It can be a challenge to be a nice person, if you’re actually attempting to be one at all. Speaking from a single perspective, I find that to be especially true in denser populations. Moods move through large groups of people like a contagion, and more often than not, the worst-intended tend to set the overall tone. Pushing back against that tide can be a challenging but rewarding thing, as you still often see that behavior catch and bloom as well. The popular adage of the wolf you feed is applicable to individuals and groups alike. There are certainly those who know me well who would argue I never qualified for the first sentence in the first place. Leave it to say, it can be deeply satisfying to see good behavior catching.

When the Denver Nuggets hung their future on Nikola Jokic a few years back, there was much to like about his style of play and personality. Wanting to make the other guy look good on- and off-court made for a refreshing change in the timbre the team had fallen into. The Joker was a giver from the moment he came to the team, and quickly made an impression. By the time he became a permanent starter, the veterans still around him were calling him out by name. To crib a Danilo Gallinari quote from the Ryan Blackburn piece linked above:

“My teammates were finding me open at the right time,” Gallinari said. “Everybody, especially Jokic, is a great passer. So they can find you at any moment.”

The Nuggets had just come off a decisive home win, their first in a while. Little did everyone know just how contagious Jokic’s presence would prove to be. Here’s more of how that influence has grown during his time in Denver:

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That Jokic has already handily outpaced his season-high assist total after 66 games shows the nature of how much he’s improved himself, but his assists are up in part due to the nature of the bug he passed along to a team now infected with giving. The projected totals of player and team alike show how powerful the compound interest of giving can be, with Jokic on the floor over a minute less per game than last season’s jump. One more lift like this, and a season-average triple double for a center might actually be within reach. But the All-Star center doesn’t seem care about that goal for the sake of the achievement. If it comes as a byproduct of winning and sharing, he’s glad of it. He’s too busy with that virus he’s been passing around.

Cut to an impressive win on Tuesday night against an undermanned Minnesota Timberwolves team, when Jokic and company hung 40 assists in a game where the sharing got to be a little kinetic at times. Mason Plumlee not only had the over-the-head assist of the night off of a nifty dime to return it to Jokic, but also had one more dish (8) than the Joker (7) himself, a play he spoke of as a part of last night’s post-game interview:

Plumlee came to Denver an accomplished passer in his own right, and still has benefitted and learned from Jokic’s style. He was not alone in his efforts, with 11 of the 12 guys who saw the floor against Minnesota registering at least one assist. Some of the sweetest of the lot came from Malik Beasley (4), Will Barton (5), and Monte Morris (6) sprinkled throughout. The passing games of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have improved in the last few years as well. It’s surely because of the time and dedication that each of those guards put into their craft, and it’s still easy to argue that most of Denver guards are vastly improved passers having spent time with their giving center.

While calling the game, TNT’s Players Only crew spent some time discussing how infectious such an atmosphere can be, discussing openly how reticent you are as a player to hand over the ball when finding it’s not in your hands very often. Knowing your turn is coming again soon encourages you to keep the ball moving to the right spot on the floor.

The Nuggets got back to some old habits that way on Tuesday night, a welcome sight for this 16-game sprint to the finish line. It can be tough to perform at your best when you’ve got a virus, unless what you’ve caught actually makes you better. Even good things can be catching. Time will tell if Denver can hang onto this fever long enough to keep them running hot. If Nikola Jokic has infected the Nuggets with anything, it’s a giving point of view. Here’s hoping it just keeps catching.

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