The Pelicans could be seeing Nikola Jokic in their nightmares for weeks to come.
In Denver’s overtime win over New Orleans, Jokic finished with 39 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds in 36 minutes of action, making it his fourth triple-double of the season. He fought from the 3-point line (0 of 3) and the free throw line (5 of 9), but threw an efficient 17 of 23 from the field.
Jokic did his best work down the stretch, scoring six points in the fourth quarter, followed by 11 points in overtime. The Nuggets improved to .500 on the season with the victory.
There are many facets to Jokic’s game, but there was one particular way he separated the Pelicans on Wednesday.
You know what that means: to the movie theater!
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Will Barton brings the ball onto the court after a Pelicans shot clock violation.
Tied at 103 with 33.6 seconds remaining in regulation time, the Nuggets run one of their favorite sets for Jokic. It begins with Jokic heading to the left wing as Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris and Jeff Green gather on the opposite side of the court: Gordon on the right wing, Morris near the elbow and Green in the corner.
Shortly after passing half the court, Barton dribbles towards Jokic and hands him the ball. Jokic then moves the ball towards Gordon.
As that happens, Green works his way from corner to corner and Barton parks on the wing.
As soon as the ball leaves Jokic’s hands, Morris moves towards him to set up a screen.
The Pelicans don’t want to change for obvious reasons: Devonte ‘Graham defending Jokic isn’t exactly a recipe for success, so Jonas Valanciunas has to fight through Morris’s screen.
That gives Jokic the time he needs to establish a deep post position.
There are 12 seconds left on the shot clock when Jokic hits the post. He immediately gets to work, displaying footwork that would make Hakeem Olajuwon proud.
Why does it matter
For a couple of reasons.
First of all, it’s a smart way to get Jokic into the post. In addition to getting their defender moving and helping him get into a deep post position, the Nuggets do a good job of taking Jokic’s attention away by keeping everyone else on the court moving.
You wouldn’t be alone if your eyes gravitated to Jokic as the play unfolded; again, you saw that footwork, right? – but look what Gordon, Barton and Morris do.
More importantly, check how your advocates respond.
That’s the reigning MVP putting the ball at its sweet spot at the end of a close game and yet none of them commit to doubling it. Why? Because it would put them at risk of Gordon cutting to the basket for an easy bucket or one of Barton and Morris getting a clean look on a three.
The problem, of course, is that Jokic wrecks anyone in the job, even guys as big and strong as Valanciunas, which brings us to our second point.
Jokic has long tormented teams with his back to the basket, but he has gone to another level to start this season. According to NBA.com, he currently generates 22.0 percent of his offense in the position, which places him only behind Robin Lopez (35.6 percent), Joel Embiid (33.0 percent) and Valanciunas (25.8 percent) for the rate. highest in the league. The 5.5 points per game he averages in post-ups are the second most in his career and he ranks second only to Embiid (8.1) for the most in the league this season.
Now for the really impressive part: Jokic is averaging 1.08 points per back possession, which puts him in the 87th percentile for efficiency. So not only is Jokic one of the league’s most prolific scorers in the low block, but he’s one of the most efficient. It’s even more impressive when you consider that he doesn’t foul at the same rate as someone like Embiid. He’s just been cooking opponents at the post, hitting a whopping 57.1 percent of his shot attempts on those plays.
As you can see from the table below, Kevin Durant is the only player to score from the post with any kind of consistency that can exceed that number. (Lopez and Olynyk are both on top, but have combined to play in just 19 games this season.)
|Rank||Player||Points per game||% FG|
Talk about the number of ways Jokic can shoot in those situations.
To name a few, she can use her size to dominate just about anyone, and she has an incredibly smooth touch around the basket.
He’s not going to beat anyone in a foot race, but he’s more than capable of putting the ball down and playing at his own pace.
He’s a mid-range sniper, making 51.5 percent of his shooting attempts from that distance last season and 55.6 percent so far this season.
And oh yeah, if teams duplicate it, Jokic will make them look silly with his pass. (More on that here).
So what is the answer? There is no clear one. He’s gotten to the point where defending Jokic at the post is a game of choosing your poison – whatever decision the opposing team makes, he’s usually the last to laugh.