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Nikola Jokic is always a step ahead of the defense

Adam Avatar
February 24, 2023

1. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are that rare example of a duo that combines to become greater than the sum of their parts. Individually they’re both great. Together, they’re ever greater thanks to plays like the ones below where both players identify a read and communicate that read without saying or doing anything. No nod, no blink, no wave. Just the two seeing the same things at all times and knowing that the other saw it as well.

2. The Nuggets are 4th in fast break points per 100 possessions yet it’s the plays in between transition and half court offense that really define them. In the clip below, watch how quickly Vlatko Cancar sprints the court, forcing Donovan Mitchell to pick him up in transition. Typically after a made basket, the defense is able to setup guarding their preferred matchup. And typically, being forced to switch a guard onto a player of Cancar’s caliber isn’t a death sentence.

But with Jokic, the Nuggets quickly turn that mismatch into an inverted 4-5 PnR and slip that produces an and-one. The inverted PnR is difficult to defend even when a defense is properly matched up but it’s made impossible when an undersized guard is the one forced to hedge and recover.

3. This is quickly becoming MPJ’s favorite off ball action and it is a joy to see. It’s a simple flare screen on the weak side to force the help side defense to react. If the player being screened gets caught on the high side of that screen or caught between a switch, Porter slips to the basket. Porter has gone to this one a lot lately but the more important thing is that he has really figured out when, where, and how to screen and cut on the weak side to find scoring opportunities like this one. Plays like these are the backbone of a read and react offense and Porter has made enormous strides at reading when to do what within the flow of the offense.

4. One of those subtle things about Jokic’s passing that make his game so fun. Just watch at the movement of how hands before delivering a perfect pass.

5. This was the play of the game. Two post entries separated by 6 minutes of game clock but never separated in Nikola Jokic’s mind. In the first, he reads the double team from one pass away and punishes the Cavs for poor secondary rotations on the scramble.

The second is Jokic using the information of that play to go to the next read in the sequence. Rather than make the same kickout, he draws the double team as far away from help as possible and then skips pass one by going straight to pass two, leading to the eventual dagger three-pointer by MPJ. It’s basketball perfection and a prime example of how Jokic is almost always a step or two ahead of the defense and their adjustments.

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