Looking at the Numbers: Getting Nikola Jokic the Ball

After the heartbreaking loss to the Sacramento Kings last Saturday, It’s apparent the focus needs to switch to Nikola Jokic getting the ball when it counts.

Denver Nuggets’ loss to the Sacramento Kings, despite a 17-point lead at halftime, is indicative of the offense growing stagnant. For what should have been an easy-win road game against a team hindered by injuries, the night morphed into an anxiety-induced terror. In light of the meltdown, the focus must shift to getting Nikola Jokic the ball at a higher rate.

Although the Denver Nuggets own the second-best record in the Western Conference, there is something off when looking at the box scores.

Even though Denver’s conference counterparts exploded with offseason moves, the Nuggets stayed put and didn’t make any splashes. The confidence in this roster didn’t require a significant shakeup.  Before the season, “team continuity” seemed like a buzz word surrounding the Denver Nuggets. However, the team of familiar faces hasn’t separated itself from the competition yet.

Last season, although Denver’s offensive rating didn’t match its conference standings, the sixth-highest offensive rating resided in Colorado. Fast forward the clock, and the offense has drastically regressed to a 20th ranked offensive rating. The issue is Nikola Jokic, the star player, not getting enough touches. Also, the first-team All-NBA center must be included in crunch time possessions.

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room.

Yes, Jamal Murray was granted the last two plays to win the game potentially. Yes, he wasn’t successful. However, regardless of the results from the two possessions, Murray wasn’t wrong in getting the ball in those clutch situations. If you are blaming him for the loss, remember, he has a history of winning games as an aggressive scorer. You can’t have it both ways.

With that said, for as explosive of a scorer Murray can be, there is no revelation in saying he is a streaky scorer. The 22-year-old guard isn’t an elite player, mainly due to the inefficient aspects of his game. It’s no secret: Jamal Murray is no analytic darling. Still, there are ways to combat the sporadic offense, and ironically, it involves the Nuggets’ best player.

Nikola Jokic: Denver’s resurgence on offense

Much has been said about Nikola Jokic early in the season. Specifically, accusations of the seemingly husky center being out of shape. Whether it was true or not, there were notable signs of Jokic showcasing a lack of engagement. Perhaps, the fatigue was due to playing international ball before the NBA season, which of course, is a valid reason for being tired early in the season.

However, as a catalyst for a team with championship aspirations, excuses aren’t as digestible as they were to the up-and-coming Nuggets team from years past. Statistically, Jokic isn’t as passive as critics suggest. Murray is only 1.4 percent higher than Jokic in the usage rating department. However, for the Nuggets to elevate its offense, Jokic must stand out as the go-to option.

Getting Nikola Jokic the ball is an emphasis Denver must recognize as a high priority this point forward. Jokic’s scoring influence doesn’t need a deep-diving breakdown. From a traditional scoring stat standpoint, it’s apparent Denver gets their star more touches. Out of the four losses, Jokic scored less than 20 points on three occasions.

Per NBA.com/stats, Murray and Jokic share clutch situation shooting with 25 shot attempts coming in scenarios where the contest is within five points or less in the final five minutes. Still, once again, Murray shows he isn’t the best option to put the team on his back in the game’s precious moments. Jokic converts 56 percent of his shots, whereas his teammate only 40 percent.

Murray is a valuable player, but for the sake of success, Jokic must find the ball at a higher rate. The championship potential of the two-person game between Denver’s All-Star center and an explosive guard is not far fetched pairing. However, in the margins of the game, Jokic, as the premier option, fits the team best.

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