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Over the last couple of seasons, we all thought that we had seen the best version of Nikola Jokic. He had been in the top 10 of MVP voting in each of the last two seasons, and he was one of the best players in the bubble in Orlando. With the growth we had seen from Jamal Murray, the assumption was that Jokic would take a secondary role. Through the first 14 games of the season, he has done anything but that.
He’s currently averaging career-best marks in points, assists, rebounds, free-throw attempts and steals while shooting career-best marks from the field and the free-throw line. Is it all a small sample size? Sure. Are the numbers that he is putting up difficult to sustain for an entire season? Absolutely. However, with the way the rest of the team is performing, it’s definitely within the realm of possibility.
Jokic is playing at a different level right now. There are some other players in the NBA that could make a case for being the early frontrunner for MVP, and, according to a lot of sportsbooks, there are at least six players that have better odds of winning. However, with what we’re about to look at today, Jokic is the one that you should be looking at as the favorite for MVP with the level of play he’s putting up right now.
Get to the line
One area of his game that Jokic has really improved early in the season is his work drawing fouls. Prior to this season, his career-best for free-throw attempts per game was 4.4. Right now? He’s averaging 4.9 MADE free throws per game on 5.8 attempts. Jokic’s ability to draw fouls on defenders is the best it has ever been. He gets into a good position, and he’s forcing refs to make a call. Once he gets close to the basket, opponents get jumpy to go for blocks, and he is going to jump up and get the foul call every single time.
Every single major media outlet calls Jokic fat and slow. He just wins with technical skill with no athleticism. Is that so? That’s why he spun so quick that rookie James Wiseman didn’t have a chance at blocking this shot? He blows past him, and it puts Wiseman in the spot to either give up the free layup or foul him. Jokic puts him there, and it’s free points for him. This team has struggled to get to the line over the last couple of years, but Jokic is trying to drag them there by himself.
Be the Big Brother
Since he’s joined the NBA, Jokic is almost always the biggest guy on the floor. When you’re 6’11” and 260+ pounds, that’s going to happen. However, he hasn’t always played like a bully. He’s rarely been that big brother that would post up their younger sibling that hadn’t gone through puberty yet. This season, he’s changed that. On this play, he misses the floater, and he could have given up there. Instead, he goes for the offensive rebound in the middle of three defenders and gets the easy basket over the top of one of the Oklahoma City Thunder forwards. There was no defense for that shot.
Willie Cauley-Stein is in good position here. He’s between Jokic and the basket, and the Dallas Mavericks are leaving him mostly 1-on-1. He might be able to slow down Jokic right? Wrong. Jokic just takes a couple of dribbles and bounces him off the spot which gives him an easy path to get the ball up and score. It doesn’t matter who he’s matched up with right now because he’s moving everyone out of his way.
Jokic has always been good at shooting mid-range shots. It’s the least efficient shot in the NBA, and most teams avoid it. However, when you’re shooting them as well as Jokic is, you should keep putting them up. On the year, from 10 feet out to the 3-point line, he’s shooting 61.4 percent. It’s because of shots like this with his high release. He’s being guarded by 7’4” Boban Marjanović which makes him need to get space to get that shot off. He takes a little half-dribble rock step back, and it’s a bucket. He does these just every single night.
This play just represents so well what Jokic has been over the last couple of years. For one, he’s clutch. Late in games, you can have as much faith in him making that late shot as anyone else in the league. Here, he gets the ball with less than three seconds left, and he hoists a deep two that ties the game to send it to overtime. Shooting over 60 percent from these ranges is just ridiculous and unsustainable, but, with the way he’s playing, maybe he could break this trend.
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