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Why isn’t Nikola Jokic playing for Serbia at the 2023 FIBA World Cup?

Serbia is taking on Germany in the final of the 2023 FIBA World Cup and they’re doing it without their biggest star.

Serbia is taking on Germany in the final of the 2023 FIBA World Cup and they’re doing it without their biggest star.
Bill StreicherUSA TODAY Sports

Serbia beat Canada to reach the final at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. They have played solidly throughout the tournament, but coach Svetislav Pesic knew last month that he would be without one of his key players.

Pesic announced his 20-man World Cup roster on July 24, but among the notable absentees was Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. The Joker, Serbia’s star player, was omitted along with Nikola Kalinic, Vladimir Lucic and Vasilije Micic.

So what happened to rule Jokic, the most valuable player in the NBA in 2021 and 2022, out of the tournament?

Pesic explained, “We knew back in June that we couldn’t count on Lucic and Kalinic, as both players informed us about their unavailability due to various physical and mental fatigue issues. With Jokic, we had several conversations, and I must say they were some of the best conversations I’ve had with players who couldn’t make it to the roster. He’s physically and mentally exhausted. He’s not feeling ready to take responsibility at the moment.”

Jovic’s whirlwind season with the Nuggets

Jovic played a total of 89 games for the Nuggets, who lifted their first NBA title in June - 69 in the regular season where he averaged 33.7 minutes per game, and all of the team’s 20 games in the playoffs. In the postseason, he was the second most-used player after Jamal Murray, averaging 39.4 minutes of court time on the way to the final. He averaged 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game during the regular season - figures which he improved on in the playoffs: 30 PPG and 13.5 RPG.

He was denied a third, consecutive MVP by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, even though some felt he deserved it. “I think it was just voter’s fatigue. He’d won it the last two years... This year, it would have been three. I think that was part of the issue,” was the Lakers guard Austin Reaves’ explanation. Embiid got 73 first-place votes, compared to the 15 which Jokic received to finish second and Giannis Antetokounmpo in third.

Jovic is expected to report for duty when the Nuggets begin their training camp in October but in the meantime will be closely following Serbia at the World Cup. Pesic’s team face Puerta Rico on Monday and wrap up the group stage against South Sudan two days later. The top two teams from each group progress to the next round, which means Serbia could face either Italy, the Philippines, Dominican Republic or Angola if they advance.