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How Nikola Jokic and Bruce Brown created the pass of the year

Adam Avatar
December 23, 2022

1. Nikola Jokic’s between-the-legs pass might be the pass of the year for the Denver Nuggets. What makes it better is that the pass was actually a counter to the way the Memphis Grizzlies were defending one of Denver’s most common actions.

In the clip below, you can see how the Grizzlies aggressive denial of the reversal triggered Jokic to become the release valve every time the team ran that play in the first half. In the second half, Brown perfectly timed the “blind pig” action. Perfectly enough for Jokic to just hike the ball in stride to Brown for the easy dunk.

2. Jokic is a wizard at waiting until the last second to make his read as a passer. In the clips below, you can see how the flare screen to the corner is the first read for Jokic. But by waiting until the last possible second, Jokic is actually luring the defender away from his preferred option which is the dropoff pass to the screener.

3. I like that Christian Braun isn’t just settling for spot-up jumpers when he’s sharing the court with the starting unit. Braun is shooting just 31% from behind the arc this season, a number that needs to improve in order for him to become a reliable two-way option for the Nuggets. But even if he becomes a more steady three-point shooter, mixing in cuts like the one below that get him attacking the basket is still a valuable option.

Braun is big for a wing and has a 40-inch vertical. We haven’t seen him fully deploy his athleticism in the NBA just yet but I like that he is looking for options where he is going towards the rim and not always flaring to the corner.

4. Another great cut. Watch how Brown flares and then cuts off of the Gordon screen, forcing Dillon Brooks to take the furthest possible angle. That cut, paired with a perfectly timed entry pass, forces the favorable switch.

5. Another important skill for Christian Braun will be his ability to knockdown dribble handoff and pick-and-roll three-pointers when the defense goes under the screen.

6. Here is Braun quickly falling back into Denver’s free flow rhythm after an offensive rebound and taking an aggressive left-handed drive to the rim. Braun has the foundation of a solid offensive option. A decent three-point shot, the ability to handle the ball in basic actions, and the right amount of aggressiveness for a 5th option.

7. This play shows that Jokic trusts Braun enough to run screen, re-screen action even when other starters are out on the court. Braun handles the action perfectly and delivers a safe, easy pass to Jokic on the roll.

8. Michael Malone has emphasized the value of sprinting to the corners on the break. Below is a great example of why that is so valuable, especially when you have your power forward and center running the break.

9. Bones Hyland has graded out among the worst defensive players in the NBA this season in just about every advanced metric. Those stats match the eye test more often than not and is an area that Bones will need to make rapid improvement in order to help the team in the playoffs.

But one area where Bones is sneaky effective is in the pick-and-roll. His long arms and slender frame help him keep his hands in the passing lanes.

10. One criticism of Michael Malone is that he often seems to worry more about a player’s weaknesses than emphasize a player’s strengths. Bones has been an effective scorer, especially from well beyond the three-point arc. That’s a real and tangible strength to his game. One way to exploit that strength is to drag screens higher up the floor and dare defenders to go under for Bones to walk into a three, or chase over and allow Bones to get downhill before he reaches the paint.

In the last game, the Nuggets extended their screens a bit further up the floor for Bones. He didn’t finish at the rim like he needs to but this is a welcome adjustment that should have ripple effects for the second unit, especially if the team will start to stagger Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr. as corner floor spacers.

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