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How Is Nikola Jokic This Good Again?

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Early within the third quarter against Memphis on Tuesday, Jokic caught the ball near the perimeter, immediately tossed the ball between his legs without looking and located a cutting Bruce Brown for a dunk, drawing oohs and aahs from the gang. That was the amuse-bouche for minutes later, when he coolly tossed a blind over-the-head pass from the low post to Aaron Gordon for one more dunk.

“You simply must be ready for the ball, regardless of where you’re or where he’s on the court because he can find you,” Zeke Nnaji, a third-year reserve forward for the Nuggets, said within the locker room on Sunday.

When Jokic is on the court, the Nuggets’ offense is on par with the league’s best teams. When he sits, it’s the worst, a remarkable swing. This yr, teammates like Gordon, Brown and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are having great years, partially due to the open shots Jokic has created. Within the case of Brown, roughly half his shots have been “open” or “wide open,” in accordance with the league’s tracking numbers. Last yr, when Brown was with the Nets, that number was only 38.3 percent.

One of the crucial effective plays the Nuggets run involves Jokic catching the ball across the free-throw line, leaving your entire court at his disposal. If a double team comes, Jokic casually finds shooters or cutters. If he’s single-covered, Jokic simply backs down the defender or shoots over him. He doesn’t move quickly. He gets to where he must go, or makes sure the ball does.

Jokic, for the third straight season, is leading the league in multiple advanced statistical categories, largely due to his ruthless efficiency. He’s averaging 24.7 points a game, and his true shooting percentage (a measure of scoring efficiency that aspects in free throws) — is 68.8 percent. Nobody has ever averaged 20 points per game with a minimum of 69 percent true shooting for a season. (During the 1981-82 season, Artis Gilmore averaged 18.5 points a game on 70.2 percent true shooting.)

And Jokic does have shortcomings: He’s not a powerful defender, despite the fact that he’s the one center within the league’s top 20 in steals. Opposing teams with quick guards often look to attack him when he’s on defense. Within the two games this week, Hornets and Grizzlies guards sought Jokic out in transition and stepped right around him for simple layups.

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