Improved play from lineups without Nikola Jokic
A common theme from past seasons has carried over to Denver’s 2022-23 campaign – the Denver Nuggets need to step up their play when Nikola Jokic is out of the lineup.
As usual, Jokic’s incredible play has served as Denver’s primary catalyst this season as the Serbian superstar is averaging 24.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 9.3 assists on a career-best 61.5 percent clip from the field.
When he recently earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors, the Joker put up ridiculous averages of 36.0 points, 17.3 boards, and 8.7 dimes over a three-game span, including a 43-point outburst against Washington in which the big man sunk 17 of his 20 shots from the field. Jokic didn’t slow down as he rounded out the week with a historical 40-27-10 stat line in a dominant performance against Charlotte.
Unfortunately, when Jokic leaves the floor, the Denver Nuggets go from one of the best offenses out there to one of the least effective units in the entire league. Denver suffers a dramatic dip in production across several different categories when Jokic takes a seat on the sideline.
For starters, Denver’s offensive rating plummets by a whopping 18.5 points with their star center on the bench. With Jokic in the game, the Nuggets hold an offensive rating of 123.6, seven points better than the league-leading Phoenix Suns. When the Big Honey is missing from the lineup, Denver dips down to a 105.1 offensive rating, good for worst in the league by far.
On top of the significant swing in offensive rating, Denver’s assist percentage also takes a huge hit with Jokic off the floor. Jokic commands one of the best passing offenses in the league, fueled by a remarkable 69.3 AST%, a number that falls to 55.7 with Jokic off the court, on par with a bottom-five assist percentage in the NBA.
Jokic has missed only three games this season, but in those three games, the Nuggets went 1-2 overall and averaged a porous 100.0 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting from the field and 34.7 percent shooting from deep. In those three games, albeit a small sample size, Denver was outscored by a total of 30 points.
In the 27 games where Jokic has played, the Nuggets have averaged 17 more points per contest and shot close to seven percent higher from the floor.
Defensively, the team has also struggled without Jokic. Thanks to a five-point dip in defensive rating, the Nuggets own an awful -13.5 net rating without the Joker. Furthermore, Denver’s net rating increases by an enormous 23.5 points with Jokic in the game, perhaps the most mind-boggling stat of them all.
The bottom line is that Denver struggles to stay afloat when the back-to-back MVP is not on the floor. The sheer volume of open layups and three-pointers the Joker creates for his teammates on a nightly basis cannot be understated and Jokic’s ability to set up everyone around him for high-quality shots is as incredible as it is overlooked.
Moving forward, Michael Malone needs to experiment with new second-unit lineups. Out of five lineups without Jokic that have seen at least 20 minutes of action this season, only one has recorded a positive net rating thus far.
If the Denver Nuggets can at least become an average group when their best player is off the floor, fans will be satisfied.