If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.
A little over one fourth of the way into the season. The Nuggets find themselves in second place in the Western Conference with a record of 14-7. Despite injuries and absences from effectively player on the roster, only Bruce Brown has played in all 21 games this year, they have the league’s fourth-ranked offense, and they’re seventh in net rating entering today. Everyone has played their part to a great amount of success, but there’s one player that is doing things unlike any other superstar in this league.
Nikola Jokic shows up every night on the floor and makes the rest of the team’s lives easier just with his presence. They’re 13-5 with him in the lineup, and the team sees a 21.5-point drop in the minutes where he’s off the floor on offense. Among NBA players averaging at least 25 minutes per game that have played in at least 10 games, he is first in net rating at 14.1, with the next-highest Nuggets being Aaron Gordon at 11.4.
We get that Jokic is great, but what is he doing that makes him different from the league’s other great stars? Denver’s schedule out of the gate has been rather soft, but, rather than coming out and bullying those teams, Jokic is smart enough to know that he doesn’t have to put up crazy numbers every night. Instead, he’s more than content to just play his role while everyone else goes off. Simply put, the Joker has become the league’s best elevator by raising up those playing around him.
Gravity is Real
Prior to joining the Nuggets this season, Bruce Brown had never averaged more than 1.7 3-point attempts per game, and he’s currently averaging 3.4 per game. Last year was his best in accuracy from outside at 40.4 percent, but he was only attempting 1.3 per game. Now, he’s shooting 40.3 percent on more than double the attempts. A major reason for that is the open looks that he sees. On this play, Brown is spotted up on the wing when Jokic catches the ball at the top of the key. Brown stays ready in a shooting position while Jokic starts to back his man down. As soon as Jokic draws the inevitable double-team, he passes the ball to the wide-open Brown, who knocks down the look. Of Brown’s 3.4 attempts per game, 3.3 of them have been classified as open, which is four to six feet from the nearest defender, or wide-open, which is six or more feet.
Other players have been succeeding alongside Jokic, but the one that is probably enjoying it the most has been Aaron Gordon. He’s shooting 60.4 percent from the field on 10.1 attempts per game, and he’s also shooting a career-best 39.2 percent from 3-point range. Similar to Brown, Gordon is attempting 92.9 percent of his 3-point shots from either open or wide-open setups. Gordon has thrived as a slasher and cutter off of Jokic, which is a role they haven’t really had since Gary Harris was traded due to injuries. Gordon would have played that role last season, but, without other offensive weapons, he was needed on the ball more often. Now, we get to see what he can do in his ideal setting. Jokic gets the ball on the left wing. He knows the double-team is coming when Gordon jogs past him. As soon as that happens, Gordon flashes towards the rim for the easy dunk. Gordon knows how to work towards the rim, where he has an advantage, when Jokic has the ball in his hands. Jokic’s scoring opens the floor for everyone else, even when he isn’t shooting that much.
Passing Creates Opportunities
This play is a perfect example of how Jokic’s passing opens up scoring opportunities for others, but it also gives him easier opportunities to score. Everyone on the Houston Rockets knows that Jokic is willing to pass to any of the other four players on the floor. They’ve been burned enough by his passes that they don’t want to send the double-team his way. This results in a one-on-one chance against a smaller defender, and he’s going to win that battle more often than not.
This play happens in the same game on the opposite end of the floor against a different defender. Jokic is on the floor with three players off of the bench and Brown. He’s going to be the primary scorer and initiator on most possessions. The defense knows this, but there still isn’t much that they can do. All four of the guys on the floor with Jokic are liable to rise up for 3-point shots if they are left open. This allows Nikola freedom to drive towards the rim, and he gets the easy two points because no one can rotate over to help onto him. Some superstars need to dominate lower competition to assert themselves. Meanwhile, Jokic knows how to bring everyone else around him up while still getting his when it’s needed.