Nikola Jokic recognized the play call as soon as he saw how the Clippers were set up.
First, Jokic made an in-and-out, snake-like movement with his right arm, motioning to Aaron Gordon how Kawhi Leonard was going to use a James Harden screen to move up the floor and receive the inbound pass.
He then pushed Michael Porter Jr. into position and directed him where to stand while guarding Norman Powell, the Clippers’ inbounder on the play, so he’d force Leonard to catch the ball further away from the hoop.
Once Leonard got the ball and began to attack the basket with his right hand, Jokic skipped across the paint, cut off one side of the floor, and did what he could to encourage Leonard to launch a pull-up, contested fadeaway jump shot from 15 feet.
Of course, Jokic was also in the perfect position to rebound Leonard’s miss.
DNVR asked Aaron Gordon following Denver’s 111-108 win about the sequence.
Did the Nuggets know what play the Clippers were about to run and how they were going to run it?
“Joker just knows,” Gordon said.
It turns out that Jokic recognized the play based on how the Clippers were aligned.
“They have a similar play for Norman Powell,” he said.
It’s moments like those where you see Jokic’s basketball genius shine through. He’s Einstein on hardwood. He’s da Vinci but with a basketball.
Reggie Jackson refuses to take playing with Jokic for granted.
“Watching his mind just work over and over again, the way he works and just takes over the game physically but really mentally,” said Jackson. “It’s special.”
Jackson signed with the Nuggets as a free agent late last season and has started the last four games alongside Jokic with Jamal Murray out due to a hamstring strain. He’s already seen how quickly Jokic’s mind works.
This isn’t the first time he’s seen Jokic read an opponent’s play call and anticipate what’s about to happen in real time either. Jackson postgame recalled how in the Nuggets’ 134-116 win over the Pelicans earlier this season, Jokic recognized, read, and broke up a New Orleans play designed for Brandon Ingram.
According to Jackson, Jokic calculated exactly when to go for the knockout punch too.
“It was an A.I. cut for Brandon Ingram coming to the left wing, and Jok grabs it and steals it,” Jackson said. “And that’s in the fourth quarter. You can tell his mind is always clicking. He can make a big play, but I felt like he waited to make it until they couldn’t come back from the big play that he made.”
The game seems like it’s never been moving slower for Jokic.
He had an off night by his standards Tuesday night against the Clippers but still finished with 32 points, 16 rebounds, and 9 assists. Jokic’s 8-23 shooting was an aberration from the elite offensive efficiency that he’s displayed so far this season.
Somehow, Jokic has again leveled up his game from last year.
On the season, he’s averaging an astonishing 30 points on 57.9% shooting and a league-high 13.9 rebounds to go with 8.4 assists per game. He’s playing a dominant, overwhelming, and overpowering brand of basketball that feels truly devastating to his opponents.
And on defense, he’s anticipating opponent play calls quicker than ever before.
There’s been no denying him this season, and no one’s taking it for granted.
“When you have something special, you have to enjoy it, because you never know how long you’re going to have it, and when it’s gone you will truly miss it,” Jackson said of Jokic. “So, I’m just enjoying being his teammate, enjoying how easy he makes the game, enjoying playing as his teammate but also being able to watch him as we’re playing.”