clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Denver Nuggets catch the fever: The Jokic contagion

New, comments

Watching the Nuggets go through the no-Joker shakes these last three games has been rough… even with his star on the rise, Nikola Jokic brings more to the floor than many realize

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic shares the love and the ball
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Doctor, doctor give me the news / I've got a bad case of lovin' you / No pill's gonna cure my ill / I've got a bad case of lovin' you…

It’s a sickness, it would seem… Or at least he is contagious. Who he? The Joker, that’s who...

The recent good fortunes of your Denver Nuggets came crashing down over the last two days, with embarrassing losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies. Embarrassing to Memphis, as the Nugs lost at home by 20, and embarrassing to the Lakers, because they were an easily beatable team that Denver chose to engage in a no-defense shooting match.

The most easily recognizable thread in the losses is the lack of young hotshot Nikola Jokic. Though Denver won their first Jokic-free game against the Phoenix Suns, they were far less efficient in doing so. What is it about the Joker that has made the Nuggets so much better when he is on the floor? Even these guys are calling out for Nikola…

Passing

Jokic’s dimes already have him amongst the league’s elite in the category at his position, and the sharing opens up the floor for the rest of the team as well. When Nikola gets the ball at the top of the key, all four Nuggets on the floor with him start running toward the hoop like a four year old kid sprinting to the Christmas tree. Jokic’s passing seems to inspire the rest of the squad to follow suit as well, with assist totals being up for nearly every player he shares the floor with. The sharing mentality seems to be catching, and it’s a bug the Nuggets should try to cultivate long-term.

Defense

Wait, did you just say defense? I thought Jokic was a sub-par defender. Well, while defense isn’t Nikola’s core strength, his brains and consistency are. Though he’s still working his way into being a more physical defender, Jokic is rarely caught out of position or off guard, so his teammates know what to expect in terms of where he’ll be, and how he’ll play the game. Front-court mate Kenneth Faried has long been assailed for his own defensive deficiencies, but is playing some of the better defense of his career over the last month-plus, and does so especially well when paired with Jokic. The positive positioning also seems to be catching with the team when Jokic anchors the D, as there’s a more consistent hub to rotate around.

While you’ll never mistake the pair (Jokic/Faried)for the second coming of David Robinson and Tim Duncan down low, Nikola is playing well enough on the defensive end to keep himself on the court while he continues to learn. And grow, by the way. He’ll be a more stalwart defender over his career when he fills in a slender frame.

Fun

Holy crap, he spreads fun? How does that work? Here’s how Jokic said it in an interview with Denver Stiffs:

“I just like to have fun, I enjoy how everyone acts when we are keeping it light and having fun, at least off the court. I like when we have fun in the locker room, and that was true with every team clear back to my hometown. I want everybody to smile, I want everybody to be happy. I can say that that’s my job to do, to make everybody happy. If off the court, you and your team can joke around, often on the court you play much better.”

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But does being kind, funny, or wanting that sort of unity/camaraderie make Jokic any weaker as a “leader”? Sources as diverse as Psychology Today, Forbes, MACNY, Mindful, and the Harvard Business Review say no, it probably actually makes him very well-suited to the role. When it comes from the leader of a group, that sort of connecting and relationship-building tends to build great teams, great teamwork, and stronger bonds for moments when things are inevitably tough. Jokic’s natural desire for a “happy place” is as infedctious with the team as any of his traits, and the Nuggets seem to be better off for it.

What did I miss? How else does Nikola Jokic’s influence improve the team as a whole? Or did I overstate? Will be interested in the thoughts of Nuggets Nation. You knew the team would suffer without it’s best player, but did you expect the behavior to shift so radically due to a single cog? When will we have Jokic back on the floor? His teammates and this Nuggets fan feel mighty sick without him.