It seems like his performances in that series had a lasting effect on Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, who recently called the Serbian center the best player in the NBA.
“Yea, they got the best player in basketball,” Russell said during an appearance on Patrick Beverley’s podcast. “They got the best player in basketball on that team. No disrespect to nobody, he’s the best player in the NBA right now. Not even close.”
Russell responded to being asked if he felt that the Nuggets got enough respect across the league after winning last season’s title over the Miami Heat.
During the 2023 Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, Jokic recorded 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds, 11.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 50.6 percent shooting from the field and 47.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc. He wound up winning series MVP honors for his efforts in the four-game sweep.
As for Russell, he had a conference finals to forget against Denver, recording only 6.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest on a rough 32.3 percent shooting from the field and 13.3 percent shooting from downtown. He hit a low point by getting removed from the team’s starting lineup for Game 4 of the series.
Despite a rough ending to the season, Russell re-signed with the Lakers on a two-year, $36 million deal. The Ohio State University product holds a player option for the second year of his contract.
It seems like the starting point guard job is still his entering this season, but offseason acquisition Gabe Vincent reportedly has a “legitimate chance” to steal the position.
Russell hasn’t escaped trade rumors just because he’s gotten a new deal. If Vincent outplays Russell early on in the season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lakers trade away the one-time All-Star in an effort to improve elsewhere.
For now, however, he remains on the Lakers and will likely hope to get another crack at Jokic and the Nuggets. Jokic is coming off another spectacular season, and many thought he should’ve won MVP honors for the third consecutive campaign. However, the award went to Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid instead.
In the end, Jokic got what players tend to value more: an NBA title. He was also named MVP of the Finals, putting up 30.2 points, 14.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game.
Russell surely hopes to be in a situation to win a title of his own with the Lakers this season.