The ball was passed to the big man on the elbow. He looks to his left and his right, scanning his options as they fly by him. Seeing how he is guarded, he gets to work and scores over his defender’s outstretched hands. On the next possession, he returns to more or less the same spot and finds his teammate for a wide open basket. On both instances, you can’t fault one for thinking of Nikola Jokic or Bam Adebayo, both of whom battled it out on the court earlier today.
In what was an interesting development, Adebayo and Jokic finished the game with similar stat lines. Jokic, who returned after missing four games due to a wrist injury, had 24 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and a steal, doing a little bit of everything to give the Denver Nuggets a 120-111 victory over the Miami Heat.
Meanwhile, Adebayo earned his 100th double-double after he led the Heat with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists in trying to carry the load for his undermanned squad.
Both big men certainly took the spotlight, but Denver pounced on the short-handed Miami squad that was without its leader Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. A strong second quarter allowed the Nuggets to create some distance and eventually walk away with the victory that brought them back to .500. Apart from Jokic, six other players scored in double-figures for Denver, all of whom benefited from the reigning league MVP’s presence and playmaking abilities.
In a nutshell, Adebayo and Jokic take running your offense through your big men to another level. Sure, you can feed them in the post and they can do work ala Joel Embiid, but Adebayo and Jokic can also bring down the ball or go on transition on their own.
From there, the nuances take over. Jokic is as crafty as they come, scoring and passing from different angles on the court. The three-time All-Star’s current averages of 26.2 points, a career-high 13.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 1.2 steals through 15 games point to another MVP-caliber campaign, which may have gotten a bit more difficult with both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. out for the season. Jokic’s usage and minutes will only increase and his 38.7 assist percentage, which is fifth in the NBA, will only point to him further shouldering the offense. While he is used to being the fulcrum of the Nuggets’ offense, managing the 26-year old’s health becomes an emerging priority with Denver’s key rotation players dropping like flies.
Adebayo, on the other hand, is an athletic defender who can guard multiple positions and use his physical gifts to score on his defenders. Averaging 18.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.1 steals in 32.9 minutes per game, the Olympic gold medallist continues to get better with each passing season and has emerged as the defensive lynchpin for Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. The two-time All-Defensive selection’s blocks have gone down so far this season but it has done little to change his defensive impact as his 0.9 defensive win shares rank among the top-25 in the league. His rebounding percentage (17.3 percent) is also higher than that of fellow Kentucky Wildcats Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, and Karl Anthony Towns.
Although both Jokic and Adebayo did not match up against one another the whole night, one could see certain instances where their strengths were on full view. Adebayo played some solid defense on Jokic, forcing the Serbian big man to pass out of difficult spots, which for the Heat unfortunately at times ended up as assists.
Despite being much slower, Jokic was able to use Adebayo’s aggression to draw a four-point play. It turned into a little chess match of sorts as their matchup became a battle of smarts rather than pure ability. On the other side, Adebayo took advantage of Jokic’s defensive shortcomings, drawing fouls and getting easier baskets after initially establishing his midrange game.
It’s likely we will see more of big men in the same vein as Adebayo and Jokic in the near future as rookie Evan Mobley and NBA prospects Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren have all displayed the qualities that have made both Adebayo and Jokic such highly-valued players in today’s perimeter-oriented league.
Both teams are coming from contrasting positions in their respective conferences, but Adebayo and Jokic will remain crucial to the fates of the Heat and the Nuggets, respectively. Miami will play the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks (twice) the Chicago Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Memphis Grizzlies. Moving forward, Denver will be able to consider resting Jokic in the next couple of games as the Washington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks look to be their toughest opponents in the next two weeks.
When the Denver Nuggets took on the Miami Heat at the FTX Arena, it wasn’t just another chapter in the saga between the Jokic and Morris families; the evolution of the NBA center was on full display. The regular season series between the Nuggets and Heat may have ended, but both teams continue to work towards the goal of winning a championship, which could see them facing each other once again.
Achieving that goal will largely depend on Nikola Jokic and Bam Adebayo, both of whom will utilize their unique abilities to lead their respective teams to victories.