DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets continue to emerge from their three-year hibernation, clinging to the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference.
Beyond the record, hope exists in the youth and talent of their most promising players. When Emmanuel Mudiay plays, the Nuggets boast the NBA's second-youngest starting lineup. They feature seven players 22-years-old or younger. No one brings stares and drops jaws like blossoming center Nikola Jokic.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Serbian earned an invite to the league's Rising Stars game with teammates Mudiay and Murray. However, the 21-year-old might be miscast. He has played like an all-star over the past month, averaging 19.5 points. In his last 10 games, Jokic is scoring 23.5 points with 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
Where many young players would rather pass a kidney stone than pass to a teammate, Jokic relishes sharing.
"He knows where guys are going to be open even before they know they are going to be," Nuggets coach Mike Malone told Denver7 after Thursday's shoot-around prior to a home matchup with the Phoenix Suns. "He does a combination of things well."
Jokic owns a rare skillset. He possesses terrific court vision, anticipates defenses and cutting angles, and remains more focused on winning than scoring.
"When you get a basket, you make yourself happy. When you make a great pass, you make yourself and your teammate happy," said Jokic, who grew up watching highlights from Magic Johnson, among others, that molded his game.
The Nuggets own a three-game home winning streak where they are 11-11 this season. Their 19-25 record requires improvement, but reflects a growing team. Denver sits a half game ahead of Portland for the final playoff spot.
The Nuggets were not predicted to make the postseason this year. However, Jokic's mushrooming talent -- he's more comfortable as a center than a forward -- creates optimism. The Nuggets might get passed, but they are holding steady because of the breathtaking assists from Jokic.
"He's unselfish, and has a very high IQ," Malone said. "And he's very skilled to not only see the floor but to complete the pass."