Nikola Jokic the super sub: Serbia’s best player is thriving off the bench

Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images
Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images /

Serbia is using Nikola Jokic in a unique way that both helps secure his health status for the upcoming NBA season and gives his national team an intriguing advantage.

Nikola Jokic, the perennial NBA MVP candidate and leader of the 54-win Nuggets, is coming off of the bench for the Serbian National Team. This, of course, is not because of his ability but rather the combination lack of familiarity with his national team cohorts (relatively speaking) and keeping him fresh as Serbia advances through the preliminary rounds of the tournament. So far, ‘Jokic the super sub’ has worked to perfection for head coach Aleksandar Đorđević and crew.

In Serbia’s convincing win over the Philippines, Jokic checked in at the 6:24 mark with the score tied 7-7. By the start of the second quarter, Serbia was up by 15 points. Against a physically over-matched Philippines squad, Jokic was electric and efficient.

In the first quarter alone, Jokic racked up 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists, showing off some nice touch from the post in the process. Joker finished the game with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in just under 20 minutes of playing time. We all know that Jokic is always looking to keep the ball moving and his team-first attitude is a boon for a Serbia roster full of shooting at every position, including Jokic himself, who is a career 38.9 percent shooter from 3-point range in FIBA competition (including the 2019 World Cup).

The hashtag #SrbijaGotGame has certainly rung true so far, as Serbia has been one of the rare teams that can play five-out on offense and still have the size to bang with opposing, physical bigs in the post.

What would be a disadvantage for most teams is far from that for Serbia, as Jokic is used to playing in two-big lineups with the Nuggets and Team USA center Mason Plumlee. His quick decision-making makes him an ideal high-post entry player and his reputation causes opposing defenses to scramble once he has the ball in his hands, creating easy high-low opportunities for Serbia.

The incredible depth of Serbia’s frontcourt is for sure the story of the team but the fact that Jokic does not at all play like a big–12.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game through two games–is what enables players like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelicia to flourish on a limited (compared to their NBA usage) number of shot attempts.

Next. 3 goals for Nikola Jokic. dark

Serbia is back in action against Italy at 7:30 am ET on September 4.