Nikola Jokic, a star for the Denver Nuggets, has emerged as one of the most dominant players of his generation, helping to revive the value of centers in the current NBA.
The Denver Nuggets have won 50 games after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 129-106 on Saturday. Its star center is once again a contender for league MVP.
The 7-footer's shooting prowess and outstanding playmaking have propelled the Nuggets to the best record (50-24) in the Western Conference, but there are concerns about his worth on the court's less glamorous end and whether his defense is strong enough to support his team in a successful playoff run.
These concerns increased after a humiliating road loss in San Antonio earlier this month. Denver was the overwhelming favorite to defeat the Spurs on March 10, but they were left disappointed as San Antonio effectively exploited Jokic's rim protection.
Following the game, a video showing Spurs players converting simple layups over Jokic quickly became popular. Jokic appeared overly slow in some videos and disinterested in others as the younger players breezed past him or went over him for easy baskets. Time and time again.
Without more context, supercuts of defensive failures are frequently deceptive, but in this instance, the data support Jokic's defensive shortcomings, and that's an understatement.
According to Second Spectrum, San Antonio attempted 32 shots with Jokic as the nearest defender, the most attempts by a defense in a single game this season. Jokic gave up 43 points on those shots, which was a season-high for a single defender.
“Spurs overcome Jokic's triple-double to top Nuggets 128-120.” the game's recap headline stated. Jokic had 37 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in the victory while Keldon Johnson scored 23 points.
Jokic may benefit more than any other player from the tremendous offensive bias that is still perpetuated by traditional NBA numbers and narratives. The worst aspects of Jokic's performance, the general impression of his play, and the Nuggets' chances of winning the championship were all encapsulated in that terrible game for Denver.
The game's box score may indicate that Jokic was the greatest player, but a closer examination of nerdier statistics reveals some significant defensive flaws in the two-time reigning MVP of the league.
Jokic's shortcomings as a rim protector play a significant factor in why he is not a very effective defensive player. The Spurs defeated the Nuggets that evening by repeatedly taking advantage of Jokic's rim protection, which was the weakest point in Denver's defense.
Everything you need to know about how successfully Jokic has guarded the basket for the Nuggets in 2022–2023 is included in these two statistics.
33 players have blocked 300 shots at the rim this season, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Jokic has among those players allowed the highest percentage of field goals (69.0%) made.
According to Second Spectrum statistics, when Jokic is the competing defender AND he vigorously competes for the shot, opponents have shot 54.2% on layups and dunks. Among 65 players that have aggressively contested 250 layups and dunk this season, that guy is ranked 64th. Is the only one who is worse? Thomas Bryant, a teammate, and backup.
Big men receive a disproportionate number of Defensive Player of the Year nominations because they are tasked with guarding the game's most crucial objective: the basket.
Like virtually every NBA team, Denver depends on its starting center to block shots, cause turnovers, and collect rebounds. Denver's defense, which ranks 26th in the NBA in terms of both points in the paint allowed and second-chance points allowed, has a record of 4-5 since March 8 and is ranked 20th overall in the NBA. These warning signs buried deep within Denver's defense fuel the doubts of Denver's most ardent detractors as the playoffs get near.
The Nuggets are in trouble if it's true that strong defense begins in the paint.
Jokic is one of five players with more than 1,000 total shots contested this season; only Brook Lopez (847) of Milwaukee and Domantas Sabonis (786) of Sacramento have blocked more shots in the paint than Jokic (686).