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Nuggets game day: What was behind Nikola Jokic's off night?

Harrison Wind Avatar
March 3, 2018

From Jan. 22 through Feb. 5 — a stretch where the Denver Nuggets went 10-4 and fielded the third-best offense in the league — Nikola Jokic averaged All-NBA-caliber numbers. Jokic’s 20.1 points on better than 50 percent shooting from the field and 46 percent from three, 11.4 rebounds and 8.9 assists per game again supplanted him among the game’s top offensive talents after a few stretches throughout the season where his stock fluctuated.

But Jokic struggled offensively in Denver’s 108-102 win over the Memphis Grizzlies Friday and scored just nine points on 2-5 shooting in 33 minutes. It was the first time over Jokic’s last 20 games where the big man scored in single digits.

As a team, Denver wasn’t itself on offense Friday night either. The Nuggets scored just 105.4 points per 100 possessions — a drop from Denver’s season average of 108.4 points per 100. It was also a stark shift from the 115.1 points per 100 possessions the Nuggets scored over their 10-4 stretch before Paul Millsap returned.

Millsap was back in the Nuggets’ starting lineup for the first time Friday as well. He played heavy minutes alongside Jokic and when those two were on the floor together, the Nuggets’ offense ground to a halt. Denver scored just 86.0 points per 100 possessions when Millsap and Jokic shared the court Friday.

With Millsap back in the fold alongside Jokic, Denver finds itself in an adjustment period that’s similar to what the Nuggets went through at the beginning of the regular season when integrating their free agent acquisition. Over Denver’s first seven games of the season, the Nuggets averaged just 102.8 points per 100 possessions with Jokic and Millsap on the floor together.

Eventually, the two clicked. In Denver’s next eight games up until Millsap suffered a left wrist injury, the Nuggets scored a pristine 119.4 points per 100 when their two big men played together.

With Millsap back, Jokic’s touches are also down in his last two games. Over the famed 14-game stretch where Denver’s offense hit on all cylinders and centered around Jokic, he averaged 92.0 touches per game, according to NBA.com, 56.2 of which came in the frontcourt. He also averaged 5.0 elbow touches. In the Nuggets’ last two matchups with Millsap, Jokic is averaging 82.5 touches per game, 47.5 of which came in the frontcourt and 1.5 per game at the elbow.

Millsap is a high-usage offensive player who’s already registered 15 post-ups across the two games he’s played, per NBA.com. That’s a few more touches he’s taking away from Jokic.

It’s too early to jump to conclusions about Denver’s offense after two games with Millsap and Jokic playing together but with just 20 games remaining in the regular season, the Nuggets don’t have much time.

Denver currently sits eighth in the Western Conference — just two game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for third but only a half-game up on the Los Angeles Clippers for ninth. A matchup Saturday with the Cleveland Cavaliers (5:30 p.m. ALT) who boast the league’s 28th-ranked defense could get the Nuggets’ offense in sync.

Nuggets Projected Starters

Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic

Cavaliers Projected Starters

George Hill, JR Smith, Cedi Osman, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson

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