“Nikola Jokic would be the worst MVP in the last 35 years,” remarked an American journalist. “He is the most consistent player throughout the season, he has proven himself worthy of the MVP award,” wrote Magic Johnson.
Nowadays you can get more reactions from the former than from the latter statement, and because of that it is important to conduct a proper analysis, a kind of scouting of Nikola Jokic. To go under the hood of the leading MVP candidate.
So Nedeljnik turned to Toni Lazarusic, an analyst and author of Croatian Telesport, for help.
Right at the beginning, we wanted to make a list of all those “aggravating circumstances” or “minuses” of the Nuggets centre.
We counted to two.
If someone wanted to look for a needle in a haystack, they could point out the Denver’s team performance because Nuggets will be third, fourth, or fifth at the end of the regular season in the West conference, and Embiid’s Philadelphia will take the first place in the East.
Point number two is the defence. It’s really not Nikola’s strong point, but it’s negligible in relation to what he does in attack. For every mistake in defense, he makes at least 10 good moves in attack. And anyway, often those defensive mistakes tend to be the team’s fault, says Lazarusic.
Everything else that could be included in the calculation for the MVP award is on Jokic’s side. Except maybe the American preconception on how the best player in the league should “look”.
Surely, Jokic does not fit the pattern. He was not a well-known college student, a high pick in the draft, nor he has the media machinery behind him; when he came to the league no one would put their money on the guy. Besides, he comes from Europe, from Sombor.
The trace of his influence is visible in the way the league is changing. Jokic is not the first, but he is a true representative of the new wave that brought the centers back to the big stage. Former Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce also spoke about that in an interview with Nedeljnik.
“The defensive switches were imposed to reduce the impact of high, heavy centers compared to what it was before. There is not so much positional play anymore, everything happens in transition, but it does not mean that centers will no longer have any role. Today we have a few tall players with fantastic passing abilities, a center that shoots threes, dribbles, gives backdoor passes and hand-offs.”
If the centers can be divided into “specialists” and “specials”, Jokic belongs to the former – alongsiode Embiid or Gober – and his position could be called a “point center”.
At a press conference, Malone explain one situation from the match. The coach asked him to rest, and the Joker replied that “Serbs do not sit”.
“He is proud of his background and acts accordingly,” Malone said.
This also fits in with the famous punchline: “The best ability is availability”.
He is always there, he plays a lot of minutes, and he is always involved when the match breaks.
In addition to quantity, the quality of the minutes leading to the floor is also important. It is extremely rare for Jokić to be on the floor when the opponent’s bench and backup center are on the other side. He usually plays the whole first quarter, and then rests for a few minutes in the second and returns, when the first option of the opposing team returns to the floor.
His trademark is his passing quality.
For several seasons in a row, Jokić was at the very top in the number of potential assists per match, and the difference between potential and realized ones was not negligible. The Nuggets simply did not shoot well enough, due to poor spacing around their best player.
In each game, several potential assists were thrown down the drain. That has changed this season.
His share in assisted points, which has increased further this year, is more important than potential assists.
“He shared less than 30 percent of Denver’s assists in the first three seasons, then jumped to 37 percent, then 35 percent last season, to assist with 40 percent of Denver’s points this season. In addition, the ratio of assists and lost balls is excellent,” Lazarusic explains.
It is difficult to dissect the magic under a microscope, but there are factors that directly show Jokić is one of the players whose passes are difficult to read.
First of all, the PLACES from which he assists and to which he sends assists.
The graphics show where all the shots in this Denver season were hit (right up to the time this article was written) for which Jokić shared the assist.
Another important aspect is the way he assists.
Unlike other tall players, he doesn’t have a unified way of passing, moreover.
He passes in three different ways.
1. from the post (high post on the elbow, or low post when doubled)
2. in motion (when he gets the ball on a short roll, he turns and hands it off)
3. out of the pick (he has the ball and the lower player blocks it)
The speed of his passes is also impressive. This is a consequence of excellent preparation.
There is also one angle from which Jokić’s attacking potential can be seen more clearly than from any other.
In the attack, he actually rounds off all five positions with his game, claims Lazarušić.
It’s not easy to see, until everything he does is broken down. And then you realize that the things he does are characteristic of all the positions on the floor.
First, there’s a large number of actions in which he is a playmaker. He takes the ball from his own territory, plays pick’n’roll and plays his teammates.
Often overlooked are the actions that are built for him as if he is a shooting guard. In those actions, Jokić runs out of the blocks and jumpshots.
In addition, he does what the best forwards do, as an iso-shooter in a high post. In those situations, he has the option to shoot if a player moves away from him, or he dribbles.
Sometimes he takes on the role of a stretch four and does what classic “spacing players” do – gives the ball to teammates, and waits for a pass on the 3-point line.
But seeing as Jokic is formally the center, he often plays at low post and catches rebounds in attack.
When all this is taken into account, it all comes down to to the personal opinion: some people love him, some just appreciate him, and some simply bang nonsense.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Just try and stop him if it is possible.
ACTIONS FOR JOKIĆ
1. UCLA Edge/Rub – An action that involves isolation in the post. Murray, with his back to the basket, makes a block to Jokić, he goes around him and gets the ball on a high post at the moment when he was left alone 1 on 1 with the opposing player.
2. Inverted pick (5-1 PNR) – An action in which Jokić is a player with the ball, and the playmaker makes a block. He then rolls towards the basket, and Jokić provides an assist. Denver usually played that action in the clutch time and Jokić and Murray orchestrated it to perfection. Now that Murray is injured, Jokic could play that with Campazzo, also a player of high basketball intelligence.
3. Wedge – An action in which Murray sets a block to Jokić, then Jokić sets a block to the player with the ball and opens on the line for three points.
4. Dunker pin (Thunder action) – The defender makes a block to Jokić and as he runs out of it he has several different options to complete the action. Oklahoma played the same attack for Kevin Durant.
5. Dive (post-up action) – While the other tall player moves and makes a block, Jokić goes to the basket, and then towards the corner. At the same time, he gets another block in order to reach the desired position. From there, he can solve the situation 1 on 1, by shooting or dribbling.