The Pelicans might be seeing Nikola Jokic in their nightmares for the next few weeks.
In Denver’s overtime win over New Orleans, Jokic finished with 39 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds in 36 minutes of action, making for his fourth triple-double of the season. He struggled from the 3-point line (0-for-3) and free throw line (5-for-9) but shot an efficient 17-for-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 win.
There are many facets to Jokic’s game, but there was one particular way he picked the Pelicans apart on Wednesday.
You know what that means — to the film room!
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Will Barton brings the ball up the court following a shot clock violation from the Pelicans.
Tied at 103 with 33.6 seconds remaining in regulation, the Nuggets run one of their go-to sets for Jokic. It begins with Jokic making his way to the left wing while 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.
Not long after passing halfcourt, Barton dribbles towards Jokic and hands the ball off to him. Jokic then moves the ball along to Gordon.
While that’s going on, Green makes his way from one corner to the other and Barton parks himself on the wing.
As soon as the ball leaves Jokic’s hands, Morris moves towards him to set a screen.
The Pelicans don’t want to switch for obvious reasons — Devonte’ Graham defending Jokic isn’t exactly a recipe for success — so Jonas Valanciunas has to fight through Morris’ screen.
That buys Jokic the time he needs to establish deep post position.
There are 12 seconds remaining on the shot clock when Jokic gets the ball in the post. He immediately goes to work, showing off some footwork that would make Hakeem Olajuwon proud.
Why it matters
A couple of reasons.
First, it’s a smart way to get Jokic the ball in the post. In addition to getting his defender moving and helping him get deep post position, the Nuggets do a good job taking the attention off of Jokic by having everyone else on the court stay in motion.
You wouldn’t be alone if your eyes gravitated towards Jokic as the play unfolded — again, you saw that footwork, right? — but watch what Gordon, Barton and Morris do.
More importantly, check out how their defenders respond.
That’s the reigning MVP getting the ball in his sweet spot at the end of a close game, and yet not a single one of them commits to doubling him. Why? Because it would put them at risk of Gordon cutting towards the basket for an easy bucket or one of Barton and Morris getting a clean look at a three.
The problem, of course, is that Jokic shreds just about anyone in the post, even dudes as big and strong as Valanciunas, which brings us to our second point.
Jokic has long been tormenting teams with his back to the basket, but he’s gone to another level to start this season. According to NBA.com, he’s currently generating 22.0 percent of his offense in the post, putting him behind only Robin Lopez (35.6 percent), Joel Embiid (33.0 percent) and Valanciunas (25.8 percent) for the highest rate in the league. The 5.5 points per game he’s averaging on post-ups is the second-most in his career and ranks second to only Embiid (8.1) for most in the league this season.
Now, for the real impressive part: Jokic is averaging 1.08 points per post-up possession, which ranks him in the 87th percentile in efficiency. So not only is Jokic one of the league’s most prolific scorers on the low block, but he’s one of the most efficient. It’s even more impressive when you consider that he doesn’t draw fouls at the same rate as someone like Embiid. He’s just been cooking opponents in the post, making a whopping 57.1 percent of his shot attempts on those plays.
As you can see in the table below, Kevin Durant is the only player who scores out of the post with any sort of regularity who can beat that figure. (Lopez and Olynyk are both up there, but they’ve combined to play in only 19 games this season.)
|Rank||Player||Points Per Game||FG%|
It speaks to the number of ways Jokic can get his shot off in those situations.
To name a few, he can use his size to overpower almost anyone, and he has an incredibly soft 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 on the floor, and he plays at his own pace.
He’s a sniper from midrange, canning 51.5 percent of his shot attempts from that distance last season and 55.6 percent so far this season.
And, oh yeah, if teams do double him, Jokic will make them look silly with his passing. (More on that here.)
So what’s the answer? There isn’t a clear one. It’s gotten to the point where defending Jokic in the post is a game of pick your poison — whichever decision the opposing team makes, he’s usually going to have the last laugh.