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Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets: the gift is in the giving

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The Joker gives on every front, and seems like the richest guy in town

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic has something he’d like to pass on to you
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

“I slept, and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke, and I saw that life is all service. I served, and I saw that service is joy.”

-Kahlil Gibran

I battle depression. At moments in my life I find myself in head spaces I have a tough time explaining or justifying. As I hit them, I’ve also come to find a very strange juxtaposition between what I want and what will help. What I (think I) want is to get away from every other one of the 7-plus billion human beings who all seem to be in my front yard. Confoundingly, what always helps is spending time wiht a large group of people I don’t know, by way of volunteering at one of a few worthy causes For some reason, I have to give my way out of the funk. It’s often mistaken for being a nice guy, but it’s a bit more a compulsion, to be honest. I know the outcome. When I give, I get back a lot more in return than I invested, often by orders of magnitude. For a little bit of my time and energy, I get gratitude and perspective and humility and reality in doses that help me see things in a very different light. Humor is even sprinkled in occasionally, including a recent query as to whether or not my service had been compelled by some form of legal trouble. Compelled, yes… But not by the Golden State.

Suffice it to say, I know a serial giver when I see one. Nikola Jokic gives until it hurts, with rewards in abundance in return for the selflessness. Here are a few tangibles from that giving nature that have benefited Jokic and the Nuggets this season:

Those dimes add up

The most giving thing you can do on the court is to make the pass(es) that lead to a bucket. Denver is not the only team in the league who has seen success when increasing their assist rate. Sharing the ball makes for an exciting and successful offense, when done wisely. Jokic’s masterful dishes and pass-first mentality have proven to be contagious, with the whole team seeing a bump when he’s setting the example. In the 36 games Jokic has played in since he took over at starting center, his assists-per-game numbers have spiked from 3.4 to 5.6.

But some of that could be explained by increased usage, right? Sure, but Jokic’s minutes-per game didn’t increase by the same ratio, and the team’s per-game numbers went up as well, from 22.7 to 27.4, the difference between being the middle or top of the pack in league assist stats. Amazingly, the clogged “Jurkic” experiment that led off the season only averaged 20.1 assists per game, with Jokic averaging 2 a contest. That number would drop the team to the bottom of league standings in the same category.

What about when Jokic misses a game or three? In the seven games that the Joker missed this season before the Jusuf Nurkic-Mason Plumlee trade, the team averaged 20.6 assists a game. All in all, the numbers seem pretty clear.** Jokic’s presence on the court and giving attitude elevates the team from the lower rungs of the league on this stat to amongst the very best. Additionally, the entire team’s shooting percentage is up, with everyone feasting on those easy dishes. Chief amongst the beneficents is Gary Harris, making it no wonder he’s the highest-scoring two guard in the league. In December, Stiffs’ own kuhuna Adam Mares put together a killer three minutes of Jokic passing. Just check out how many of these ridiculous dishes go to Harris for easy layups.

**(though the data geek/legal team in my brain remind me to tell you that in the two games the Nuggets have played WITHOUT Jokic post-Plumlee acquisition the team has averaged it’s best number of the set, 29.5-per-game. Phew.)

Cashing in on credit

Jokic is usually loathe to take credit for his impressive games, talking about how well the coaches prepared him, or how easy his teammates made his job. Making sure the credit for the teams’ success is being shared equally has been a core tenet of Jokic’s time in Denver, and has paid dividends so broadly as to have a bench full of co-workers cheering his every new accomplishment. The team gives him credit to a man, as they know he is giving them credit for the great things they are doing in return.

Giving up the spotlight

A close cousin to the last one, but Jokic also tends to refocus the spotlight on the successes of those around him as quickly as possible as well, with several stories now of him pushing a post-game interview towards the stats or accomplishments of a fellow Nugget. It must be a great feeling to have the guy who just outshone your great night’s effort stopping the presses to make sure everyone looks your way for a second or two, and will build closeness and cohesion for a team who’s hoping to be playoff-tested this season.

Setting the mood

A famous Denver sports story revolves around former Denver Broncos guard Keith Bishop telling the offense, “We got them right where we want them!”, a moment that loosened up the team and led them to success in “The Drive” and their second Super Bowl appearance, the first with John Elway. Sometimes, being able to keep everyone loose in highly intense moments can be a real blessing for a team. Jokic has always seen it as his role to keep a team light, from a Denver Stiffs interview with the man himself:

“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.”

Nikola Jokic gives in every spot he can, Nuggets Nation, and it seems to be paying dividends for the short- and long-term future. Am I missing anything? How else does the Joker give before he takes, and what are we all getting in return?