GET HYPED: Appreciating Nikola Jokic’s game from all angles

There’s plenty to be excited about for the upcoming NBA season.

Russ has new friends to play with. Kyrie gets to be “the man” in Boston. Giannis and Kawhi join the MVP discussion. Lonzo. The Process. LeBron and Wade together again. The Warriors and their star-smashing Line-up of Death.

The SLAM PH team got together to add to that list. They wrote about why they’re personally excited for the return of the NBA.

So, get hyped. The NBA is back!

Nikola Jokic, Marquese Chriss, Tyson Chandler

Most likely, fans that were seated on the front row of a game between the New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets were also looking down into their phones. This has become the norm in today’s digital age. No longer do we have just popcorn on our hands while we enjoy the games. Some fans follow the stats as the game is happening in front of them. They verify if the numbers match what they’re watching.

The biggest names in the match-up between these two teams are Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Rose continues to wow crowds with his flashes of athleticism. Anthony is a microwave who can light it up in an instant versus the worst of defenses. With Porzingis, getting to see a seven-footer galloping down the rim like a guard or pulling off a crossover as if he’s a one foot smaller is an absolute treat. You don’t need live stats to have an appreciation for what they do on the court.

Then, there’s the Denver Nuggets. No one in the team has made the waves as someone who is must watch. Names like Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried and Jamal Murray are all familiar to some casual fans. But someone who has been making waves with Basketball Twitter is Nikola Jokic.

On the surface, Jokic looks unimpressive. The way he moves as a big man is awkward and without any fluidity. A stark contrast to the smooth motions of Kristaps. He makes some really great passes similar to that of Arvydas Sabonis, but that’s all he brings. Some flashy passes and a ton of awkward movement. By no means could we classify him as someone must watch. But once the game is done, his statline reads: 40 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists

How the heck? It would be difficult to believe for Jokic to put up numbers that big. The eye test and the numbers just don’t match. If Porzingis had a game like that, we wouldn’t bat an eye. But with Jokic, it’s different. Because he moves so awkwardly and isn’t built like your protypical NBA athlete, he’s seen as someone overrated by the “nerds” of Basketball Twitter.

It’s become an old age battle. Eye test Twitter versus Analytics Twitter. For those who base their judgment on what they see, Jokic is not fit for today’s game. On the other hand, those who have the necessary statistics laud Jokic for his efficiency. So how should we view Nikola Jokic as a whole?

Eye test Twitter believers are correct in saying that Jokic is not a fluid athlete by any means. When he handles the ball, it looks like he could easily commit a turnover because of his herky jerky movements. While some Analytics Twitter members praise Jokic as a Unicorn in the mold of a Kristaps Porzingis, Eye Test Twitter views Jokic as an old school big man who’s trying too hard to play playmaker.

Eye test Twitter is correct in saying Jokic is somewhat of a throwback style big man. He gets great seals, thus giving him the chance to operate in the post. Even unicorn bigs still do this like Karl-Anthony Towns. But the difference between Towns and Jokic is how they move. Jokic isn’t explosive, and his movements aren’t solid. On the other hand, when Towns is given the rock in the post, he looks comfortable and sure with where he’s going. You’re absolutely sure when Towns is given the ball in the low block.

On the other hand, Jokic looks more 12 year old six footer playing with sub five foot high school kids rather than a legitimate NBA talent.

However, beyond those awkward movements, when Jokic has the ball, it’s an absolute treat to watch him, even without the help of the context of stats. He makes great passes, some bordering on out of this world. He makes his passes from two main areas: the top of the key and the pinch post.

From the top of the key, it helps that Jokic has guards like Murray and Mudiay who can roam around and search for seams to cut on. Coach Mike Malone himself has installed an offense that allows guards to look for seams in the defense. That helps but we also have to give credit to Jokic for being more than capable of making these passes. Do note, however, that these aren’t your typical high low passes. Some of these are dimes even guards can’t do. You can’t describe these passes through words alone. Even stats can’t comprehend the degree of difficulty it takes to convert on those. You have to look at it with your very eyes, with a clear understanding of the game.

If working at the top of the key doesn’t work out, Jokic doesn’t hesitate to hand it off to the guard in the wing then proceeding to seal down low to get the ball once more. When in the post, Jokic makes some ridiculous over the head and behind the back passes. He’s able to do this because one, he’s taller than most big men and two, his sheer skill. It’s not just luck. The skill to make the correct dime and to drop it off with sheer perfection is an absolute treat to watch.

The advanced statistics are a given already when it comes to appreciating Jokic. His PER last season was great (26.3), and his Box Plus Minus (8.4) and Value Over Replacement Player, better known as VORP (5.3), were ranked within the top 10 in the league. The statistics don’t lie; Nikola Jokic is a great player. That’s something Analytics Twitter has been crying for so long now. However, it’s been a challenge to get Eye Test Twitter to try and appreciate the greatness of Jokic. He’s called the Joker for a reason. He can fool you with his weird game and then thread a beautiful pass to one of his cutting teammates.

Nikola Jokic, Boris Diaw

When looking at Jokic from the lens of an eye test advocate, it’s those little things which you have to notice to have a deep appreciation for what he does on the court. How he’s able to convert on those crazy difficult passes with so much ease. How he’s able to seal so well thanks to his size and foot work. He isn’t your typical athletic modern big man, but who cares? He’s effective what what he does, and in the end, that’s what matters.

Next time you watch Nikola Jokic, take time to look at his game. It will take some time to get used to the herky jerky movements that he has. Don’t be surprised anymore when his numbers are insane even if his game looks awkward. There’s no doubt about it; from all angles, Nikola Jokic is awesome. The stats and eye test don’t lie.

Photos from AP


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