Nikola Jokic raced out to a fast start this season — 15.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists a night with a 63.7 true shooting percentage the focal point of the Nuggets offense so far. He is playing like an All-Star, if not an All-NBA player, and he Nuggets got off to a 9-1 start.
But in recent games Jokic has been more passive, and that came to a head Wednesday in Miami when he took only one shot — a three-ball attempted game-winner with 2.4 seconds left — and Denver lost scoring just 87 points. Memphis was grinding and they dictated the pace and style, Jokic got sucked into it.
What happened? While the Grizzlies did focus on stopping him, Jokic also passed up open looks, instead passing to less open teammates. There’s no one clear answer, but everyone around the Nuggets knows they can’t have their best player be passive. From Mike Singer of the Denver Post.
“He’s gotta be aggressive, but he’s making plays for others, so it’s just a balance of how much you want him to pass, because he’s a great passer and how much do you want him to shoot,” [Jamal] Murray said of Jokic. “I think it’s just a balance.”
“He’s gotta be aggressive,” [Paul] Millsap said. “I’m not going to tell him … he’s pretty much, he’s an All-Star. He’ll find his shot. He’s still doing other things to help this team. He looks a little tired out there, so we gotta do a better job of helping him.”
“We have stuff, we get him the ball in spots,” forward Mason Plumlee said. “A lot of our offense is through him, so he has to take the initiative to take shots. We support that, we want that, and we don’t want him taking his first shot as the game-winning shot. It’s a great shot, I love the play call, but we gotta get him going earlier. He really sets the table, and the thing is he’s such a good passer, he’s always going to get other guys off. But we gotta get him involved offensively too.”
The concern is this is four consecutive games now with Jokic scoring in single digits and averaging 4.5 shot attempts per game in that stretch. The Memphis game was not a total outlier, more part of a recent trend — one Denver needs to reverse if they are going to win consistently. Jokic has said he does not get set up by teammates much, which is true but as the face of the franchise he needs to be more aggressive in creating and taking good looks. Plus, he’s passing up open looks right now.
Whatever is going on in Jokic’s head, the Nuggets need to shake him out of it soon.