Well, that loss will leave a bad taste in the mouthes of Nikola Jokic, the rest of the Serbian roster, their coaches, and all of their fans.
After effortlessly going undefeated in the group stage of EuroBasket and earning a top seed, Serbia fell in the first round of the elimination phase against Italy by a score of 94-86 in what was a major upset.
Simply stated, Serbia had no business losing to the Italians even if they were fully healthy, but the fact that Italy was without their only NBA player and most talented member of the roster in Danilo Gallinari only makes the loss even more baffling.
Still, for the Nuggets, all is well. Jokic made it throughout EuroBasket without getting hurt or over-exerting himself and he did so while logging meaningful minutes in basketball games with real stakes against strong opponents. Oh, and Jokic dominated too. In terms of preparation for the 2022-23 NBA season, it is hard to ask for more.
Serbia has no one to blame but themselves for their loss to Italy in the first round of the EuroBasket tournament
To lose to Italy without Gallinari, despite the talent disparity, and while having arguably the best player on earth on their roster in Jokic is a damning way to lose for Serbia. They had just finished going 5-0 during group play and won by an average of 21.6 points per game. Serbia had legitimate aspirations of winning all of EuroBasket and, to many, they were the favorites.
Then, in the very first round of the tournament portion of EuroBasket, Serbia took Italy lightly. Serbia’s defense had lost its vigor which led to the hemorrhaging of points from beyond the three-point arc. Serbia also elected to switch up Jokic’s rotation which led to him sitting for far too long in the second half. When Italy was not draining every 3-pointer they put up, Serbia was turning the ball over or committing self-inflicted mistakes.
Ultimately, Serbia’s lack of focus and execution ruined their path to Gold. Not even spamming Jokic was enough to make up for the mistakes when he was off the floor. Jokic finished with 32 points and 11 rebounds on 8-14 shooting and sinking 14-15 shots from the foul line. The only issue is that Jokic was brought back with just 6:19 left in the game and, during the time he was resting, Serbia lost their two-point lead and it morphed into a nine-point deficit. Taking so long to get Jokic back in the game effectively ended Serbia’s run in EuroBasket.
When Jokic was on the floor, Serbia outscore Italy by 11 points in his 28 minutes which was the highest plus/minus in the game between both teams. That all changed when Jokic went to the bench. In the 12 minutes Jokic was not on the floor, Serbia was outscored by 19 points.
This provides us a good moment to pass along a strong piece of advice: if the game is getting out of hand in the fourth quarter and you have Jokic — who has back-to-back NBA MVP trophies potentially lost somewhere in his home — on your roster, you should play him. Seems like a good choice to make.
Despite their early elimination, Jokic looked dominant every moment he was on the floor for Serbia
21.7 points, 10 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.8 steals against 2.5 turnovers in just 25 minutes per game. Those are the averages Jokic put up in his six games during EuroBasket and only against Italy did it look like he had to shift up to third gear or higher.
Everything Jokic accomplished was easy and no one could slow him down. In terms of sheer dominance during his minutes, no one in EuroBasket made it look as simple as Jokic. To add context, if Jokic put up those same averages over 36 minutes per game as he would likely play in the NBA, he would be averaging 31.2 points, 14.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per contest.
Physically, Jokic looked to be in fantastic shape. When he was rolling in the pick and roll, Jokic was actually threat to dunk many shots around the rim after throwing down a few early on in group play. He looked somewhat lighter and quicker on his feet in a plethora of instances which helped him elevate his defensive play; especially early in EuroBasket.
Mentally, Jokic knew no one could stop him and he played utilizing that knowledge. He constantly attacked mismatches, crashed the glass when smaller defenders attempted to box him out, and regularly set up his teammates for great looks when drawing multiple defenders towards him.
Simply, Jokic was Jokic. Just reflecting on that single fact served as a reminder of just how dangerous the Nuggets could be this season with the MVP leading them.
With the Nugget’s first preseason game just a few short weeks away, Jokic looks prepared for Denver’s pursuit of their first NBA Championship
Many are worried about the toll Jokic could be paying in order to represent his home country of Serbia. I wanted to take this moment to dispel those concerns.
First and foremost, the Nuggets are not the type of franchise to limit their players from representing the countries they were born in. The thought of keeping Jokic from representing Serbia is simply not feasible and attempting to do so would only hurt what is a great relationship between the MVP and the Nuggets.
Secondly, Jokic did not have to push himself to extremes to keep Serbia afloat. Their games in group play were walkovers and Serbia seemingly did not realize they were on the edge of losing to Italy until the fourth quarter. There was no intensive aspect of Jokic’s play through EuroBasket which leads me into the third point.
Lastly, this was as ideal of a preparation for the upcoming season as Jokic could have had. Instead of playing pick up with whoever was in the gym at any given time, Jokic faced off with real talent in games that had real stakes. He did not have to give every ounce of his energy in order to compete and he still managed to play at an extremely high level. Now, he can enter Nuggets training camp in shape for the season without the need to catch up. I would expect Jokic to sit out quite a bit of the live basketball portions of training camp and rest during a few preseason games.
Jokic is clearly ready after dominating for Serbia. Now, the NBA season is up next and Jokic looks ready to pursue the Nuggets first NBA title.