When Nikola Jokic sets foot onto the court, it gives the same effect as a rock star stepping onto the stage, a conductor stepping out to his symphony. When the Nuggets’ offense is humming and when everyone is there, Nikola Jokic is just about the best the NBA has to offer as far as game managers. He keeps the beat of the offense going, just like a drummer. Think of your favorite bands, if they have a drummer, they’re probably the heart of the band. Jokic is exactly that and more for the Nuggets. However, if they are your favorite band; there’s probably more to them than just the drummer. The Nuggets could do a better job of surrounding Nikola Jokic with better band mates.
Now let me introduce you to the other part of this article. Yacht Rock legends and studio masterminds, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. If you don’t know about them, they are a jazz rock/soft rock band from the 70s who is well renowned for being very in-depth with their studio recording processes and their intensity of making sure everything sounded exactly how they wanted it to. They were very obsessive over those sorts of things and the way they bring together a bunch of little things is one of the many reasons many people love listening to their music nearly 50 years later. They always made sure to bring in studio musicians who complimented the tracks they worked on. It’s one reason they can cover a couple of different music genres on back to back tracks on albums.
Now I myself have been a musician, I’ve played probably over 50 gigs and can play a couple of instruments. I think about things in a very music oriented fashion. So when I am analyzing how to build a roster or analyzing the game, I often make analogies between music and basketball. I think that most good rosters can have a musical equivalent and one such example is Nikola Jokic, and how to build a roster around him like Steely Dan built their studio musicians.
Now Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were very intricate when building a song. Take the opener of their album Gaucho, Babylon Sisters, for example. Walter Becker obsessed over this song. There were 274 mixes made of the song before he was satisfied with the one on the album. Now, you don’t have to be that specific with Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets when looking for people to play off of Nikola, but there’s some value in having a philosophy like that. Don’t take Jokic for granted. He is quite possibly the best player in the league, but you should do your absolute best to surround him with the best studio musicians you can to maximize your chance of winning a title. Teams don’t get talents like these often, especially Denver.
On Babylon Sisters, the only recording of either Becker or Fagen on the album was Fagen’s vocals, and you can say he takes a back seat to the backup singers. This should be how the Nuggets are built. Jamal Murray is someone who is a great example of what I think the Nuggets should build. Someone who when Jokic is out of the game, can be very very good. However, when Jokic steps on the court they can play off each other like the studio musicians in many Steely Dan tracks do. Jokic is the mixer, and everyone else is just playing the track to his liking. Let him quarterback it. If he wants to take a back seat to either Michael Porter Jr or Jamal Murray, let him. They’re both good enough to do that from time to time, but when he wants the spotlight give it to him. All 3 of them like to see the others succeed and are fine if they do not get the spotlight, so long as they get the win they’re happy. These are the most important band mates to pair alongside Nikola Jokic.
You should have players that are good enough to do things outside of Jokic, but at the end of the day everything that the Nuggets do is going to revolve around Nikola Jokic. He is the Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of the Nuggets. He is the mastermind, but you should get him musicians that can add their own input when need be. Take Bernard Purdie as an example. He had a beat he’s known for called the Purdie shuffle. Steely Dan brought him in to lay down that beat in Babylon Sisters. They knew he was good enough to do his own thing, so they let him go and do it. When Jamal gets hot, Nikola does a similar thing. They still add to each other, but Jamal is the show when he gets going like that. A similar thing can be seen on Babylon Sisters when Becker and Fagen add layers and layers of mixing on top of the Purdie shuffle.
The band’s album Katy Lied is another example of a philosophy that the Nuggets should incorporate in their roster construction. On the album, Becker and Fagen use 6 different studio guitarists, each for their own songs. They’re utility guitarists. The Nuggets can, and should, get utility players as well. Once you have the top musicians outside of Jokic like Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, you need to add role players that compliment what Jokic and them like to do.
Aaron Gordon is a perfect example of this. He plays very well off of all of them, and compliments their play styles beautifully. He also has great chemistry with Nikola, and you can just tell the two of them love playing together. His cutting and defense is exactly what the Nuggets need next to Jokic and Porter in their front court, and while it’s unrealistic to have every role player be a perfect fit like Gordon; you can certainly do better than what the front office has done this season, even when fully healthy.
There isn’t much that either Austin Rivers nor Facu Campazzo are doing right now that are positive, and they don’t play off of Jokic super well either. It’s hard to play bad with Nikola Jokic, and lose the minutes on the floor you share with him. Yet Facu manages to do that. According to cleaningtheglass.com, he has a -4.7 net rating when he shares the floor with Jokic. He lacks any skills to really make an impact on the floor, he’s a wasted track if you will. He isn’t a good shooter, isn’t an impactful defender, and doesn’t create any rim pressure. The only thing he’s good at is passing and to be an effective passer you need to be a threat to do anything else with the ball which Campazzo is not.
Be it, the front office is starting to see that as well with recent addition Bryn Forbes being brought in to fill a utility role as a shooter; which he is very good at doing. Jeff Green is also another good get for the Nuggets. Overall, I think that they will always need a shooter, a defensive specialist, and a big that can play a very scaled down version of what Jokic does — someone who can make plays for others here and there and also be a good defender and rim runner. It is hard to find those sorts of players, but we’re talking about perfect fits here and that is what Mason Plumlee sort of was on the Nuggets. I think someone who they could get in the draft that could fill a similar role to what I described is Trevion Williams.
So overall, you need to capitalize on anything you can when building a roster around Nikola Jokic and not say “Oh that’s good enough”. Be like Steely Dan and really get into the intricacies about why things do or don’t work. Then investigate what you can do to make sure that you can make every minute the best it can be. Nikola Jokic can be surgical with his play, just like Becker and Fagen were surgical in the studio. Take advantage of that, and give him the most ideal symphony you can.