Nikola Jokic, the focal point of the Denver Nuggets, deserves consideration as a starter in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game for so many reasons.
The Serbian-born center has allowed Denver to adapt an offensive culture that revolves around incredible playmaking and distributing. The Nuggets rank No. 2 overall in the Western Conference in passes per game (317.1), while Jokic leads the league (71.2) in the same category. He ranks fourth among all players in assist percentage (38.4) and sixth in total assists (323) – the only center in the Top 20 in either category.
Just over halfway through the season, 65.1 percent of the field goals the Nuggets have connected on were assisted. That ranks No. 3 overall in the NBA, barely trailing the Philadelphia 76ers for the top spot.
One reason for this is because of the success the Nuggets have in half-court sets, especially when Jokic is surgically operating out of the high post.
Here is how Scott Rafferty has described this type of offense (via UPROXX):
“When the Nuggets aren’t able to score in transition, they like to run their half-court offense through Jokic in the high post. Giving Jokic the ball outside of the paint doesn’t have a negative impact on Denver’s spacing because he’s comfortable shooting from midrange and the perimeter… Being a reliable threat from those distances means his defender can’t help off of him when he has the ball in his hands, which creates wide open lanes to the basket for his teammates.”
Denver has scored 93.1 points per game in half-court sets, which ranks Top 5 in the West. Jokic often stands at the top of the key and finds an open teammate, creating offensive opportunities unlike nearly every other team in the league.
Jokic has racked up 274 assists when the Nuggets have finished possessions in organized sets rather than in transition offense. That is ahead of guards such as Jrue Holiday, Trae Young, James Harden and Damian Lillard — all of whom rank Top 5 in this category.
The seven-footer has averaged 7.5 assists and just 1.0 per game has come in transition, meaning the remaining 6.5 assists have come from drawn sets.
When counting how many points he scores and the points created by his assists, Jokic has personally accounted for roughly 30 percent of Denver’s offense when running drawn plays.
One of their most popular options has been the dribble handoff from Jokic to Gary Harris. Earlier this season, teammate Will Barton described why it has been so effective for the Nuggets (via The Athletic):
“They are both threats. Jokic is usually catching the ball, and his man is a little bit behind him from trying to help. He catches it and you have to respect that he can shoot it right there, so you’re already off balance as you try to get back in front of him. Then you have to respect that he can turn the corner himself and go for a layup. Then, Gary’s man might be helping a little bit and Gary is just flying off it. If you go under he can pull back and shoot a 3, and if you go over he has the ability to get around and finish or make a play for another person.”
Harris ranks No. 2 overall in points per game (4.9) scored via dribble handoffs. Only Philadelphia’s JJ Redick (5.5 points per game) has been more prolific on this play type. Needless to say, most of Harris’ buckets arrive after handoffs from Jokic.
People often discuss how Jokic is one of the most exciting passing big men in the history of the game. But many would still be surprised to learn that Jokic is the leader in non-transition assists.
Watch some of the best passing actions unfold in this highlight reel below: