Nikola Jokic's Doughy Shoulders Can Carry The Load

Illustration for article titled Nikola Jokic's Doughy Shoulders Can Carry The Load
Photo: Matthew Stockman (Getty)

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine soft-bodied, sweet-passing Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as the kind of blue-chip superstar who can carry a team all by himself. Part of this is due to that aforementioned body, which manages to be both gangly and plump, and totally out of place during an era in which the NBA is ruled by guys with Street Shark physiques. There’s also the fact that Jokic isn’t the sort to take 26 shots in a game and eat a defense alive, or pin a bunch of opponents’ shots to the backboard like a classic superstar big man would.


Over the last five games, however, Jokic has shown that he can take over and singlehandedly drive the Nuggets forward when necessary. The last five games have seen the Nuggets roster at its most depleted, with key starters Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, and Will Barton out of the lineup. Yet they have gone 4-1 in those games, including wins over the Raptors and Thunder, and they have been paced by a remarkably aggressive Jokic.

Jokic has never been the sort of player who is eager to take more than 10-13 shots in a game or score more than 15-18 points, but over the last five games he’s averaging 26.6 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists a game. He’s taken 18.2 shots a game over that stretch, and he’s hit 54.9 percent of them. He really went for it during last night’s win against the Mavericks, scoring 32 points on 25 shots.

And what shots they were! Jokic usually gets talked about because of his genius-level passing, and with good reason, but he’s got just as many tricks for getting the ball into the basket as he does for getting it into his teammates’ hands. He can shoot from anywhere, he’s got every slow-motion, defense-shedding post move a ground-bound big man could ever ask for, and he’s got remarkable control over that squishy body of his, which allows him to drive and stop and pop and float and toss the ball into the hoop from all sorts of strange angles. This play was listed as a “running jump shot” in last night’s official box score, but it is more accurately described as “some Jokic shit”:

This one can’t even really be accurately described:

There will always be handwringing about Jokic’s defensive limitations and the roster-building challenges they present, but the last five games have shown that it’s sort of silly to spend too much time worrying about the things Jokic can’t do when he can do so much. People used to worry about Dirk Nowitzki being too soft and a defensive liability too, up until the point he went right at the Miami Big Three and came away with a title.

Beyond that, it’s fun as hell to see a player dominating NBA games the way Jokic has been. There’s no denying the thrill that comes with seeing Giannis Antetokounmpo leap across the court in a single bound, or in watching Joel Embiid evolve into Shaquille O’Neal with shooting touch, but Jokic offers a different sort of pleasure. In place of athletic shock and awe is whimsy and creativity. Watching a Jokic highlights is like being told a series of jokes by your good friend who you wish you hung out with more, each one eliciting a smirk and a chuckle. If Jokic ever does something crazy like win an MVP award or an NBA title, all we’ll be able to do in response is smirk and chuckle.