Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic’s two-man game with Monte Morris is blossoming: “We understand each other”

SACRAMENTO — Monte Morris strolled into shootaround Wednesday morning when Nuggets coach Michael Malone lobbed a question at his starting point guard.

“I said Monte, ‘Do you realize how well you’re playing?” Malone recalled.

Outside of Nikola Jokic’s monumental effort of late, Morris has been instrumental in steering the Nuggets to a 12-2 record, including four straight victories heading into Thursday’s tilt vs. Golden State.In that span, Morris is averaging 13.5 points per game on over 53% shooting, including 42.6% from 3-point range. That’s in addition to 4.9 assists and 2.8 rebounds.

So it was hardly a surprise to see Morris and Jokic two-stepping together in crunch time in Wednesday’s win over the Kings.

“I’ve always been a good passer coming in from high school, college … he’s always been known for his passing, so you put two guys in the two-man game, nine times out of 10 we make the right read,” Morris said. “We’re both pass-first guys.”

Morris, who explained their elite chemistry as talking through their “eyes,” buried three baskets over the final 5:30 to stave off the Kings.

“That’s true!” said Jokic, excitedly, over their non-verbal cues. He then mimicked the wide eyes and head nods that constitute their shared language.

Each one of those clutch baskets involved a two-man screening routine that invoked Jokic’s giant frame and Morris’ savvy touch. Sacramento was defenseless to Morris’ mid-range mastery.

“We understand each other,” Jokic said.

In addition to their visual clues, they both subscribe to the theory of selfless basketball. Morris has said he’s unconcerned whether his plays show up on social media highlight reels. Jokic does everything he can to deflect the MVP spotlight.

“He doesn’t have an ego,” Jokic said of Morris, revealing perhaps his most sought-after trait in a teammate. “He’s gonna do whatever to win the game.”

Before Jamal Murray’s ACL tear last April, it was he and Jokic’s two-man tap dance that unleashed defensive migraines for opponents. They’d screen, force a switch, attack or step back and exploit. The devastation in their duo was born of their deep skillsets, equally comfortable driving into the lane, settling for the mid-range or pulling back beyond the arc.

Though less heralded than Murray, Morris has some of all that in his skill set.

“Him and Nikola have the same kind of impact,” Malone said. “We take our time, we get set, we space the floor, we read the defense. He knows that Nikola’s going to garner so much attention, he’s gotta keep the defense honest. He’s gotta be willing to drive-and-finish, drive-and-kick to Austin (Rivers) for a huge 3 … shoot the little pull-up jumper, or, if they do come over to help, that little pocket-pass to Nikola where he’s just money in that position.”

Morris has grown into his role as the starting point guard, raising the question of whether Murray — if he returns this season — should even reprise his role as the team’s starting point guard in the short-term. With all due respect to Murray, Morris has more than held it down.

Whether Jokic and Morris’ partnership gets upended as the season progresses is unknown. For now, the recipe is working.

“It’s a fun thing when the ball’s popping,” Morris said.

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