In 2018, Nikola Jokic started the season at a slow pace. In the first 15 games of the season, he had eight games where he scored less than 15 points –– including four straight single-digit scoring performances.
This was overlooked simply because, in the first 10 games of the season, the team held a record of 9-1. Jokic went on to finish the season at an incredible pace, earning an All-Star nod and an All-NBA first-team selection.
All of this to say that Nikola Jokic has a tendency to come into the season and start off slow. Personally, I’m not convinced it’s unintentional. But from the fan’s perspective, it’s hard to watch a player we know is capable of 30-20-10 triple-doubles have half of his games under 15 points through 18 games this season.
I think he likes to get his teammates confident through the beginning of the season when games don’t necessarily matter as much and take a backseat while everyone else gets comfortable.
I think that Nikola Jokic took the summer to work on his three-point shooting and his mid-range turn around jump shot, as well as develop the confidence to pull up at any moment. The unfortunate start to this season has shown the confidence to take the shots, but the shots are not falling yet.
Once he starts making shots at the rate we’ve come to expect from him, the rest of the NBA better lookout.
Let’s also not get confused, Jokic has his team at 13-5, he’s recorded seven double-doubles, three triple-doubles, has scored 20+ points in seven of the 18 games, and has two big-time game-winners over Philidelphia and the Timberwolves. The problem this season is stemming from expected dominance vs. the product was seeing on the court not lining up.
After proving to themselves, the rest of the league, and the fans that the Denver Nuggets were a serious squad, with legitimate championship potential, and a true superstar in Jokic, the expectation was that dominance from the Serbian big man would continue into the 2019 season. I have zero doubt that Jokic will return to form and right the ship, but as the first quarter of the season winds down, I want to start to see the dominance that was expected from the start.
Will Barton was recently quoted talking about Nikola Jokic saying, “We’re a good team when he’s not scoring. But we’re a great team when he’s being dominant down there and we have championship potential when he’s cooking. And we know it. To be the team that we want to be we’ve got to play through him.”
Jokic’s teammates understand that his shooting slump has been a problem, but they also recognize his talent, and they know he will rebound and get back to the player that he was. The Nuggets have been able to win games and beat lesser teams this season despite his poor shooting performances, and he seemingly wakes up for big games, but consistency needs to arise if the team hopes for continued success.
Jokic’s best games of the season come against teams with a record above .500, which is why the team has been able to win those games for the most part. But they have also dropped some games that shouldn’t have been losses. Three of the Nuggets five losses have been against sub-500 teams and one of them was at home.
In four of the five losses, Jokic scored fewer than 15 points, and in the one 20-point game, he took 19 shots for 20 points which just isn’t efficient enough.
The Nuggets need to return to the Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic two-man game that terrorized the Spurs and Trailblazers in the playoffs, where the two were so dominant and consistently generating wide-open threes, uncontested shots in the paint, and shooting free throws at a consistent rate.
Through 18 games this season, Jokic has taken only 49 free throws (2.7 per game). For reference, in the 14 games in the playoffs, where penalties are called a little less frequently, Jokic shot 78 through the two series (5.7 per game).
Nikola Jokic is one of the best players to ever put on a Nuggets jersey, and I still think he’s the best big man in the league over Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, Rudy Gobert, but he’s had a quarter of a season to slump and it’s time to wake up. Jokic was quoted after the Lakers loss saying, “Right now, I’m struggling.”
For the first time this season he’s admitted it, he said “I never thought I’m struggling, but I’m struggling right now, I cannot make shots. It is what it is. Even when I’m not making shots, I think I can affect the game in some other ways.” The first step to recovery is admitting the problem as they say, so hopefully, he is on the path to better basketball.
The game tonight against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden is the perfect opportunity to put up a big game and get some national recognition. To break out of a slump he has to start somewhere and there is no better time than the present.