On the brilliance of Nikola Jokić
And the luxury of slow
BY HENRY ABBOTT, JAROD HECTOR, TRAVIS MORAN, and DAVID THORPE
TRUEHOOP PODCAST: Should Nikola Jokić win a third-straight MVP award?
Our weekly editorial meetings are often littered with amazing nuggets of Coach David Thorpe’s wisdom.
This week’s session was certainly one of those instances, as we ruminated on what makes the play of Nikola Jokić so brilliant; why his triple-doubles are different from those of prime Russell Westbrook; and how being slow makes it all possible.
Are triple-doubles good or bad?
This debate drives us right into arguably the most athletic guard in league history and one of the slowest players in league history.
Of course, Russell Westbrook (in his prime) was like lightning getting to the rim and finishing over it, but his options were limited once he got there. It’s simply too hard to read the court when you’re moving so fast.
On the other hand, you have Nikola Jokić, who, by being huge and moving really slowly, keeps all his tools at his disposal. His mindset never prevents him from anything.
It’s natural for fans to value speed and jumping, yet it’s the absence of speed and bounce that defines this year’s MVP frontrunner (for the third straight year).
Jokić has 24 triple-doubles (so far) this year, and fans are like: “Wait a second … triple-doubles matter now? When Westbrook was doing it, it didn’t matter—you called it ‘stat-padding.’”
You have to watch the game: One of them was clearly hunting triple-doubles in the service of getting a triple-double. The other is getting triple-doubles as a consequence of his style of play and how good his team’s offense is. It’s a byproduct of winning the game.
That’s what people don’t understand.
This is one of the stories that’s pretty deep in the weeds, and hard to assess from afar: how one guy gets a triple-double vs. another.
The media has also been hard on Russ from the beginning. There’s something to be said about a media that elevates a white player who racks up triple-doubles yet denigrates a Black player who’s done the same.
Basketball itself also has this huge variability: You take the exact same shot twice, yet it goes in once. In other words, a team can do everything right and still lose just because they fell to the law of averages that given night.
So, Jokić can make the same passes two nights in a row but end up with 10 assists in the first game and three assists in the second game simply because his teammates’ shots aren’t falling. The brilliance of Jokić is that a 10-assist night means the Nuggets shot well, and they won because they shot well—his 10 assists, as Jarod points out, were the byproduct of winning.
Also, Jokić is super-valuable even when he’s just standing there, right? Just being huge and talented freaks out the defense and creates opportunities.
And Russ without the ball is not super helpful …
When Westbrook won MVP, his team finished as a six seed. On offense, he was holding onto the ball so he could make the pass to get the direct shot. And he wasn’t just padding rebounds—he was leaving his man and just hanging out waiting for missed shots!
Jokić is creating open shots for his teammates. He’s such a remarkable passer—really creative and inventive, especially for his size. He always looks like he’s just playing, just hooping.
It’s interesting to me because neither guy can shoot 3s.
During the broadcast of Sunday’s Nuggets-Clippers game, it was mentioned that Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has said that Jokić never fights the game. Instead of executing an agenda, he just plays the game one possession at time. Obviously, the Nuggets have a system, and things are working, but I’m curious: Are there any other players today who likewise play in this perpetual zone of slowed time and heightened awareness?
In other words, who’s the best at taking what the game gives?
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