NBA Rumor: Jokic-Malone Dynamic

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But Jokic has seen his head coach mature in other ways than just recognizing the need to put the ball in his best player’s hands. “You can see that he’s not reacting that emotionally anymore,” Jokic said. “He’s not pissed any more that quick, not dynamite anymore. You can see that it’s positive thinking, positive talking. When we had that four-game losing stretch at the beginning of the season, he was staying positive, saying, ‘We’re going to be good. We’re going to be good.’ And we are good.”

Will Barton, the team’s unofficial spokesman, has lived through the pain of narrowly missing the playoffs the last two seasons. He’s had to wear the ache just like Malone has. “I feel like he’s more in tune with his players than ever — on a personal level, not just basketball — and he’s giving more of himself,” Barton said. “He’s knowing every player now. He’s knowing how everyone can go, how he can challenge everyone. It starts with Nikola. He challenges him and when you challenge your best player, you can challenge anyone on the team.”

During his first trip to Serbia (he went back again this summer), Malone was walking through Kalemegdan, a park built around a historical fort that features some of the city’s very first basketball courts. It’s where some of the country’s top clubs, like Partizan, were founded near the end of World War II. Malone was touring the area with Ognjen Stojakovic, a player development coach for the Nuggets who is from Belgrade. “And all of a sudden this couple comes up to me with their baby and says, ‘Will you take a picture with our baby? We love the Nuggets; we love Nikola; we love you,’ ” Malone recalls. “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy.’ That happens quite frequently anytime I’m there. That speaks to their love of the game of basketball, but it also speaks to their love of Nikola. They only know me because of Nikola, and I understand that. They don’t recognize me because I’m Pat Riley. They recognize me because I’m Nikola’s coach.”

Malone got a closer look at Jokic’s hobby than he bargained for during his most recent visit to Sombor. It’s a well-documented tale that, on the day Malone arrived in Serbia last summer, Dreamcatcher won his first race, leading to a night of celebratory toasts led by Nemanja and Strajinha. But Malone got a more personal race-horsing experience this time around. “We go to the track and I’m thinking I’m just going to watch the trainer work the horse out,” Malone says. “The next thing you know the trainer stops the horse, gets out of the carriage and says, ‘OK, Coach, you get in.’ I’m from New York City. I’ve never ridden a horse before. So I go around the first time and Nikola and his trainer are both yelling, ‘Coach, slow down! You’re going too fast!’ I come around the second lap and they’re yelling, ‘Coach, you’re going too fast!’ I was just having fun with it. “That’s his getaway, man. He loves it.”

And Nuggets coach Michael Malone, for one, could not wait to shout it from the mountaintop. “I’ve said it before: He won’t get any recognition for this season,” Malone said. “What he does every single night, and how efficiently he does it, there’s not many players that do that. Obviously, he Nikola Jokić, we’re Denver, so nobody is going to talk about it. But he’s an incredible player. We ask him to do so much for this team, as a third-year player, trying to carry this team. … He accepts it. He embraces it, and he goes out and does it almost every night at a very high level.”
4 years ago via ESPN

Last spring, Mike Malone warned Nikola Jokic of the coming burden. He needed to get in better shape, and stay even-keeled. “When s— doesn’t go your way, sometimes you become a baby,” Malone told him. “You take bad fouls. You take bad shots. Your body language does this and that. You think it’s just about you. But what do you think Jamal [Murray] is looking at? What do you think Gary Harris is looking at? All eyes are on you. If you do that stuff, it filters down. At the end of the day, Nikola knows I love him.”

“I go back to last season. He had an unbelievable rookie year and he had an unbelievable rookie year playing the five. I told him, I feel bad, I feel like I’ve done him a disservice almost exploring playing big,” Malone said of Jokic after the Nuggets fell to Detroit 106-95 Saturday night. “There were some good things with that, but I took a kid who had a great year and changed his position on him and it hasn’t been easy for him. The hope is to try and get him more minutes at the five, he will play some four at times. We need to get Nikola back. Nikola Jokic last year was a hell of a player. Free, easy, happy and right now, you look at him and it looks like he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders and I just want to try and alleviate some of that if I can.”

Jokic went to Malone after the Nuggets 125-101 loss to the Golden State Warriors at home Thursday where the Serbian man looked as frustrated as ever throughout the one-plus seasons he’s spent in Denver. Jokic scored just four points, grabbed three rebound, was a -21 plus-minus in just 18 minutes and struggled to contain Draymond Green. “I actually talked to coach about that,” Jokic said of his move to the bench and back to playing more center. “I’m good with that. All last season I played center. I had a good season.” “I think I need to have more fun out there,” Jokic continued. “I think I need to relax more and have fun more and everything will be better.”
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June 21, 2021 | 12:24 am EDT Update