Well, THAT was a conversation starter. Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Nuggets Nation is alight today, wondering what wrought last night’s 0-for-1 shooting night from Denver Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic. Joker had one of his more humble stat lines in a while, with seven rebounds, six turnovers, five fouls, four points, four assists, three steals, and a partridge in a pear tree. Jokic had the Grizzlies front court in foul trouble early in the game, and looked to be in a groove. That groove quickly turned into a rut when it became more and more obvious that the Joker wasn’t looking to shoot for the evening. Though Memphis was purposefully smothering Nikola all game long, he also passed up looks where he was more open than the man he passed to, much taller than the man covering him, or simply passing as the clock shot had nearly expired. Were those the larger percentage of Jokic’s decisions? Absolutely not. More often than not, Nikola moved the ball to a better shot or play as he is always so excellent in doing, and no one is perfect on every play or in every game. But last night, it looked like the Joker was allergic to shots. Can you get a shot for that?

Last year, the early season read much like the one before. The book on the Nuggets was that if you pressed them and played them physically, they would wilt under the pressure. It took the first third of the season to dispel that game plan with a lot of hard-nosed play. This season, the book on the Nuggets appears to be to keep the ball out of Jokic’s hands as much as possible. It’s a reasonable and obvious play, as Nikola is the straw that stirs the Nuggets drink at every turn. The numbers bear out the vast difference in success when he is on and off the floor. But the Joker needs to be sure he doesn’t take himself off the floor via inaction or temperament. The humble 23-year old is already speaking and acting well beyond his years more often than not, but still stumbles and falls on occasion. Don’t we all.

The next step for the NBA’s second-youngest team is to better dictate their own style of play. To be sure the offense is flowing through Jokic as it has over the last two years. A counterpunch to the latest roundhouse the league is throwing at Joker and your Denver Nuggets. Even when his shot is not falling, Jokic is the biggest threat that Denver brings to the floor. When he has the ball down low, teams are forced to collapse on him to neutralize that threat, opening the floor for others. When he looks to score and is covered, there are often more open looks on the floor. When Nikola doesn’t look to score at all, it places that pressure back onto the other shooters on the floor, who are suddenly facing tougher coverage of their own.

It’s not as if last night’s four point output was an outlier in Jokic’s recent scoring trend, with single-digit scoring totals in each of his last four games. Until Joker and the Nuggets force the issue, look for more teams to push Denver to try and go without their superstar as much as possible. It will be interesting to see how the team combats this latest tactic. It’s incredible how he can influence a game without scoring. It’s easier when he is at least looking to score, as he’s that dangerous.

To their credit, the coach and team immediately gave Nikola the benefit of the doubt when asked about the shooting drought, being sure to say that it was a shared responsibility for the team to get him going and in the right positions. But as the leader of one of the league’s hottest squads, Jokic owes it to his fans and team alike to answer the question that was common amongst every interview this writer could locate.

Now… take a deep breath. It’s certainly not as if the sky is falling, with the Nuggets off to the second-best start in their long NBA history. Even better, there is significant room for improvement. But this latest trend for Nikola is disconcerting, even as he and the team succeed around it. Even at his recently lessened pace, Joker alters the game the moment he steps onto the floor. But his noticeable reticence to put up shots of late has left a confused fan base scratching their heads and coming up with theories that run a massive gamut. It’s a sensitive topic, and as of this writing, there’s not a lot of hard data to go on. The issue is currently something small while the team keeps primarily hanging up W’s. Should a losing streak come along, this topic could be a fiery one amongst a vocal and opinionated crowd. Proceed with grace and caution in your opinions.

What say YOU, Nuggets Nation? Why did the Joker develop a blind spot where the rim used to be? Was he simply looking for the right play to the point of pathology? Is that hand still hurting? Was he making a point no one quite seemed to grasp? The only way to know for certain is to hear it from Jokic himself, or to see what happens on the floor and keep looking for either improvement or clues. The Brooklyn Nets are up next, and the next chapter of this story gets written on Friday night.

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