There are many ways to define greatness and in the case of Nikola Jokic, a normal day in the office for him is usually a Herculean task for others.
Scoring, rebounding, and being the fulcrum of the Denver Nuggets offense requires a lot of effort and energy and yet Jokic has been able to do all that and then some on a daily basis.
While much of that is chalked up as a typical day in the office for Jokic, the same can’t be said for the Nuggets.
Denver is in the midst of a three-game losing streak, with the latest coming at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets. Jokic had 35 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals, and two blocks, a full statline that only tells part of the story. His superhuman efforts can only do so much as he missed some key shots that could have swung things in the Nuggets’ favor.
Putting Jokic’s numbers aside, his teammates combined to make only 46 percent of their shot attempts, a figure that was largely buoyed by Michael Porter Jr.’s 23-point effort on 12 shot attempts. As much as Jokic and an occasional teammate can seemingly do everything, it isn’t enough to achieve everything Denver desires.
High playoff seeds have not been uncommon for the Nuggets over the last four postseasons. Unfortunately, the ending has always been the same. Seasons that begin with promise and raise hope for title contention end in disappointing playoff exits that elicit “what-ifs”. Jokic is obviously a generational talent, and while Denver head coach Mike Malone has generally done a great job with his roster, opponents have been able to exploit the Nuggets insofar as their ability to remain heavily reliant on the Serbian big man.
The three-time All-NBA First team selection isn’t just a walking triple-double; him simply playing for Denver makes them a surefire playoff team. When Jamal Murray tore the ACL on his left knee, Jokic took on a much heavier load and led the Nuggets to the third and sixth seed in the 2021 and 2022 Western Conference Playoffs, respectively.
When Jokic isn’t on the court, Denver is actually 14-22. This season alone, Denver is 3-5 without the two-time MVP and the offense takes a noticeable hit across the board. Not only are the drops significant quantitatively, but in terms of quality, things get shoddy. Of course, that’s what happens when the team is built around Jokic, but it’s not like the team put together by Artūras Karnišovas and Tim Connelly, now with the Chicago Bulls and the Minnesota Timberwolves, respectively, would crumble down.
The key to all this, in a nutshell, is for the rest to step up. It’s not so much as racking up triple-doubles, but it’s more of finding a role and doing it well. Murray made a name for himself in the 2020 NBA Playoffs with his stellar shotmaking that served as the perfect complement to Jokic.
Another talent on the roster is of course, Porter Jr. who is another scoring machine, albeit with a shakier injury history. So while he gets his health right, his ability to score at all three levels will come in spurts like that against the Nets.
Of course, part of this will fall under Malone’s shoulders. Much of what he runs offensively obviously runs through Jokic, but he has to know that he has a roster to work with. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but handing out more opportunities to his players will bode well for Jokic (less energy exerted) and players looking to come out of their shell and break out.
Nikola Jokic has always been on another level compared to his peers. The Denver Nuggets have reaped the benefits of this, but they may need to rise above being defined by Jokic, because there will come a time when Jokic will need the Nuggets as much as they need him. That could be the difference between clinching the NBA title or repeating the cycle of disappointment.