- Nikola Jokic has the second-best odds to win MVP.
- The center is eighth in the NBA, averaging 26 points per game.
- Jokic is eighth in the league, averaging 7.9 assists per game.
With the clock draining, Nikola Jokic seemed to be running out of options.
The Warriors led Denver by two points with five seconds left in both teams’ last game before the All-Star break last week. The Nuggets center, who has the second-best NBA odds to win MVP at +275, drove to the center of the lane. With Warriors defenders crashing in around him, Jokic intended to turn to his hook shot, a reliable option that would have sent the game to overtime.
Instead, when he saw Stephen Curry shift his way, he jettisoned the ball out of his hands. He knew someone was open, but he wasn’t sure who.
He was convinced, though, the pass would result in an open shot. He kicked the ball out to Monte Morris at the right wing. His 3-pointer hung in the air as the buzzer sounded.
It sank. The Nuggets began jumping and celebrating. That included Jokic, the one who made the sequence possible.
Jokic is the reigning MVP, and he is following that up with another standout season. He’s helped keep the Nuggets in the playoff picture, as they have the 11th-best NBA championship odds at +3000. And additionally, they’re fifth in basketball betting odds to win the Western Conference at +1600.
“I really try to remind myself to never take him for granted because he’s a great player,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “I try to do the same thing with my wife, don’t take my wife for granted. I’m lucky to have her. But Nikola is incredible, the way he sees the game.
“It’s almost becoming the expectation of Nikola Jokic, but you still marvel at the greatness.”
🃏 35 PTS | 17 REB | 8 AST pic.twitter.com/HfvfAGhP5Q
— NBA (@NBA) February 17, 2022
Nikola Jokic’s Multifaceted Impact
Jokic has influenced games in countless ways. Against the Warriors, he hit multiple 3-pointers in pick-and-pop situations and in transition on his way to 60% shooting from deep and 54% from the field. He finished the game, which was the Nuggets’ fifth victory in six contests before the break, with 35 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists.
Early in the third quarter, Jokic set a couple screens for Morris, who sought to drive but was met by sound defense from Curry. Morris kicked the ball out to Jokic at the right wing, a few feet behind the arc. Four seconds remained on the shot clock, and Jokic took a shot with Kevon Looney contesting.
It found the bottom of the net. Jokic’s abilities cause defenses to account for anything.
His physicality is remarkable. Among a crowd of four Warriors, Jokic tipped a rebound back up to the hoop, but it didn’t fall. Jokic tipped it up again. Once more, a miss. This time, Jokic corralled the rebound, as if no one was around him, and went back up and finished the job.
Late in the fourth quarter, Jokic faked a another 3-pointer, which forced a defender to whiz by him. He dribbled toward the hoop and by Looney, who was also forced to defend the perimeter because he’s a shooting threat from that distance.
With so much attention on him, Jokic lobbed a pass up to Aaron Gordon for a dunk. With about a minute left in the game, Jokic connected with Gordon again on an alley-oop to cut Golden State’s lead to three points.
“He does so much to make it look effortless,” Morris said, “but that just shows how great he is.”
Late in the game, Jokic caught a post-entry pass. With the Warriors zeroing in on him, he zipped a one-handed pass to Bryn Forbes for an open 3-pointer at the left wing.
With about 40 seconds to go, Jokic posted up. He pounded the ball, turned and hit a layup with Curry staying close to his assigned player near the top of the key.
This preluded Jokic’s game-winning assist. Curry admitted he made a bad read by doubling Jokic on the final play. But a few moments before, he was faced with a similar choice.
Yet both times, he chose incorrectly. That’s the kind of pressure Jokic puts on opponents.
“Nikola is going into the paint and the clock is moving in slow motion, is he going to go to his right hook, is he going to drop-step baseline and finish with his left?” Malone said of the final play. “Or, hey, let’s forget about overtime, let’s kick it out so we can get on this plane and get the hell home.”
Not a lot of pros can make this dime like Nikola Jokic can 😮
— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) December 12, 2021
Nikola Jokic Leading NBA in Efficiency Categories
Jokic is eighth in the NBA, averaging 26 points per game. But his impact goes well beyond that.
He’s second in the league with 13.8 rebounds per contest, and as a center, he’s eighth with 7.9 assists. He’s No. 1 among all players in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and Player Impact Estimate. He’s fourth in offensive rating, fifth in assist percentage and seventh in net rating, while ranking 10th in usage percentage.
Morris said his mother is often texting him, telling her son to give Jokic some assistance.
“Cut, do something,” he recalled jokingly. “Help him out.”
The Nuggets started the season 20-19. Since then, they’ve compiled a five-game winning streak in January, a stretch in which Jokic led them in scoring, rebounding and assists in all but one of those games. They’ve also won 10 of their last 14 contests, and Jokic has paced them in those three categories in their last four outings.
“Hopefully we’re going to continue in that direction,” Jokic said.
Despite all of this, Jokic doesn’t believe he’s played well of late. He thinks he’s missed too many shots, especially easy ones, and coughed up too many turnovers.
So heading into the All-Star break, he anticipated spending time in a gym. He didn’t want to take too much time off. He has the rest of the season to consider.
“I think with a little modification,” Jokic said, “I can be a little bit better.”
That’s a problematic proposition for the rest of the NBA.