After practice on October 6th, Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone mentioned that Jokic might see a decrease in his touches and his minutes this season. You may feel inclined to panic—don’t.
After practice on Friday, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone mentioned that star center Nikola Jokic could see a slight change in his offensive role.
Denver Stiffs admin and Locked on Nuggets podcast host, Adam Mares, took the the latter medium to express his concerns. Adam reiterated what is now the most widely shared tidbit in the Nuggets blogosphere: after inserting Jokic into the starting lineup on December 15th, the Nuggets blossomed into the highest rated offense in the league. Why then, you may feel inclined to ask, would Coach Malone change anything?
New episode: Malone hints at a slightly different, diminished role for Jokic on offense. (Full audio clip included)https://t.co/YKgbllO16F
— Locked On Nuggets (@lockedonnuggets) October 6, 2017
Mares theorized that we might see some brief experimentation to start the season. But ultimately, we will see the offense revert to that which we saw last season—leaving us wondering why this comment and subsequent adjustment were ever made in the first place.
He was careful to point out the tough position that coaches are in during these interviews. They’re put on the spot, and often produce soundbites that they may wish they’d worded a bit differently—if not kept to themselves entirely. Nevertheless, his concerns were aired, and he wasn’t alone in the Nuggets Twitter-verse:
My personal win projection for the Nuggets just went down 3 wins. https://t.co/145CQReLPs
— Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9) October 6, 2017
@Adam_Mares why is Malone doing this to us again? I just don't get his mindset with the Jokic. We can't start the season out like last year
— Logan Wright (@Logan_JWright) October 7, 2017
Did Michael Malone say today that #Nuggets were going to run the offense through Jokic less? Does he want to get fired?
— Matt Powell (@mpowell_co) October 7, 2017
Tough crowd. You can understand the frustration. The Nuggets have been starved for star power and playoff success for quite some time. They finally found their star and unearthed a virtually unstoppable offense last season. Now, Malone apparently wants to take the ball out of his hands. If you’re starting to panic, I’ve got a word of advice: don’t.
The key word in that prior paragraph is “apparently”. As Mares pointed out himself, often coaches create soundbites that they don’t entirely mean. Bites that can be taken out of context and blown out of proportion. One might say that you should take Malone’s comments with a grain of salt. I’d argue it’s more like a handful.
When listening to the comments themselves, and not the subsequent reactions, it seems like Malone is simply trying to express a certain luxury that they’ve been afforded by the current construction of the roster.
“Last year, when we had Nikola out there. We were solely playing through Nikola Jokic…it doesn’t always have to be: play through Nikola and let him make a play.”
Malone is right. Not even Lebron James can touch the ball every single time down the floor. Last year, the Nuggets saw a ton of injuries to key players. It seemed like Jokic’s involvement in the play was necessary to generate an adequate amount of offense. They had to turn to him far too often and the big man appeared gassed.
Jokic’s feel for the offensive side of the ball is uncanny but he’s often been criticized for his defense and conditioning. I asked Malone how much of this decision was about conserving energy for the defensive end. While he never stated that was the intention, he acknowledged that it may be a healthy side effect:
“I think hopefully not wearing Nikola down on offense where he has to make every play will maybe give him more energy on the defensive end.”
There is a difference between making Jokic the focal point of the offense and overusing him to the point of exhaustion. What Malone seemed to be emphasizing in the initial comments was that this team might have more to fall back on than previous iterations.
When you sign a guy like Paul Millsap to a $90 million dollar deal, you do it because you believe he’s a difference maker. He’s not there just to play second fiddle to the big Serbian. Last season, when in the offense stalled, the Nuggets relied on Danilo Gallinari’s bucket-getting abilities. Especially his propensity for getting to the stripe.
That was a terrific bailout option, but Millsap provides something different. Much like Jokic, he can “play quarterback”, as Malone likes to say, from various spots on the floor. He’s an intelligent passer, a capable shooter and a beast in the paint. The Nuggets can look to Millsap without having to deviate much from what they like to do on offense. That’s a luxury.
But Malone’s point, at least in my estimation, ran deeper than just Millsap. He elaborated on Saturday:
“And the other thing is, you know, we don’t have to run guys into the ground. We have a deep team. Mason Plumlee, he’s a talented player, been a starting center on playoff teams so, if we see a guy getting fatigued whether its Paul whether its Nikola, Wilson or anybody—we have quality depth I mean…three deep at some positions.”
Malone understands what Jokic brings to the table as well as anyone. You can expect the majority of the offense to continue to run through the Serbian. And when the Nuggets need a bucket, the ball will be in his hands.
Jokic himself seemed unfazed by Malone’s comments. I asked him if the remarks worried him at all, and he literally shrugged it off:
“I mean…if you want to score, and the ball is (right there) at the rim, you can get it. You know? I think it’s gonna be good just to have one more guy: Paul. So, I think were going to be fine as a team. We’re going to look really good.”
What Malone seemed to be stressing is that this team won’t need to rely on him quite as heavily as they have in the past. Jokic is the team’s best player and the offense will run through him. But now Denver can look elsewhere for offense when necessary to avoid fatiguing him.
Again, this is a player who takes relative heat for his defensive effort and conditioning. If that’s his MO then he’s not the kind of player you want to exhaust entirely on the offensive end.
This season, in theory, they shouldn’t have to ask too much of him. This Nuggets team is deeper and more balanced than last year’s and it’s possible that’s all Malone was trying to say.