is below his career average by a few percentage points and is therefore likely to eventually revert to the mean.

Thus, despite his averaging only 16.5 PPG this season and 17.8 PPG during the past month (lower than the magical 20 PPG threshold), Jokic has enough all-around game in his current role to threaten for a top-10 ranking on the Player Rater, as long as he is able to maintain this level of output while mildly improving his shooting percentages in ways that seem realistic.

Barring injury, Jokic has a reasonable likelihood to have for the rest of the season the top-10 value that he was drafted to have.