To say that Nikola Jokic is unique would be an understatement.
He’s a household name now, but Jokic wasn’t exactly expected to reach the heights that he has. He fell to the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft due in large part to concerns over how being an “average athlete” with “zero muscle definition” would translate to the league.
Jokic would still lose a foot race against most NBA players and he still can’t jump over a telephone book. (OK, he can, but barely.) Those limitations haven’t prevented him from becoming an all-time great, though.
Over the last four seasons, The Joker’s been good for a near-30-point triple-double on a nightly basis. It’s gotten to the point where there isn’t anything he can’t do offensively, but there are a few particularly smart things the Nuggets do to leverage his dominant scoring and otherworldly vision.
Here’s one of them that keeps breaking defenses.
This simple Nikola Jokic play has no clear answer
🎥 The play
On the court with Jokic are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun, Justin Holiday and Peyton Watson. Caldwell-Pope begins the possession just inside the 3-point line on the right wing. Holiday is in the left corner, and Braun and Watson park themselves at opposite elbows.
Almost as soon as he crosses halfcourt, Jokic passes the ball to Caldwell-Pope.
Jokic then receives a screen from Braun at the right elbow.
Braun’s screen helps Jokic create some separation from his defender, Charles Bassey, and the big fella makes his way to the post.
Jokic receives the ball back from Caldwell-Pope before peaking over his right shoulder to survey the help defense.
With the center of the court a bit crowded, Jokic spins toward the baseline and scores a layup.
🤔 Why it matters
Option 1 is to get Jokic the ball on the low block and let him cook.
According to NBA.com, Jokic is generating around a quarter of his offense in the post this season, the highest mark in the league. He’s scoring at a rate of 1.11 points per post-up possession, which is basically as efficient as it gets.
Those numbers are nothing new. Over the last few seasons, the only player who can come close to matching Jokic’s low-post dominance is Joel Embiid.
At 6-11 and 284 pounds, few players have the size to battle with Jokic in the post. He can bully most defenders, but it’s his footwork and touch that makes him one of the greatest back-to-the-basket scorers we’ve ever seen. He can finish with both his left and right hand with little hook shots and floaters, and he torments defenders with cheeky fakes and up-and-unders.
They didn’t do it on the above possession, but the Nuggets will often have whoever gives the ball back to Jokic clear out. If their defender follows them, it leaves Jokic with even more room to operate.
The tricky thing with Jokic is that he’s not only a world-class scorer. He’s also a pretty good passer.
That clear-out that I just mentioned? If the person defending the cutter isn’t locked in, it can lead to a backdoor cut.
Jokic can make this pass in his sleep:
It can turn into a handoff as well, where Jokic simply hands the ball to the passer.
The beauty of having a center who can space the floor — Jokic is shooting almost 50 percent from midrange this season — is that it has a way of drawing the opposing team’s big away from the basket, which opens the paint up for others.
Just look at Alperen Sengun, No. 28 on the Rockets, below. He’s not known for his defense, but he had no intention of leaving Jokic to challenge Caldwell-Pope at the rim.
Then, you have your traditional double-teams.
Calling Jokic a “pretty good passer” is, of course, underselling it. He might be better at passing than he is at scoring, which is saying something because there aren’t many centers in NBA history with a higher career scoring average than him. He can see over the top of most defenders and defenses with his height, and there isn’t really a pass he can’t pull off.
It doesn’t matter if the help defense comes from the baseline, perimeter or whichever creative direction a team thinks might catch Jokic off guard. Throwing multiple bodies at him often results in open layups, dunks or 3s. He delivers passes with pinpoint accuracy all over the court and he processes the game so quickly that his teammates can’t even keep up with him at times.
One of my favorite stats: Jokic leads the NBA in touches per game by a mile, but he holds the ball for an average of 2.7 seconds per touch. That ranks … 149th in the league.
The ball doesn’t stick with him. It’s in constant motion.
If all of this leaves you scratching your head wondering what the best way to defend it is, you’re not alone. Guarding Jokic is basically a game of pick your poison because he can take whatever the defense gives him and make them immediately regret even thinking of giving that to him because of how easily he picks them apart.
It’s what makes this play so special — there’s nothing particularly complicated about it, but Jokic’s brilliance makes it practically impossible to defend.
Source : ESPN.com