Nikola Jokic’s passing the catalyst for Nuggets’ seven-game winning streak

CHARLOTTE – Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic dribbled hard to his left, drew two Toronto defenders and whipped a sidearm pass to the opposite corner that would’ve landed in the stands for most players who tried it.

Instead, the bullet found Jamal Murray wide-open for a corner 3-pointer.

Two nights later in Orlando, Jokic was operating on the wing, a step inside the 3-point arc. He kept his eyes fixated on the near corner, careful not to give a Magic defender any clue that he was cheating too far from his man. Jokic slung a two-handed overhead pass to the far corner, the pass well on its way before he allowed himself to look.

Jokic’s deception created plenty of space for Juancho Hernangomez, the Nuggets’ best 3-point shooter, for an open triple.

“It’s really easy to play with him,” Hernangomez said. “He knows exactly what happens on the court. A lot of our plays run through him, so we need to be ready to help him.”

Jokic’s 9.9 assists per game in Denver’s seven-game winning streak are tied with Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry for second-most in the NBA during that span. The next nine players on the list are all point guards.

His ability to control a game with his passing isn’t new, but it has been the catalyst for the Nuggets’ longest winning streak since the 2013-’14 season.

Jokic, who averaged 6.1 assists last season and ranks eighth alongside only point guards with his 7.8 dimes so far this season, has been an anomaly since he joined the league.

“I think last 15 games, we’re No. 1 in the league in assists per game at over 30,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “That’s when we’re at our best when we have player movement, ball movement, guys cutting and getting high percentage looks. I think that’s what allows Nikola to be the player that he is. He may not be shooting the best percentages in the world, but he can still contribute and dominate a game with his playmaking, his rebounding and other areas.”

Jokic has shot just 16 percent from 3-point range during the Nuggets’ streak, but it hasn’t mattered much because of the looks he’s helped generate. Against the Raptors he had 15 assists – five of which led to 3-pointers. He had 13 more assists in the overtime win over Orlando on Wednesday.

His ability to process a play’s development and facilitate from any spot on the court might only be rivaled by LeBron James in terms of frontcourt players.

“They both have a great feel for it,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said recently. “The late passes, all the angles, making everybody an option whenever the ball’s in their hands is a skill that they share in common.”

Nuggets point guard Monte Morris agreed with the comparison.

“For sure, no question,” Morris said. “Especially the passing part. The scoring, too. LeBron’s just jumping a little bit higher than Joke. Other than that, it’s still worth two points.

Morris admitted that he’s asked Jokic for tips on his own distributing.

“I haven’t really seen nothing like that in a long time, a guy his size that can do that and throw no-look passes,” Morris said. “It’s amazing.”

 

 

 

 

 

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