Nikola Jokic is a star. He might even be an All-NBA player at the end of the year given his current pace, but he’s not the only reason the Denver Nuggets are 12-9 in their last 21 games. Multiple players have seamlessly found their role on the team due to his transition to alpha dog, including the veteran contributors on the roster.
Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Will Barton, and Darrell Arthur are all 25 years or older. Sometimes, the youth of players like Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, and others causes a natural divide between the two roster groups, but it isn’t just the young players benefiting from Jokic. The above six players are playing some of the best basketball of their careers over the last 21 games.
The chart above explains the exceptional play of the six veterans. For four of the six, field goal percentage has increased dramatically. Gallinari, Faried, Barton, and Arthur have all seen a bump of at least 6.9 percent in overall field goal percentage. Nelson has also seen a slight increase, while Chandler is nearly even, in spite of a horrendous stretch of games shooting from the perimeter. Even thought the points per game has decreased for three of the six players, only Chandler’s has been a sharp decline. All three of the players with a point per game decrease have experienced an increase in assists per contest.
Which leads me to passing, as five of the six veterans have boosted their passing by at least a small portion. While Jokic is seen as the primary facilitator, with Mudiay serving as the next distributor, the entire team has bought into the concept of sharing the basketball.
The veterans (for the most part) are the most skilled at scoring for themselves in isolation and in the pick and roll. In a pinch, this is a great skill to have, but the emergence of Jokic and the effectiveness of the starting lineup has relieved the burden of needing to score in just isolation or pick and roll scenarios. Many times last year, the offense faltered and someone - usually Gallinari - had to step up and get a bucket on the next possession. Now, the offense is so good that the veterans haven’t needed to settle for bad shots. Generally, the shots these vets are taking now are of the assisted variety, which yields a higher points per possession mark.
Credit Jokic, but small tweaks and overall better play from the veteran group have allowed Jokic the opportunity to be who he is. As a unit, they are playing the supporting role very well, and it just might be enough to carry them to a playoff appearance.