Nikola Jokic has been the talk of the NBA these last few weeks. I mean the man just scored 40 points grabbed 9 rebounds and assisted on 5 buckets against the New York Knicks. He’s making reporters and announcers everywhere second guess “The Unicorn” tag placed on Kristaps Porzingis (although I like Jokic’s “The Joker” better). Ever since inserting him into the starting lineup on December 15th, 27 games ago (14-13), the Nuggets have been only trailing the offensive juggernauts over in Golden State as they are second in offensive efficiency. Nikola Jokic has jump started their offense in a way no one could have guessed. Every player who has shared the court with the young center has benefitted from his above-average court vision and passing ability. The Nuggets are 11.4 points better with the Joker on the court and they don’t seem to be slowing down. Here’s a breakdown of the Nuggets’ numbers and a closer look as to how he positively affects his teammates when he’s rolling. According to Basketball-Reference.com, The Nuggets up their assists % by nearly 10% with Jokic on the court. Their offensive rating increases from 106.5 to 117.1. 66 times this season, Jokic has been featured in a 3 man lineup that has shot at least 50% from the field (minimum 20 minutes played and 10 field goals attempted combined).
The Joker’s Individual Progress
Nikola Jokic has shown the ability to play with anyone on the court (not named Jusuf Nurkic). His season averages seem to be going up every game as he is now up to 15.5 points 8.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists on the season. He’s shooting 58.5% from the field and a respectable 34.7% from beyond the arc. Jokic holds a PER of 26.2! Which is ridiculous for a second year player who came off of the bench for a significant part of the season. Nikola Jokic became the first player to score 40 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and dish out 5 assists in a single game since Carmelo Anthony who achieved the milestone vs the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010.
Denver Nuggets’ Progress
Nikola Jokic has not only revived the team as a whole, he has also brought out the best in Nuggets’ long time power forward Kenneth Faried.
|Net (Per 100 Poss)|
|1||K. Faried | N. Jokic||DEN||329:08||+5.0||+3.9||+.033||+1.0||+1.6||+.015||+.036||+3.9||+6.1||-.038||+14.9|
|2||N. Jokic | E. Mudiay||DEN||613:07||-0.6||-5.8||+.025||+0.3||-0.8||+.024||+.031||+5.6||+6.9||+.009||+4.3|
|3||D. Gallinari | N. Jokic||DEN||721:05||+0.4||-3.5||+.024||+1.4||+1.8||+.027||+.033||+6.4||+7.0||+.046||+8.3|
|4||G. Harris | N. Jokic||DEN||486:29||-0.5||-0.4||-.003||+1.2||+3.7||-.008||+.004||+5.0||+5.5||+.029||+4.8|
|5||W. Chandler | N. Jokic||DEN||685:03||-2.1||+0.1||-.023||+1.0||+4.5||-.024||-.018||+2.5||+2.0||+.037||-0.6|
|6||N. Jokic | J. Nelson||DEN||600:26||+0.7||+5.8||-.023||+2.9||+6.7||+.020||-.011||+2.9||+3.0||+.021||+7.2|
|7||W. Barton | N. Jokic||DEN||383:16||-0.9||+2.9||-.025||+2.2||+3.8||+.036||-.014||+3.9||+6.1||-.042||+3.7|
|8||N. Jokic | J. Murray||DEN||410:36||-0.7||+4.9||-.033||+2.5||+6.8||+.013||-.021||+0.3||-0.5||+.024||+1.5|
|9||J. Hernangomez | N. Jokic||DEN||171:19||-2.4||+2.2||-.037||+0.7||+3.1||-.008||-.034||+1.8||+4.1||-.061||-2.3|
|10||D. Arthur | N. Jokic||DEN||113:13||-8.5||-0.8||-.089||+4.4||+9.6||+.022||-.064||+1.6||+1.6||+.020||-10.9|
With the revitalized play of Faried the Nuggets will most likely second guess shopping the big man as they have been shopping him. The emergence of Jokic has changed the game for the Nuggets as they now have a player with enough visual star potential to build their roster. Early on this season and all of last season, NBA experts were reporting that the Nuggets had no identity and that it would be hard for them to choose a direction for the team without having a star caliber player to build around. They decided to start the season featuring both of their big men Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic but that quickly fell through. The Nuggets then decided to bring Jokic off of the bench with help from the big man as he willingly volunteered to come off of the bench. That decision had fans asking for head coach Mike Malone to be released from his duties as head coach.
Reported recently by many sources, the Nuggets have been dangling players such as Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Emmanuel Mudiay and Jusuf Nurkic in trade talks. What does this mean? It means the team knows what they would like to do with their roster. They want to get younger but don’t want to lose too much experience as they believe within the next few seasons they have a shot at making a deep post-season run. They have found their identity, and that identity is playing through their playmaking and shot making big man.
(please keep in mind the conversation was had a few weeks ago, some stats and information might be a little off)
Torres: Do you think Nikola Jokic is the real deal?
McBride: I really do think Nikola Jokic is the real deal. He has elevated the play of the entire team when sharing the court due to his passing ability. The Nuggets offense was transformed from a team in the middle of the pack scoring wise to a legitimate top seven offensive unit when he began starting on December 15th. On top of making everyone around him better he has suddenly shown that, when needed, he can put the team on his back and score at will. He has 94 points in his last 3 games and has been aggressive in looking for his shot. Jokic is still just 21 years old and has a significant amount of work to due on his body but it is safe to say that Jokic is the foundational pillar the Nuggets have been searching for.
Torres: I’m sure you, like I, are expecting everyone to call his recent outbursts a fluke. He makes it look so easy out there. Is it a matter of time before game plans are made with intentions of shutting him down, or are they already in place and he’s just that good that he still finds ways to be productive?
McBride: I think it is a mixture of both. I was looking through Jokic’s shooting percentages in 5 foot increments and it is pretty incredible how many ways he can hurt you. He is leading the league in shooting percentage, with a minimum of 30 shots attempted, from 5-9 feet (57.4%) and from 10-14 feet (70.4%!!!). He has shown the ability to pull up for floaters and hit catch-and-shoot jump shots in mid range when he is struggling to score among the trees. Add in that he is 5th in shooting percentage from 25-29 feet and you realize he can burn you from deep. Jokic is able to bend defenses so effortlessly because he can do nearly anything offensively. I think teams will start pressuring him more but overall I think Jokic has the ability to put up numbers like this whenever he feels like it and that is without talking about the impact his passing has on how players defend him.
Torres: With Gary Harris down with an ankle injury, do you think Jamal Murray will regain some of his confidence? We know he has the talent but he looks like he’s thinking too much. What are your thoughts?
McBride: I think not playing with Jokic has hurt his effectiveness. Who wouldn’t be most comfortable with Jokic on the floor? Now Murray has to go from having the passing center extraordinaire to playing with ball-dominant Jameer Nelson. That is a tough change for a rookie. Murray has the talent. There is no doubt about that. I would like to see Jamal get more minutes with the starters myself. I think it would showcase Murray’s skills better and allow him to have multiple players who would be actively looking for him.
Torres: Makes sense. Do you think playing with Jusuf Nurkic hurts him a bit? I’ve seen him make some nice cuts off the give and go but never get it back. Seems like when Nurkic decides to shoot he isn’t capable of passing out.
McBride: I think this does have something to do with it as well. Since Jokic returned to the starting lineup and Murray has been playing with Jameer and Nurkic his time of possession and time with the ball per touch have dwindled. Both are high usage players and those type of players have pushed Murray from getting as much time with the ball.