Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić: Five stats behind dominance

Let’s make this clear from the jump: Nikola Jokić is among the frontrunners for MVP this season.

No, this isn’t being written because this is Nuggets.com. The 25-year-old has been in the conversation for the past two seasons and his play in the early part of the season puts him among the very best in the NBA.

Jokić is averaging a career-high in almost every major category (aside from free-throw shooting) and his stat line is absurd: 24.3 points, 10.9 boards, and 10.5 assists while shooting a sizzling 57.6 percent and knocking in 41.6 percent from downtown. If he keeps up his current averages, he will be the third player in NBA history to average a triple-double with the other two being Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.

A deeper dive into his numbers suggests absolute dominance from the center position.

Here’s a look at five standout stats from Jokić:

  1. Third in Player Impact Estimate (20): According to the NBA, Jokić has the third-biggest impact on games, slightly trailing No. 1-rated Luka Dončić (21.1) from the Dallas Mavericks and Joel Embiid from the Philadelphia 76ers.

  2. Third in Offensive Rating (121.7): The leaders in this category might surprise a few as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (129.3) and Gary Trent Jr. (122.1) are No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. That speaks to how valuable efficiency is in the category. Caldwell-Pope, for example, is averaging 10.1 points on 53.3 percent shooting and knocking down 53.1 percent of his attempts from downtown. That Jokic is currently third in the offensive rating is impressive because he’s shooting at a much higher volume (15.6 shots per game) than Caldwell-Pope (6.7) or Trent Jr. (8.8). Jokić’s star teammate Jamal Murray is currently five in the stat at 120.4.

  3. First in assists (10.5): Jokić currently leads the NBA in assists, which is unprecedented for his position. No NBA center has ever led the league in assists per game. Not Wilt Chamberlain, not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar nor Arvydas Sabonis. If Jokić averages more than 8.6 assists per game, it would be a new NBA record. Wilt Chamberlain currently holds the league record at 8.6 dimes per game.

  4. Second in Assist Percentage (44.1): Not only is Jokić leading the league in dimes, but he’s second in the NBA in assist percentage with Dončić sitting at No. 1. (46.6). Assist percentage is an estimate of how many teammate field goals a player has a hand in.

  5. Career-high in steals (1.8): If Jokic maintains his current steals per game, he will also be entering history. His current number would place him at 10th for steals per game by a center, tying him for seventh in the position. Hakeem Olajuwon accomplished the feat three times along with Ben Wallace and Nerlens Noel. Olajuwon also holds the record, recording 2.6 steals per game during the 1988-89 season.

Preview: Denver Nuggets return home to face Golden State Warriors

The Denver Nuggets are back at home after going two of three on their east coast road trip. Winners of four of their last six, the Nuggets appear to be getting back on track towards a successful season. Still, the sting of their most recent contest, a loss to the Brooklyn Nets after holding an eighteen point lead, should keep anyone from getting complacent. The task tonight? The Golden State Warriors. While the Warriors’ season hit an immediate bump in the road when they lost Klay Thompson for the year to an achilles injury, Golden State is currently on the right side of .500 with a 6-5 record. Stephen Curry remains Stephen Curry and the key to beating the Warriors remains keeping him in check. If Andrew Wiggins or Eric Paschall go off you can win that game, but let Steph eclipse the thirty point mark like the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers (who let Steph eclipse the sixty point mark) have recently and in all likelihood you’re looking at a loss.

The Essentials

Who: Golden State Warriors (6-5) at Denver Nuggets (5-6)

When: 8:00 PM MST

Where: Ball Arena. Denver, CO.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. TNT, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Wear a really expensive suit and convince Ball Arena security you’re a high ranking Western Union executive. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival Blog: Let’s Go Warriors

Projected Matchups Position Nuggets Warriors Advantage Position Nuggets Warriors Advantage PG Jamal Murray Stephen Curry Warriors SG Gary Harris Kelly Oubre Jr. Even SF Will Barton Andrew Wiggins Even PF Paul Millsap Draymond Green Warriors C Nikola Jokic James Wiseman Nuggets Bench Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, Isaiah Hartenstein, JaMychal Green, Facundo Campazzo Eric Paschall, Kevon Looney, Kent Bazemore, Brad Wanamaker Even

Player availability: Gary Harris - questionable (personal reasons), Michael Porter Jr. - out (health and safety protocol), Greg Whittington - out (knee); Marquese Chriss - out (leg), Alen Smailagic - out (knee), Klay Thompson - out (achilles)

Three Things to watch for

Key matchup: Jamal Murray vs Steph Curry

No need to overthink the key matchup tonight, it’s clearly at the point guard position. Like I said, the key to beating the Warriors is containing Curry. The problem the Nuggets might face is if Gary Harris can’t go then they won’t have their defensive stopper at guard to throw at Steph. Even if Harris is available, it’s a fair bet that Murray is still going to get a good amount of minutes guarding the former MVP. Jamal also has hit a bit of a rough patch in regards to his offense which Denver may need tonight if Murray is not up to the task of containing Curry. No doubt The Blue Arrow is going to be up for this matchup tonight. I’m expecting a big game from Denver’s second star.

Key point: Bol Bol should play play

Bol got an opportunity to get minutes against the Nets and even got his first NBA start. Now, a lot of that has to do with the fact that the Nuggets had no one else who could compare to Kevin Durant’s length and quickness, but it was promising to see coach Michael Malone had the faith in Bol to task him with a situation like that. It should also be noted that the Nets made their comeback when Bol was off the floor. While there’s still a lot of raw in his game, I’d like to see Bol get more opportunity off the bench. The Nuggets thus far have been matching the roster size of their opponents. Minnesota Timberwolves play small, Nuggets sit Isaiah Hartenstein, Dallas Mavericks play big, Nuggets sit Facundo Campazzo; it would be a nice change of pace if Denver dictated what the other team did with their size for once. There is no one (save for maybe Zion Williamson) in the league who creates a bigger physical conundrum for the opposition than the Nuggets and their 7’2” small forward. The Warriors have one player on the roster who is healthy and taller than 6’9” and he’s a rookie. If the Nuggets are ever going to use Bol’s size to put a team at a disadvantage, tonight sure is a good night to do it.

Opening thought: play four quarters

The Nuggets now have three losses that should be wins: opening night against the Kings, the TNT game against the Mavericks and their most recent loss to the Nets. Each one of those games go Denver’s way if they just stay focused for the full 48 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I’d sure feel a lot better about this team at 8-3 than at 5-6. To put it plainly, the Nuggets have under performed in the first 15% of the season and that is a direct result of their mid-game lapses. Enough is enough, in a shortened season every loss is a bit more damaging and the Nuggets are quickly running out of losses they can overcome. Make Steph work, play a full 48 with energy and intensity and the Nuggets win this game. Simple as that.

Stiffs Mailbag: Finding defensive improvements within the Nuggets roster

Everyone knows the drill. Thanks for tuning in and asking questions this week!

Let’s dive in.

What’s really going on in the Nuggets? Are they losing because others are better or because they are worse than they were last season? — Svet Mirkovic (@forgottenrealm3) January 13, 2021

Let’s run through Denver’s six losses to gain a better understanding of what’s going on:

Lost to the Sacramento Kings in the season opener on an overtime buzzer beater following some shenanigans from referees

Lost to the Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas in a redemption game for the Clips

Lost to Sacramento again on the second night of a back-to-back with Jamal Murray sitting out

Lost to the Phoenix Suns by three points in a game that saw Gary Harris and Will Barton combine to go 3-of-17 from the field

Lost to the Dallas Mavericks in overtime in a game Denver should have won

Lost to the Brooklyn Nets in a game Denver led by 18 points in the third quarter

Is there anything particularly insightful about those six bullet points? Probably not, but it helps to contextualize each loss. Denver should be at least 6-5 right now due to the referee shenanigans in the season opener, and if Denver had turned either of the past three close losses into wins, they would be 7-4.

The Nuggets have had a problem defensively in close games. They have two players they genuinely trust in crunch time no matter what in Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić, but beyond that, they’re still figuring out a closing unit. Once they do, I expect things to go a lot better on both sides of the ball.

where’s the biggest space for internal improvement that can turn this season around and make this team serious 1st/2nd tierish contender? — Drasko Nikolic (@skodra80) January 13, 2021

Right now, the best thing the Nuggets can do is improve their defensive rebounding. With a 72.1% defensive rebounding rate that ranks 23rd in the NBA, the Nuggets have taken a massive step back in a category that one never expected to trouble them with Michael Porter Jr. in the fold. Of course, Porter has played just four of Denver’s 11 games, leaving Denver small on the wings and in the frontcourt consistently.

The bench consistently features a small lineup with Facundo Campazzo and Monte Morris sharing the backcourt. In addition, Isaiah Hartenstein’s inconsistencies have forced Michael Malone’s hand to sometimes take him off the floor with the second unit. PJ Dozier has occasionally slid to the power forward spot to accommodate the change, and though Dozier has played well, he’s vastly undersized.

The Nuggets are always going to struggle with defense given their personnel, but the most important change they can make is to rebound better when a miss does occur. Giving opponents an opportunity for second chance points under the basket or on a kick-out three-pointer is the last thing Denver should hope for. If Denver’s defense does everything correctly and forces a miss, they have to be better finishing the play and grabbing the rebound.

Do the Nuggets view MPJ as the long term solution at the 3 or do you think they plan to transition him to the 4 in the future and find a more defensive minded perimeter play to play SF? — David St. Clair (@DavidSt24) January 14, 2021

Right now, the Nuggets view Michael Porter Jr. as a small forward. They want to treat him that way early in his career and place a better defender next to him at power forward that can cover for his weaknesses. That being said, things might change in the future depending on what the Nuggets believe Porter’s best position to be next to Jokić. If the Nuggets need that defensive minded wing, then Porter’s position might change in name.

Jerami Grant defended small forwards last season in the playoffs when on the floor next to Porter, who defended power forwards. The Nuggets drafted Zeke Nnaji and have high hopes for the Arizona rookie big man though, and playing Nnaji in between Porter and Jokić would move Porter to the small forward spot.

The truth is, the Nuggets see Porter as a versatile forward, and Michael Malone will utilize him however he needs to be utilized from game to game. Porter has advantages and disadvantages at both spots depending on the matchup, so call him interchangeable at forward for the time being.

Last year Jerami only started 24 out 71 games, but 16 of 19 in playoffs. Will Coach do the same to JaMychal Green even though he looks like a good fit with the starters? — EL CARG (@elcarg) January 13, 2021

Long term planning is always difficult for head coaches. They want to win so badly, and transitioning from Paul Millsap starting to Jerami Grant starting, while that’s something that Michael Malone wanted to do last regular season, was never in the cards once the regular season hit. The fear this season is that JaMychal Green, despite being a better player than Millsap right now in my opinion, is in a similar boat due to chemistry and lineup issues. After slowly developing chemistry with the bench unit, when’s the proper time for Malone to uproot both units and transition Green into starting more permanently?

If I had to guess, I’d say that Malone will attempt to wait for the proper moment. Whether that’s if Millsap sustains an injury during the season, if Millsap goes through a rough patch, or simply transitioning from one to the other at the midpoint of the season, I do think it happens. Denver needs Green’s superior mobility, length, and athleticism in their primary group in my eyes, and whenever that transition happens matters less than the transition actually happening at some point.

Does bol realistically have any sort of fit in Denver — Eli Whitney (@eliwhtney17) January 13, 2021

Bol Bol is so unique, as his start against the Brooklyn Nets showcased. He looked like a physical carbon copy of Kevin Durant on the floor, and he showed some impressive tools and skills while matched up with one of the best players in the world. It didn’t end well, but it wasn’t his fault.

When Michael Porter Jr. comes back, there’s almost certainly no room for Bol Bol in Denver’s rotation. The Nuggets want to be able to play him, but they can’t continue to deal with his tentativeness as a shooter, his spotty defense, and his overall level of inexperience while the team has to focus on winning games. If Denver were in a rebuilding situation, I’d have expected him to play every single game due to significant talent level. As it stands, he hasn’t been able to show that off for extended time.

With Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green are healthy, I don’t expect Bol to receive significant playing time going forward. If one were to go down, Bol would be a solid injury replacement. Beyond that, it’s up to him to develop and take the necessary steps to become a consistent rotation player. I think he can do it, but it won’t be easy.

Any trades Denver can make around the edges to help balance the roster? I like them both but I’d trade Facu and Bol for a wing who can defend — Take that L on the way out (@WarandMayhem) January 13, 2021

The simplest trade Denver could make is moving Facundo Campazzo and whatever else it takes for a bench wing player with size. Denver’s starting unit will eventually be back to normal with Porter in the fold again, but coming off the bench, the Nuggets could use another 6’6-8” shooting guard/forward that could be a passable defender. Morris isn’t going anywhere. Denver likes Barton and Dozier as other wings, but they’re more guards.

A couple of names to watch: Danuel House and Taurean Prince, both recently affected by the James Harden trade. If the Rockets are in a bad spot and are willing to trade House, he’s a solid player that can make threes and defend reasonably well. Prince was moved to Cleveland and into a crowded Cavs rotation that features two young wings in Cedi Osman and Isaac Okoro, both of whom the Cavs like. If the Nuggets want someone 6’8” that can offer a bit more lineup versatility for Denver going forward, then Prince is a decent, relatively cheap option.

How much does seeding matter for the nuggets? Do you think the integration of players like MPJ and/or bol by playoff time is worth the cost of a few wins? — Corey (@C_Blake05) January 14, 2021

Seeding genuinely doesn’t matter for the Nuggets outside of their need to finish in the top six of the standings and avoid the play-in tournament. Denver’s home court advantage has been distinctly lacking with the Nuggets going just 2-4 at Ball Arena to start the season. The Nuggets will face good Western Conference opponents in every round of the playoffs, and eventually, they will have to run into the Clippers and Lakers at some point.

With no fans in arenas to start the year, I’m less concerned about home court than ever before. The Nuggets aren’t concerned either.