For anyone paying the least bit of attention to the Denver Nuggets since the start of last season, Nikola Jokic has been a revelation. Not only is he both an above-average post finisher and pick-and-roll partner, he’s one of the most creative passers in the league. Not just among big men, but in the entire league. The only thing standing between him and Looney Tunes numbers offensively had been the team’s difficult rotation (as we mentioned when discussing Jamal Murray in this week’s Rookie Watch).
But playing 38 minutes last night, Jokic was predictably devastating.
Jokic tied a career high with 27 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and dished nine assists, one away from that bird of triple-double, an exceedingly rare bird when it comes from a center. He wasn’t just passing to shooters from double teams, either — he was hurling fast break tosses downcourt and flipping touch passes from the perimeter. It was joyous.
The Nuggets had been struggling badly with Jusuf Nurkic as the starting center, despite his decent numbers. Whether off the bench or as an ill-fitting power forward, Jokic couldn’t get in a rhythm and almost never cracked 30 minutes in a game. It’s taken a while, but coach Mike Malone seems to be coming around to his best lineup, sloughing off Nurkic and Kenneth Faried (briefly the face of the franchise).
The new starting lineup of Mudiay (who went a shocking 4-5 from beyond the arc Monday night), Gary Harris (three games back from a foot injury), Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Jokic looks great, with creative forces all over the floor and Chandler just big enough to handle most power forwards in this day and age.