Nikola Jokic came chugging up the court, calmly dribbling the ball from his right to left hand as he crossed halfcourt. As he often does, the 7-foot Serbian initiated the team’s offense, serving as the NBA’s unlikeliest of point guards. Jamal Murray flanked Jokic to his left, and as the two approached the three-point arc together, Murray veered into a pick for Jokic’s man, Steven Adams.
As Adams went under the pick, Murray crossed his body, then darted behind him into the lane. Murray’s man, Paul George, was forced to navigate his way around his towering teammate, losing Murray in the process and giving up a wide-open dunk. The 1-5 pick and roll strikes again.
The Denver Nuggets are joyful to watch as a collective, but Murray and Jokic’s two-man game is pure bliss. The inverted pick and roll, where Murray sets a screen for Jokic, is only part of their arsenal, but it’s by far the most fun, since defenders have no idea what to do with it.
In the third quarter of a game against the Sacramento Kings in January, Murray brought the ball up the left side of the court, passed it to Jokic at the top of the three-point line, then ran and set a pick on Jokic’s man. Willie Cauley-Stein, trying to follow Jokic, went under Murray’s pick, ending up deep in the lane. Murray’s original defender went with Jokic, too. Murray popped out to the three-point line for a wide-open triple. Splash.
The two operate like this, almost telepathically, all the time. There’s no words spoken between the two, no hand signals. They know each other’s game so well that all it takes is a second of eye contact after probing the defense. The two are most devastating in their dance when they employ the dribble hand off. Jokic and Murray have countless iterations of it, playing off each other like lifelong friends who grew up running the exact same sets on the playground.
Sometimes it’s simple: Murray will zoom around Jokic, swipe the basketball out of his hands and continue his route to the hoop. With his defender lagging behind due to Murray’s head start, and Jokic’s man afraid to leave him lest he pop out for three, Murray can cruise down the runway for two. Even elite defenders like Jimmy Butler can’t keep up.
Sometimes it’s a little more complicated: Murray will bring the ball up the court, throw a bounce pass to Jokic at the elbow, then fake like he’s jogging away from the play. He’ll then stop on a dime and sprint back toward Jokic, receive the DHO while Jokic pops out for a pick and duck into the lane for a bucket.
The two almost never miscommunicate. Jokic has passed to Murray 1,646 times and assisted on 111 of Murray’s buckets. Murray has passed to Jokic 1,379 times and assisted on 88 of his baskets. Those numbers dwarf anyone else on the Nuggets roster. Murray’s shooting 46.1 percent off passes from Jokic, including a healthy 41.1 percent from deep, per NBA.com. When Murray and Jokic share the court together, the Nuggets sport a sparkling offensive rating of 113.
Murray and Jokic’s dance will continue into the playoffs, where their rhythm will receive a national stage as they chase a berth in the NBA Finals. With their inverted pick and roll and countless twists of the DHO, the two Nuggets are running the most deadly two-man game in all the NBA.