In case you missed it, Nikola Jokic is a star and he’s done it not through scoring but by getting his teammates involved as much as possible. Since entering the starting lineup on December 15, Jokic has 41 assists, averaging 5.9 per game - an insane number for a center, and the most among all NBA big men in that stretch.
But more impressive than the raw numbers is the way in which he makes these passes. He throws lobs for alley-oop dunks, he hits cutters in perfect stride, he goes the behind the back, around the defender and across the court in transition. He can do it all without looking. His court vision is unreal and his ability to find the open man is innate. He is a point guard in a slender, sometimes goofy-looking, 6’11 body.
41 assists in the last seven games. Some of them were ordinary. Some of them made your head turn. And some of them made you question if he is even from this planet. All are special in their own unique way, but which ones were the best of the best?
I’ve taken the liberty of ranking the top ten Jokic assists from the past seven games. First, I established some simple criteria:
- Finesse: How sexy was the pass?
- Skill Level: How difficult of a pass was it?
- Impact: How important was that play to the Nuggets at the moment?
Videos courtesy of 3 Ball.
10. Lob to Chandler - 12/23/16 vs. Atlanta
This is a simple give and go between Wilson Chandler and Jokic off a side inbound. Nothing too fancy, but it really highlights Jokic’s ability to make an accurate lob from 30 feet away. The hardest part was probably having Mike Scott’s hand in Jokic’s face, but his long arms and strength still make for a nice alley-oop. Good things happen when guys cut to the basket, no matter where on the court Jokic is.
9. Full court pass to Chandler - 12/19/16 vs. Dallas
This pass is also fairly simple: Jokic rebounds then launches the ball the length of the court to Chandler for a layup. What’s so impressive? If any other player makes that pass, nine times out of ten it’s a turnover, which means he probably shouldn’t have passed it in the first place. It was essentially a jump ball for either Chandler or Wes Matthews, but Jokic placed it just enough on the outside that only Ill Will could come away with it. This was a very difficult play to make, but it worked out and was also the ninth and final assist on a huge night where Jokic nearly had a triple-double.
8. Lob to Mudiay - 12/28/16 vs. Minnesota
Jokic had himself a night against the Timberwolves by notching a career-high 11 assists, and this was the last of them. Being late in the fourth quarter in a close game, this pass was quite important as it resulted in an easy bucket for Denver. In terms of finesse it wasn’t anything eye-popping but it was a pretty gutsy pass to make overall. When it was happening I remember thinking that it was a terrible decision, but Jokic did a great job placing the ball just over the reach of Ricky Rubio and into the hands of Mudiay. There’s a pattern here - don’t question Jokic’s decision making until after the play is over.
7. Long bounce pass to Harris in transition - 12/28/16 vs. Minnesota
It’s plays like these that really accentuate Jokic’s abilities as a “point-center.” He brings the ball up off a rebound then unleashes a one-handed bounce pass up court to Harris for the finish. This play had quite a bit of finesse to it, as Jokic demonstrated a soft touch on the long bounce pass. It also came in the midst of a huge run for Denver in the third quarter, with the free throw putting the Nuggets up by nine.. As for the difficulty, at first it doesn’t seem like a terribly hard pass, but after watching it over and over I’m amazed at how he threads the ball between two defenders and manages to hit Harris in perfect stride. I love Jokic in transition.
6. Give and Go to Mudiay dunk - 12/28/16 vs. Minnesota
Everything about this play was beautiful - the fake hand off to bait Rubio, Mudiay’s cut, Jokic literally reaching around Gorgui Dieng to hit Mudiay, and then Mudiay finishing with a monster dunk instead of a knee-jerk layup attempt that he often misses. Jokic’s length enabled him to reach around Dieng (who looked like he was about to fall over going for the steal) and make a perfect pass to tie the game and jump start Denver’s huge third quarter run.
5. Overhead lob to Faried - 12/17/16 vs. New York
Faried is by far Denver’s best above the rim player, so when he does get minutes with Jokic it’s great to see him make cuts like this. The pass itself aces the finesse and skill tests far above the other criterion as Jokic is pretty much facing the opposite direction when making the lob. The play occurred in the first quarter and didn’t really have much an impact as Denver led that game from start to finish, but in this case it gets extra credit for making Kristaps Porzingis look silly. Let’s be honest, Jokic is the real unicorn. The East Coast just doesn’t know it yet.
4. Behind the back dish to Harris - 12/19/16 vs. Dallas
Harris could make a living off of backdoor cuts, and having both him and Jokic play together is such a treat. The second Jokic gets the ball, Harris is gone, Jokic acknowledges it and just slips him a nice little backwards pass for the layup. It’s simple but is a pretty play nonetheless, and in a close game was all the more important.
3. No-look to Harris in transition - 12/23/16 vs. Atlanta
This play is the perfect combination: Jokic handling the ball in transition and Gary Harris running up the wing looking to cut to the basket. Jokic fakes the crap out of Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha, then slyly dishes it to the Harris for the jam. Atlanta didn’t have a chance on this one. It was sexy, it was sleek and the no-look aspect of it was downright dirty. I’m pretty sure Jokic is a robot.
2. No-look sidearm pass to Faried - 12/15/16 vs. Portland
This play is similar to number three but came a week earlier, so naturally it is ranked higher. It’s also different in that instead of a simple bounce pass, Jokic slings a one-handed, sidearm-ish bullet to Faried. I’m not very good at physics, but the way he cups the ball right as the pass is made and the actual trajectory of the pass don’t make much sense to me. I’ve re-watched this play dozens of times and am just in awe at how any human could make such a pass.
1. Behind the back dribble, cross-court with contact to Chandler - 12/28/16 vs. Minnesota
Remember earlier when I said some passes make you question if Jokic is even from this planet? This is the play I was referring to. It’s unreal. He grabs the board, dribbles behind the back to avoid Kris Dunn (an actual point guard, kind of), gets accosted by Karl-Anthony Towns and still manages to find Chandler under the far basket. This play was more sloppy than sexy, but to hit that pass under those conditions is incredible. And it had a huge impact - it put Denver up by ten, it was Jokic’s tenth assist of the night in which he was just two rebounds shy of a triple-double, and it got the crowd at Pepsi Center lit up. Jokic is the best passer in Denver, and that goes for any sport.