Denver Nuggets Film Friday: A league of his own

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Nikola Jokic came into the league as a guy that struggled to play 30 minutes per game on a nightly basis while coming off of the bench. Then, he became a starter that still some issues with his cardio, but he was improving while putting together a solid highlight reel of incredible passing. Last year, he broke through to win his first career MVP award while playing all 72 games along with a career-high 34.6 minutes per game. Now, he’s wrapping up a season that saw him do something that’s never been done before.

In last night’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, Jokic became the first player in NBA history to score 2,000 or more points, grab 1,000 or more rebounds while dishing out 500 or more assists. This comes in a year where Jokic is on pace to play a career-high in total minutes while registering a usage rate above 30 percent for the first time in his career while playing without Jamal Murray for the entire season and without Michael Porter Jr. for nearly the entire year.

Jokic leads the league in Offensive, Defensive and Total Win Shares, along with Win Shares per 48 minutes. He also leads the league in Offensive, Defensive and Total Box Plus/Minus, along with Value Over a Rotation Player and Player Efficiency Rating or PER. He is a force in every advanced stat while also putting up counting stats numbers that the league has literally never seen before. Jokic has made the out of this world seem routine while making the routine somehow even simpler. Simply put, Jokic has been playing in a league all to himself, and the idea that he isn’t the MVP just shows how little everyone else has been paying attention.

The Scoring

There are moments in games where Jokic is willing to pass, and there are others when he knows it’s time to score. In the game against the Charlotte Hornets, Jokic was content to set up Aaron Gordon frequently in the first quarter of the game. He turned on the scoring a bit, but he was biding his time. In the fourth quarter, he decided to take the game over, and there was nothing the defense could do against him. He takes Mason Plumlee off of the dribble here and puts up the shot. He grabs his own rebound and puts it back up while scoring through the foul. When Jokic wants to score, there isn’t much that a defense can do to stop him.

On this play against the New Orleans Pelicans, Denver has been trailing for much of the second half, and they badly need a win. Jokic started calling his own number, and he gradually chipped away. He finished the game with 46 points, but he entered the fourth quarter with just 16. For those of you that need help with the math, that’s 30 points over the next 17 minutes of game time, and Jokic didn’t play the entire fourth quarter. He gets the ball out near the 3-point line, and he makes his defender look like he’s standing still. Jokic drives past him through some contact and gets the shot to fall as he looks to drag Denver back into the game.

The Rebounding

The first thing I love about this clip is Aaron Gordon being the first guy off of the bench to celebrate Jokic’s basket. Teammates, especially when it’s a fellow starter rather than a player near the end of the bench, celebrating the greatness of their own teammates always gets a nod of approval from me. The second thing I love is watching Jokic’s rebounding fully deflate an opponent. For one, the Grizzlies already think the shot is going in so they’re not anticipating a miss. Meanwhile, Jokic has a 20-point lead against a team that has all reserves on the floor, and he’s still fighting for those extra points. Four of the five Grizzlies’ defenders on the floor are within five or six feet of Jokic around the rim, and he still gets the board and the two points on the tip in. He’s been doing that all season long, and those second-chance points add up as they year rolls on.

“Hey, it’s a 6-point game there Nikola. You wanna go be the big kid on the playground and ice the game for us?” I know Michael Malone didn’t say that, but that’s basically what this play is. Will Barton puts up a shot with Jokic down in the paint. When the ball rims out, Jokic is simply just bigger than everyone else down there. He tips it to himself then gets the layup to fall which puts Denver up by eight with just over 1:30 left in the game. Having a guy that can not only clean up everyone else’s misses but also score afterwards makes life easier on everyone else.

The Passing

“He passed up the big shot! He’s afraid of the moment! Just because his teammate hit it doesn’t mean he isn’t afraid of taking the big shot!” For one, Jokic has been one of the best clutch SCORERS over the last few seasons. This season, he’s taken the second-most clutch shots with 93. The only person with more is Joel Embiid with 100. Jokic is 46-of-93 on those shots, and he’s taken 64 free throws in the clutch as well. He has no problem scoring when the game is on the line.

Now that we got that out of the way. Jokic’s passing is what separates him from other centers and bigs around the league. He’s going to finish in the top 10 for points, rebounds and assists per game, and it’s plays like the above to beat the Golden State Warriors that show just how important every aspect of his game is. Stephen Curry is so concerned about Jokic’s ability to score that he leaves his assignment of Monte Morris to try and double-team Jokic. As soon as that happens, it’s already too late. Jokic hits Morris, and Morris calls game with the buzzer-beater 3-pointer. The pass to Morris is the answer to the tweet above from Ryan Russillo.

A no-look pass that sneaks through two defenders and gets another one to jump the completely wrong direction from a center. That’s the type of stuff that Jokic is doing every single night. He has Karl Anthony-Towns guarding him with three shooters around the arc and JaMychal Green along the baseline. Green must have read Jokic’s mind because he cut at just the right time with no one on the defense in his way to catch the pass before flushing down the dunk. Jokic’s vision and willingness to make that pass shows the trust that he has in his guys, and it also opens up chances for him to score later in the game when the defense has to honor the other players on the floor.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.

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